by SHELTON GREEN / KVUE News and Photojournalist MATT OLSEN
Posted on April 30, 2014 at 10:30 PM
Updated Wednesday, Apr 30 at 10:30 PM
AUSTIN — You may have never heard of Kava, a beverage derived from the root of a Polynesian shrub, but it’s quickly becoming all the rave in one pocket of South Austin.
The Square Rut Kava Bar at 6000 South Congress Avenue touts itself as the only Kava Bar in Texas.
Co-owner Scott Pingel and his wife, both of whom previously worked in the insurance industry, took a gamble two and a half years ago when they moved to Austin and opened up the establishment. In just 28-months time, Square Rut is opening a second location at 51st and Burnet Road. There’s also a discussion on opening a third location.
“It’s going to totally relax every muscle in your body, but keeps your mind alert and focused, so there’s no buzz nor type of impairment, total relaxation”, said Scott Pingel.
Square Rut serves Kava 4-ounces at a time in half-coconut shells. The drink itself is an ashy, muddy looking liquid which is bitter to the taste.
“The first time I drank it I was like, it felt like I was at the dentist. You know it makes your mouth a little numb at first. And then 10 minutes later I was like, wow, this is great stuff,” said Miek Thompson, a daily Kava user.
Kava is not sold in the United States. It’s imported from the Polynesian Islands, one of the very few areas it will grow because of the rich, volcanic soils there.
Natives have used Kava for several thousand years in ceremonies and rituals.
While Kava is not banned in the U.S., it is banned in most of the European Union and in several other countries.
“We’re not doctors, [and we] don’t tout ourselves as doctors. We utilize it more [Kava], the celebration aspect of it,” added Pingel.
While many Kava users tout its healing properties for high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and other ailments, doctors warn there hasn’t been enough research to accurately weigh the pros and the cons of ingesting Kava on a regular basis.
“It is a psychoactive experience. The plant extract basically contains chemicals which have psychoactive properties. It’s not fully understood at this point how they are altering the brain chemistry. I would suggest that anyone that is taking certain medications such as anticonvulsants, anti-depressants, certain cardiac drugs, certain hypertensive drugs that are metabolized through the liver need to be extremely cautious. Anyone that has any history whatsoever of liver disease needs to stay away from this”, said Dr. Albert Gros, chief medical officer at St. David’s South in Austin.
Co-owner Scott Pingel also told KVUE that seven out of every 10 customers to his establishment are first-timers.