New York City Mayor Eric Adam’s “nanny state” is at it again – this time shutting down the City’s beloved Kava bars.
Kava is an herb that promotes relaxation and has been used for centuries to promote social cohesion in traditional cultures. Many recovering alcoholics depend on Kava as a way to socialize in a bar atmosphere – but without alcohol.
Rich Haskins, the general manager of Kava Sutra on 10th Street in the East Village – which has been operating there since 2015 – said that he is still unclear on why the New York health department suddenly shut their business down in early August.
“We are not selling anything illegal. We are selling something that helps the community and helps sobriety,” said Haskins, in front of the shuttered business, plastered with NYC Dept. of Health yellow flyers, announcing the closure. “The city wants to shut us down. They don’t have anyone to regulate Kava and Kratom and until they do, they are going to shut everything down.”
New York City Health Department and Mental Hygiene Press Secretary Patrick Gallague acknowledged that his department has confiscated Kava herb from cafes throughout the City – however, could provide no legal reason why. Gallague promised to get back on the reasons for the confiscations; however, did not return numerous follow-up phone calls.
New York City is currently the only city in the United States attempting to ban public Kava consumption.
Haskins said that he has spent much of the month going to court to fight the closures – including the federal court in order to prevent the city from arbitrarily closing their business in the future. The company was able to re-open its First Avenue location, after a protracted legal battle with the health department. Kava Sutra is the largest Kava chain in the world and has the financial ability to take on the health department in court. However, most of the independent Kava bars don’t have the budget for a protracted legal fight.
Stasi-like goons from the NYC Health Department raided Kava bars and tea houses across the City during the Summer, confiscating the harmless herb – while numerous head shops on the same streets ply unregulated weed, edibles, and psilocybin chocolate bars.
Many of the Kava bars across the City also had their Kava confiscated by Health Department thugs and were scared to discuss the issue on record, fearing retribution from what they see as a politicized and retaliatory department. Most have either closed or stopped serving Kava. One bar has become a “members only” club, taking Kava out of legal reach of Mayor Eric Adam’s health department hoodlums.
“It appears to me that the businesses which somehow were able to survive the City’s lockdown, are now being destroyed by an overzealous health department,” said one irate former customer, who didn’t want to be named. “In the end, this is about money. The City can’t figure out how to tax Kava. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of bars serving alcohol and the City has no problem with this. Kava is far safer and healthier than alcohol.”
Kava plays a central role in traditional ceremonies in the small island states in the South Pacific. Sharing Kava reinforces social bonds and fosters a sense of community. Kava contains healthy compounds called kavalactones, which promote relaxation, reduce anxiety, reduce pain and – some say – prevent cancer.
One recent day in front of Kava Sutra on 10th Street, numerous regular customers stopped by and were saddened to see the establishment still shuttered. Over the years, Kava Sutra has developed a loyal and close-knit customer base. Many of the patrons would sit out on the sidewalk patio in front of the establishment. And unlike the many rowdy alcoholic bars in the neighborhood, Kava Sutra patrons are quiet, friendly, and relaxed – and bring a sense of security at night to the otherwise empty block.
“Some of our customers have been sober for four or five years and within 48 hours of us closing, started going to alcoholic bars again,” Haskins said. “I have heard from several people on the street that they don’t feel as safe because our crowd is not out here keeping an eye on the block.”
Haskins said that it is “mind-blowing” that Kava Sutra has had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees in order to sell a legal product – but said his company will not back down from health department bullying.
“This is basically a case of the City doing whatever the heck they want to – and we have to abide by it,” Haskins said. “Most Kava places are so small that they are scared and have caved into the City. My owners are in this to win. We are in this for the long run. We are prepared for a long legal battle. We are doing this for the Kava community in NYC – a community that has created a positive social environment without alcohol.”