Durham’s only non-alcohol bar focuses on community and variety

The front exterior painting of Da Kine's Kava brick-and-mortar location. (Photo by Hannah Collett.)

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

By Hannah Collett

When you first walk into Da Kine’s Kava it feels like a mix between a bar and a coffee shop with a floral theme.

The bar is exactly what you might picture after reading its mission to be “an alcohol-free social space, a quiet place to work remotely, a good conversation with friendly people, or just an escape from the stressors of everyday life.” The mission and decor reinforce its “#LiveInTheMoment” tagline.

The space is painted a calming blue and has tropical plants emblazoned on the walls. On nice days, one of the walls — which used to be a garage door before being outfitted into a bar space — can be pulled up to create a half indoor, half outdoor area. The area is filled with natural light, and patrons mill about, doing work and chatting with each other.

Instead of serving traditional, alcohol-based drinks, Da Kine’s Kava offers a variety of plant-based alternatives, such as CBD, kava and kratom, as well as mocktails.

The non-virgin drink options are naturally sourced and claim to have focusing, calming and anti-inflammatory properties. Kava interacts with the GABA receptors in the brain, while kratom interacts with opioid receptors — something that is explained on the drink menu, but also by the bartenders.

Zoey Best and her now-husband Brent Waffle founded Da Kine’s Kava in 2018. They originally sold samples at various markets, moved to selling bottled kava drinks then opened a physical location in 2020. Waffle first learned about kava while living in Hawaii, which was an inspiration for the company’s themes.

Best said creating a sense of community in the area was a priority.

“That sort of Aloha mentality was something that we really wanted to bring into play that, like, you know, we want everyone to feel welcome. We wanted everyone to feel open and be able to, like, make friends and chat with each other, so we worked pretty hard to sort of develop that atmosphere,” Best said.

Bella Dearing, a bartender at Da Kine’s, began using kava and kratom when she was struggling to focus as a college student. The product itself wasn’t what drew her to Da Kine’s, though.

“I really loved that it’s, like, a holistic space, which is what really drew me to this. I like the non-alcoholic scene. I think that’s really interesting,” she said. “It’s just different than what other people have going on, and I thought that was really appealing.”

Dearing still drinks alcohol occasionally but enjoys having other options.

Even so, Dustin Bowen, a pharmaceutical investigator and regular at Da Kine’s Kava, warned about fully understanding what you are consuming. While CBD is regulated in the United States, kava and kratom are not controlled substances and therefore are not regulated or lawfully marketed as a drug product. It is important that consumers do research and have a clear understanding of the addictive properties of any substance before consuming it.

“The danger with kratom is that it’s an opioid response,” Bowen said. “It can be addictive.”

Dearing also acknowledged that kratom can be addictive, but so is alcohol. “Everything in moderation,” she said.

Because of the lack of regulation, Best said it is very important to her to have clean, safe suppliers for her kava and kratom sales.

“Our suppliers basically do a significant amount of testing and things like that, but not everyone does. But this is why I want everyone to come here,” she said.

Dearing said Da Kine’s is a good community space for anyone who wants to branch out of the alcohol scene or simply wants a productive and social space.

With or without the drink supplements, the community in the bar is unmistakable. Nearly everyone who walked in knew Dearing by name, stopping to talk before settling in to do work or catch up with friends.

Spencer Higgins, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill who only orders mocktails at Da Kine’s, said the space is nice to hang out in.

“I don’t want or need to feel any effects from the plant alternatives,” she said. “Their regular mocktails are, like, tasty and fun enough for me, and it’s nice to get away [from campus].”

Bowen does work for his job at the bar nearly every day.

“I think this is the coolest place,” he said. He likes to check out new places in Durham often. “This is the one place I’ve discovered where you can just roll up and join a group of people that are here, and it’s not cliquey at all.”

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