Editor’s Note: This story was written by Erica Dischino and Ciara Lucas for Ithaculture, an Ithaca College student publication and is republished with permission.

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Four customers chat softly around a bar counter while zen music plays in the background. The room—smelling strongly of incense and herbs—is full of rich colors and abstract art pieces that mimicked the vibrant conversations taking place.

This bar is not stocked with standard liquor, though. It contains intricately painted mugs and different types of teas that can elevate or tranquilize one’s energy. This bar sells kava, a sacred root found on the South Pacific islands that produces a calming effect when consumed.

Kava bars have found a place in the United States when it became popular in the 1990’s and have recently begun to take root in Ithaca at The Sacred Root Kava Lounge & Tea Bar, located on 103 S. Geneva St.

Paul Galgoczy, the founder and co-owner of the bar, said that kava bars are becoming more popular in urban areas as a social alternative to alcoholic bars. He said that customers drink the kava for the effect it produces rather than the taste.

“You get a sense of physical relief, like your body is at ease and you can breathe more deeply,” Galgoczy said. “It also calms the mind and relieves anxiousness and mental stress. It produces a general feeling of well-being and gives you a heightened sense of awareness, allowing for deeper connection with the people you’re interacting with and the world around you.”

He and and his wife, Judi Galgoczy, founded the bar together in Sept. 2014. After living in Ithaca together for almost ten years, they wanted to open a business of their own.

“We wanted to do something that would engage the community in what we thought was a positive way to bring people together,” he said. “Although there’s so much to do in Ithaca and there’s so much going on, there was really very little to do at night time that was in a social setting that didn’t involve alcohol.”

The kava bar additionally acts as an event space, Galgoczy said, where creative people can gather to share their art forms whether it be through music, dance, painting, etc. Kava is traditionally a communal drink, and the two founders thought pairing live events with tea would heighten their customers’ experience.

“We don’t target one specific clientele. We get a wide variety of people,” he said. “With the events that we do, everyone develops a sense of how the space is meaningful and uplifting to them.”

Isa Piper, a frequent customer at The Sacred Root Kava Bar, has been drinking kava regularly for two and a half years. She said she enjoys not only the kava tea for its affect on her sensory awareness, but she especially appreciates the community built at The Sacred Root Kava Bar.

“[Traditional] Bars are kind of a classic…A place where people connect with each other. But it’s really disconnected because of the nature of alcohol stimulus,” Piper said. “Kava is quite the opposite. It diffuses chaos, clears noise in people’s minds.”

Piper also brought her own business to The Sacred Root Kava Bar. A partnership was formed between her and the owners for her to sell her homemade vegan desserts, an appropriate pair with a mug of tea. Piper’s desserts include herbal truffle medicine balls, and sea salt caramel mocha pie.

“I’ve always made them…It kind of just made sense in this context,” Piper said. “They’re raw and very nutrient dense. So it feels great to increase energy [with the desserts].”

For Josh Brokaw, it was his first time ever experiencing the atmosphere of The Sacred Root Kava Bar. Brokaw wandered into the space looking for a peaceful spot to do late night work. Compared to popular places to work like Starbucks or Panera Bread, Brokaw said he appreciated the calm setting of The Sacred Root Kava Bar that kept him focused.

“The music is energetic enough and neutral enough where I can hear myself think,” Brokaw said.

He also says he immediately noticed the friendly and familial mood the bar had among its customers.

“Everyone who I’ve found in here for the last couple hours seems really nice and like they know each other, which is the hallmark of any good drinking institution, whatever may be served.”

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.