Tiki Kava Bar in Hippie Town, Maui

Authentic or canned, I’ll take a Polynesian paradise experience any way I can get it! Along with blissful chillouts on a gorgeous beach with ukelele music nearby, the chickens are wild and the natives are sometimes restless.

During a recent trip to Maui, we drove to the North Shore area and wandered through Paia – a hippie/hipster/beach bum/surfer town beloved by tourists. If there’s a kava bar to be found, it would definitely be here!

A yoga instructor, on her way home, helped me find the parking lot ticketing booth. She was a recent transplant from the mainland, and was “really stressed” about going back to attend a meditation retreat. Had to think about that one.

Kava Lounge

Aumakua Kava Lounge’s entrance was in a corner of a strip mall near the edge of town, across from a church. Soon as you walk inside, the vibe is 1930’s tiki hut with thatched roof, bar stools and charming island theme touches, including mermaid light fixtures. And, of course, the tiki gods! A huge fan of tiki lounges, I was diggin’ this pretty hard.

It was just before sunset, and the kava bar wasn’t crowded yet. Later on, we got a taste of the local flavor – chatted with a couple of sweet guys with salty stories. Just going to say that Paia is a laid-back town with a whole lot of character(s).

History

We wanted to first try straight-up kava in coconut shells – like the traditional ceremonies in Fiji and ancient Hawaii. From what I’ve read, kava is the drink of choice when good things happen, or when you want them to.

In Fiji, kava is traditionally served on special occasions and as part of a ceremony welcoming guests to a village. In ancient Hawaiian culture, kava was offered as a ceremonial gift to ancestral spirits to ensure the prosperity and well-being of the village. Farmers offered kava to the gods to ensure the success of their crops; canoe makers would offer kava to the forest gods while choosing a Koa log for an unsinkable canoe (one hopes); plus, kava was fed to the ocean spirits to bring lots of fish to nearby shores.

The Kava Experience

During Fiji’s welcoming ceremonies with the village chief, guests are seated around a kava tanoa communal bowl, where the dried kava root is pounded. The pulp is then placed in a cloth sack, and mixed with water. The result is a brown liquid – the “Kava gold”. After it’s strained, it’s ready for drinking.

The lounge sources their dried kava roots from Vanuatu, which is ground into a powder. Our hostess mixed and strained the kava in a large bottle of purified water, then served our kava in coconut shells.

The hostess offered us our kava cups at “high tide” (full cup). The kava looked like a brownish tea. We all clapped once, yelled “Bula!”, then drank the entire cup. After that, we clapped 3 times and she shouted something that meant the ceremony was done. Might have been ‘Maca!’ ?

After drinking it, I felt a little loopy. Not drunk or high, just calm and floaty. Makes sense that kava’s been a go-to to relieve anxiety and stress, or even just to get that feeling of calm happiness. Also, there was a little numbness around my lips and tongue. Probably due to it being a nightshade plant.

Kinda gives new meaning to bartenders asking customers “What’s your poison?”

The kava was a teensy bit bitter, but not unpleasant. If you want to bypass the kava ritual and bar (why??), you can get it at organic and natural food stores as a liquid in small bottles. Use the dropper to place drops into your mouth, or into other liquids (like juice) that cover up the taste. You can also opt for kava capsules.

Even better, you can have it in a cocktail!
This kava lounge makes classic cocktails and uses kava in place of rum. And they’re tasty! We had a round of Blue Hawaiians and Hurricanes.

I would love to partake in a traditional kava ceremony with a village chief in Fiji, someday. Until then, I’m down for the faux ritual prep, followed by clapping, shouting and drinking at the nearest kava bar with friends!

Bula!

Even more fun than a recipe, here’s a video on how kava is made, Hawaiian-style:

Stripper Nachos and the Margarita Lesson

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What could possibly make quittin’ time even better? Happy hour!

My girlfriend Renee was meeting me after work. I worked through lunch so that I could leave early and snag us a table at the bar. Downtown bars filled up fast during happy hour with people trying to score cheap eats, house drinks, and someplace to go to wait out the horrible traffic.

Renee was my newest gal pal, so I wanted to pick out a nice bar for our first meetup, one with extensive happy hour offerings. She liked Mexican food, so I figured a nice, upscale Mexican bistro with a death fetish and flaming coffees would make for a great impression. I think she mentioned she was vegetarian, so I ordered non-meat nachos from the happy hour menu as our starter snack. And of course, a good, solid margarita (this place uses fresh lime juice, not sweet and sour mix) to celebrate the end of the day, and the beginning of a new friendship!

 

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I chatted with the bartender a bit, told her I noticed they made margaritas with just tequila silver, a blanco, as opposed to a reposado or anejo. She explained that because the anejo and reposado were smoother and sweeter than the blanco, they would make the margarita too sweet and the tequila too difficult to detect. Plus the anejo and reposado, being aged and smoother, were more expensive than the blanco. Mixing them into margaritas would be wasteful, and should instead be enjoyed neat.

 

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A few minutes into my margarita, I texted Renee to see if she was still coming. When I looked up, there she was with her sparkly hazel eyes and grinning red lips. Even after a full day’s work, she looked wide awake and unstoppable! I offered her the nachos while she was reaching for the cocktail menu. “Oh, I can’t.” Renee said apologetically. “I’m vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free.”

We scoured the menus for animal-free/gluten-free items and came up empty. “That’s okay,” she said. “I’ll just order a side of carrots.” This place was a fail and utterly unacceptable. I was open to suggestions.

 

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Renee was familiar with the dietary restrictions food scene, and suggested a place I’d never heard of that was just a few minutes away. The entrance was in a narrow, seedy alleyway. Fortunately, it wasn’t completely dark yet. But at this time of year, 4:30 pm was sundown.

 

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Looking at it from outside, I thought, “Wow, what a hole. Renee comes HERE?”. Walking in, I noted that the place was small but clean, and did have a respectable bar with a good liquor selection. The prayer candles were an interesting detail, too. There were lots of them, for whatever reason. I decided to trust and roll with it.

 

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It was still happy hour, so we could get deep discounts on food, well drinks and cocktails. Renee ordered vegan nachos and I got tacos. In my experience, happy hour margaritas were mostly fruit-flavored sugar water with almost no tequila, and the one I had there lived up to all my expectations. Still, the food was really tasty.

 

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Halfway through my drink, I needed the restroom, and was told to go through this strange door to get there. The signage confused me. No minors allowed in the restaurant, or no minors permitted to use the restrooms?

 

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As I opened the door, the first things I noticed were darkness, and loud throbbing music. Not the clubby, dance-y kind you’d bounce to while sipping your appletini; more like the slow, grinding raw kind you listened to while sullenly throwing back shots. As my eyes adjusted, I noticed a silent crowd drinking, watching young pretty girls on stage writhing, swaying, and whipping their hair around.

On the dimly lit path to the bathroom, I had stumbled into a labyrinth of sin and nubile flesh that left nothing to the imagination. I watched as men walked up to the stage and shoved their dollar bills into unmentionable places on ladies bending, kneeling, waiting to receive their treat.

Where the hell was I??
Oh. Right. I’m at a Mexican restaurant that shares bathrooms with a strip club, of course.

 

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I took no pictures of all this because the bouncer seated by the door was looking at me like that would be a really bad idea. Seeing the ladies prance and dance with money tucked into their naughty parts really made me think about the dollar bills in my wallet. Oh, the places that paper money may have been. I think I’ll be transacting on a credit card-only basis from now on.

From that day forward, to Renee and me, that restaurant was code name: Stripper Nachos.

Cognac: A Warm Beautiful (Cocktail) Memory

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It was a bright summer morning in Victoria. I was sipping coffee in the balcony, and watching planes skim over the water. A text from my brothers said we were meeting later today, after their afternoon of selfies and shopping.

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Until then, I decided to go exploring on my own. A five-minute walk later, I was at the Inner Harbour, wandering in and out of alleys along Government Street. I briefly checked out some trendy bars and cheery pubs, making mental notes of which ones I’ll visit later.

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After lunch at Trounce Alley, I ended up chatting with a sous chef from Montreal on his smoke break. He gave me his card and suggested, with his heavy French accent, that we have dinner at his place some evening. “I cook for you, we have some wine and…”, he let the sentence trail off with a nodding smile and a crook of his brow. I kept the card.

Just then. one of my brother s texted me that he was cocktailing at a bar in Chinatown. He invited me to join him if I was nearby, before meeting up and dining with family in a couple of hours. Past the fruit stands and tea house, I found Fan Tan Alley, which looked almost too narrow for two people to walk through, shoulder to shoulder. I took my time exploring the tiny shops, fragrant with burning incense. It was summer, warm and perfect. And I had no intention of rushing anywhere.

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I found the bar just a block and a half away. My brother wasn’t seated at the counter, where I expected him to be. I saw through a glass partition that he was sitting at a table, staring at a huge oil painting taking up half the wall directly in front of him.

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I wish I knew the name of the artist who did this painting

He was completely absorbed by that gorgeous painting of what appeared to be a sort of … costume party? He could barely look away, even as he spoke or took pictures of it with his phone. More interesting to me was the cocktail my brother was sipping. He called it the Warm Beautiful.

The Warm Beautiful

The Beautiful is a delicious, potent and citrusy cocktail made of cognac and Grand Marnier orange liqeur. He preferred it topped with a lemon zest. Having worked part-time as a bartender while in medical school, he knew that cognac’s flavor and aroma deepened when warmed. Cognac lovers would often just cradle the snifter in the palm of their hand, warming the cognac with their body’s heat.

However, my brother wanted something a bit more imaginative.

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The cocktail was served in a snifter. He then asked for a “heater”, a small glass half-filled with hot water. He placed the snifter on top of the hot water. As he waited for the cognac cocktail to reach the proper temperature, he would rotate the snifter now and again, still gazing in awe at the absurd yet fascinating painting across from us.

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Age of the cognacs

According to the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), there are three official classifications of cognac, depending on how long the cognac had been stored in casks:
VS (very special) – At least two years
VSOP (very superior old pale) – At least four years
XO (extra old) – At least ten years

Other classifications have also been used by producers when the cognac had been stored beyond official age scales, such as Extra and Hors d’age (beyond age), which can be as much as 100 years old.

“Rules” of enjoyment

Cognac connoisseurs have very strong feelings about cognacs being used in cocktails. One forbes.com article mentioned that, whereas it is acceptable to use a young VS or VSOP cognac as part of a cocktail mix, it is considered a tragedy to do so with an exceptional-tasting, wallet-busting XO or older cognac. Those can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars per bottle.

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My brother’s Warm Beautiful cocktail was created using Hennessey VS, but a Courvoisier VSOP could have also been used. On the other hand, Remy Martin’s $3,000-a-bottle Louis XVIII, which is very popular in China (along with all the other premium cognacs), is an example of one that should be showcased as a solo act.

All drinking aside (for the moment), younger cognacs should also be used for flambe, marinades, sauces, chocolates and fruit preserves.

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And if you’re in the mood to immerse yourself in all things cognac, the French town this liquid luxury was named after hosts the annual La Fete du Cognac , where you can party for three days with cognac cocktails, crowds, cuisine and concerts.

Cheers!

The Beautiful cocktail recipe

1 oz Hennessey or Courvoisier VS/VSOP cognac
1 oz Grand Marnier orange liqueur

Add both ingredients into a brandy snifter, mix and serve. Optional: Top off with a lemon zest, the way my brother and I like it.

Enjoy!


All photos of Victoria BC, Canada by Alexandria Julaton
Remy Martin shop photo by Weng lei – Imaginechina/AP
Still shot of Cognac Festival, courtesy of La Fete du Cognac
Vieux Carre image from liquor.com