The Depot District continues to expand and flourish, this time with an exotic offering. The Shakedown Lounge Kava Bar opened in December, giving Hendersonites a different kind of late-night option.
“It’s a new thing to a lot of people,” says co-owner Caleb Beissert. “Kava is still coming into popularity in the U.S.”
Kava — or kava kava, depending on who you’re talking to — is an herbal concoction whose consumption dates back thousands of years in Oceania and the Polynesian islands. “Kava is an intoxicating beverage from the South Pacific Islands that produces an unmistakable relaxing sensation,” Beissert explains. “It’s very earthy, it numbs the mouth a little bit when you drink it in the traditional style — which is what we specialize in, traditionally made kava kava.”
He explains, “They’ve been preparing it this way in the islands for thousands of years. It’s hand squeezed and we make it fresh every day. It’s a little bit different than just making a tea out of kava — which is how most people are familiar with it, as an herbal supplement. This is more like the recreational version of kava. It certainly has therapeutic benefits, as well, but this is how they would drink it in the islands for ceremonies or any kind of social event.”
Kava bars have been popping up around the U.S. for decades, but seem to have exploded in popularity in the past ten years. Often popularized as an alternative to alcohol, kava bars provide a suitable late-night alternative for people interested in social gatherings without the booze.
“A kava bar is basically a community-oriented place where people come to drink kava and other herbal beverages. It’s kind of like a bar — it’s a chill, social environment where people from all walks of life can relax, enjoy live music, poetry, games, conversation.”
Praising “the calming effects of kava” plus what he calls “other ethnobotanical delights,” Beissert notes, “Humans love to alter their minds, and in the U.S., alcohol is the most popular mind-altering substance. I personally love to have a drink of alcohol every now and then, but alcohol does have its problems. It causes impairment, it’s proven to increase your cancer risk long term, and it can be really addictive.
“Kava can be an alternative to that for a lot of people,” he explains. “And a lot of the alternatives to alcohol just aren’t open late. So if you’re trying to go out and have some nightlife, there aren’t a lot of options if you are trying to do it without the booze.
“It’s not quite a bar, but it’s not really a coffeeshop, either,” he continues. “It’s something in between. The things we serve will give you an effect, but they aren’t going to impair you like alcohol or hard drugs. They are generally mild and social yet unmistakable effects.”
For those who haven’t developed a palate for the bitter taste of kava, Shakedown Lounge also offers mocktails and CBD products. “We have a lot of herbal options as well. We do a really nice blue-lotus drink with butterfly pea flower and chamomile.”
Beissert, a widely published poet and translator, first wandered through the doors of Sovereign Kava in Asheville to attend an open mic. Upon finding that the event had been canceled and the host had quit, he offered to help run the regular poetry event. “I asked them if they needed a host, and they gave me a shot at it,” he laughs. “Now it’s the longest running open mic in Western North Carolina.”
Beissert also found himself behind the bar as Sovereign Kava brought him on board. “Several of the longtime employees there got together with the vision of opening our own place and eventually more of our own places. Shakedown Lounge is really an employee cooperative endeavor, to take what we were doing in Asheville and start to do that in other places.” Beissert opened Shakedown Lounge along with partners Damon Cassiano, Tim Fagan, Noah Harbin, and Tom Scheve.
The lounge hosts poetry open mic nights every Thursday, an extension of Beissert’s Asheville event, as well as live music.
“We’ve loved Hendersonville for a long time, and coming here just felt like a natural move,” says Beissert. “I’ve been coming out here for years to hike, play music, and have so many friends in Hendersonville who drive all the way to Asheville to drink at Sovereign Kava.
“They are so happy to not be driving 45 minutes to drink kava anymore.”
Shakedown Lounge Kava Bar, 706 7th Ave East, Hendersonville, open 4-11pm every day but Tuesday. The Poetry Open Mic Hendo, hosted by Caleb Beissert, happens Thursdays at 7:30pm. For more information, call 828-393-4690 or see shakedownlounge.com (also on Facebook and Instagram).