Chatter and club music fill the dimly lit bar called Krave in Carrboro. Bartenders greet regular customers and pour drinks into foam cups.
While it looks like a typical bar from the outside, it’s actually something much different.
Krave is a bar that serves indigenous roots and teas located at 105 W. Main St. in Carrboro next to Club Nova Thrift Shop. Customers keep coming back for the relaxed and friendly atmosphere and drinks, featuring both kava and kratom plants.
Kava and kratom, two ethnobotanicals on Krave’s drink menu, are known as alcohol alternatives. Kava is a leaf from the black pepper family that grows in Polynesia, while kratom is a tree related to the coffee family.
Users say kratom helps manage pain and aid in opiate or alcohol recovery, while kava helps people relax and helps people with their anxiety. They tout benefits such as overall relaxation with increased mental focus and awareness.
Elizabeth Gardner, the owner of Krave, is a Hillsborough native who graduated from UNC with a journalism degree. She was practicing family law in Florida when she discovered kava during a birthday party.
She opened Krave in 2015, deciding to bring home the alternative culture that appealed to her in Florida.
“I just fell in love with the sub-culture,” she said. “And I knew 18- to 21-year-olds don’t have the ability to go to bars. It’s a great bar environment. You can drink exotic ethnobotanicals and feel good about it.”
The bar caters to different crowds – from the self-employed to those with scheduled lunch breaks who pop in at the same time each day.
Kava tea is popular among many people who are looking for an alternative to alcohol or drugs.
“I think you’ll find that recovery is a common theme because you get the bar and the social atmosphere, but without all the stuff that people are drinking,” said regular customer, Ken Cannon.
Krave is where Cannon met Louis Botta, another Krave regular. They text each other often to meet up at the bar and connect with other regulars. After meeting others who appreciated the atmosphere and drinks, the two Chapel Hill residents began a Buddhism-based recovery group that includes a meditation practice at Krave.
“When you pull people together around a beverage that calms them and opens their mind a bit and brings them together, the conversations that come out of that are incredible,” Cannon said. “It’s not what you find at a bar, where you’re yelling at the person next to you and it’s just all about hookup culture.”
And almost everyone is a regular, Gardner explains. If not, they quickly become one. Krave isn’t separated into cliques, and conversations aren’t dominated by sports and politics, she said.
“People don’t get worked up and angry. In fact, you can’t continue to hate if you’re drinking kava,” said Elizabeth Gardner, the owner of Krave. “Kava is love in a cup. When you drink it, it causes you to feel good and that goodness spreads in an exponential way.”
Carrboro is an ideal market, as most people appreciate natural products and remedies, Gardner said.
“I’m very pleased that Carrboro and Chapel Hill have welcomed us with open arms and open eyes to try it,” Gardner said.
With established kava bars in both Carrboro and Greensboro, Gardner plans to expand into the Raleigh market soon. Despite challenges of misinformation, Gardner remains committed to spreading her knowledge of kava tea and its benefits throughout North Carolina.