If there are three things Jacksonville locals love, it’s a good drink, the Jacksonville Jaguars and a good meal, which honestly, is just an excuse for another good drink.
So it was a refreshing surprise when Yhang Quintero opened the first non-alcoholic bar in Jacksonville and people welcomed it with open arms - and glasses.
Wildcrafters is a booze-free tea, Kava and cocktail bar on Park Street that opened in the beginning of January - perfect timing for those washing off the boozy holidays.
Kava is a popular social and ceremonial drink in the South Pacific, according to Healthline.com and Quintero, who’s lived in Jacksonville since 2012 and dreamed of opening his own kava bar.
“Kava is the root of a pepper plant (piper methysticum),” he said. “It’s found in Fiji or the south Pacific Islands. They dry, pound it and massage it with water and when you do that, you get what’s called the kavalactone and that’s what has a sedative effect.”
The ‘sedative effect’ is a subtle yet simple wave of relaxation, comparable to CBD oil.
“Some people have said kava feels stronger than CBD,” Quintero said. “The difference is you’re not supposed to feel CBD, but kava is not mind altering either. The most you get from kava is this super relaxed feeling.”
Guests can order kava in 4 or 8 oz. “shots” or as a colorful, crafted cocktail.
“All the cocktails are botanical based,” said Quintero, pointing at the cocktail names that are a playlist, from Interpool’s “Stella Was A Diver” to rapper Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle.”
“Backseat Freestyle,” a crowd favorite, according to Quintero, is made from butterfly pea flower. The vibrant blue color of the flower mixes with coconut cream and lemon to make a whimsical lavender tone. Add some mint, and voila!
“I got the Chocolate Raspberry and it’s really good,” said first-time kava drinker and guest, Rachel Tack. “It’s different, but I’d have another one.”
Or if you’re not sure what to try, order the, “Talk To Me.”
“For the ‘Talk to Me’,” Quintero said, “We’ll ask you to tell us a little about yourself and we’ll customize something for you.”
To enhance the experience, Quintero created a zenlike environment, with plants dangling from the ceiling and cozy couches to study or socialize. Quintero designed and decorated the bar himself, from the natural wooden table tops to the mosaic tiles behind the bar.
He was honest in saying Wildcrafters was created with his own likes in mind, but that doesn’t mean others don’t have similar taste. He wanted a place where friends can socialize and where strangers can become friends. It seems to be working.
“I’ve had people say, ‘I’ve never felt so good making friends with strangers. This place has some sort of magic,’ he quoted guests. “It was great to hear because that was the idea. You’re sober, so you can actually have an intellectual conversation and remember their names and faces.”
Wildcrafters is not only helping create new (sober) connections, but also helping preserve old ones.
“To help friends who aren’t drinkers or are in recovery, people will come here and take a break from the bar,” he said. “I’ve been seeing that the last couple weeks and I think that’s pretty awesome. It’s the best part.”
Quintero said he’s heard kava referred as “love in a cup” because of its soothing effects and the positivity it spreads, but maybe it’s not just about the sedative.
Maybe it’s about the open mindedness of the people who drink it, the curiosity of those opting to try something different, the willingness to learn from different customs not our own and the mindfulness of helping our sober friends. Kava, to Quintero and regular drinkers, is a culture. Maybe that’s what it means by “love in a cup.”
Photos by Daniela Toporek