Ancient drink lends spirit to a 'house without taboo'

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HONOLULU -- Visitors to Oahu looking for a genuine local experience will find one at Hale Noa.

Hale Noa, which roughly translated means a house without taboo, is a bar of sorts.

Spirits are served here in the form of awa, an ancient Hawaiian drink that puts the nerves on vacation.

Made from the crushed root of an herb found in the pepper family, awa (pronounced ah-va) is an earthy-flavored drink also known as kava or kava kava in other parts of the South Pacific.

Hale Noa was opened about a year ago by 31-year-old Keoni Verity, mainly as a place for the locals.

"It wasn't specifically designed for visitors, but if visitors are after a genuine cultural experience, I think they can find one here," he said.

The place inside oozes mellowness: Lights are low, Hawaiian music is playing softly, and sometimes Hawaiian is spoken -- something you don't hear very often.

Verity said his goal is to get local people back into drinking awa in a traditional form, "a practice that's conducive to using the Hawaiian language."

In the pre-contact days, when Hawaiians had their own system of societal rules, a hale noa was a place where men, women and children could eat and drink awa together.

Outside a hale noa, men, women and children did not eat together, Verity said.

"Awa was consumed in two ways: daily for relaxation and during ceremonies," he said.

"When the missionaries came, they did a bang-up job of telling people that drinking awa was a sacred thing used only during religious ceremonies, ceremonies that they wanted to destroy."

To this day, he said, some believe drinking awa in a casual daily fashion shows disrespect for the Hawaiian culture.

To get the best effect from awa, Verity said, drink it on a near-empty stomach, then eat a meal afterward.

The Hawaiian tradition is to make it strong, unlike that of other countries, such as Fiji, where the custom is to serve it rather weak. At Hale Noa, two or three bowls of awa can be intoxicating.

The drink is legal in all parts of the U.S., but Verity said he doesn't allow anyone under age 20 inside the bar, and he doesn't recommend driving after drinking awa.

A bowl of awa is best consumed in one shot. This gets you past the bitter taste quickly.

A bowl of awa made from root imported from the South Pacific island of Vanuatu costs $3.50. A bowl of awa grown on Molokai or the Big Island goes for $4.50. You also can get it to go.

Hale Noa, located at 766 Kapahulu Ave., is open from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays.

For more information, call Hale Noa at (808) 735-4292.

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