Bushwick’s House of Kava Shutters Its Doors, Management Blamed for Abusive Behavior

Andrew Karpan 


Bars are a dime a dozen, but Kava bars are rare like little flowers sprouting up over the past decade in North Brooklyn. Kava is a beverage with a history that dates back over 3000 years. It comes from Polynesia, where it’s traditionally consumed in social and ceremonial settings because of its relaxing effects. The sudden closing of one, Bushwick’s House of Kava, has been a source of loud outrage among its employees and steadfast regulars, who consider the location a fulcrum of their local community, screwed by an owner whose conduct they admonish.  

“Had it been owned by anybody else, it would have been different,” bartender William Mayne tells Bushwick Daily. He described a disintegrating state of affairs due to their manager. Vanesa Lopez, depressed by her job attending to the whims of Joyci Borovsky, a biology major who opened House of Kava in 2016, shortly after falling in love with these substances the minute she tried them, and decamped to Miami, where she has since opened a sister kava bar, Syndicate Kava Bar & Tap Room.

Borovsky, who had shut down House of Kava’s website, deactivated its Facebook page, was not able to be reached for comment. “Owning a business is hard,” she told Voyage MIA late last year.

“Joyci has spent at least the last six months verbally abusing staff,” Jillian says, a regular at the House of Kava. The bar was “the non-alcoholic ‘Cheers’ to so many,” she says, and speaks highly of Lopez’s work. Lopez took the helm shortly before the bar began its unionization efforts last year, after poor the patterns of poor management. Lopez declined joining United Kava Workers 138, but kept her job. “There were crazy accusations,” Lopez said, defending the bar at the time. 

Patrons at House of Kava.

Lopez cited the need for “a little legal advice” before speaking on the latest turn of events. 

Jillian says she had begun frequenting House of Kava some time after she noticed its former employees picketing their non-alcoholic former employer. “I was led to believe that the substance of the 2018 House of Kava protests was unfounded,” Jillian says. She attended regularly, choosing to say that she spent “quite a bit of money per month”* there, to regularly drink among these new friends. “It was an island of misfit toys,” she says wistfully. The people there were well-read and some were interested in politics. 

One customer, William, says he started attending the bar regularly after enjoying the contents of a three hour conversation with Lopez, spurred by an observation made regarding a couple of deep cuts of Brockhampton. “The bar had the diversity of a jury on jury duty,” he says, proud of his erstwhile watering hole.

“I have heard that it got harder for Vanessa and what was being asked of her,” says William, adding to the portrait of Lopez, driven out of her job by a faraway owner’s beck and call. Pay days had been delayed. Jillian said there were rumors of books being scrutinized. 

“The day after Vanessa put in her two week notice, we were shut down,” Mayne says, a former employee of House of Kava, his voice widening into a long and earnest drawl. He worked in a Kava bar in North Carolina and has since found employment at a kava bar elsewhere in Brooklyn. Nowhere, he says, he has seen the kind of abuse Lopez weathered. 

Mayne fears that Bushwick has not seen the end of Borovsky’s time of tyranny. A re-opening was threatened on the restaurant-reviewing platform Yelp!. Longtime patrons received text-messages claiming a rat problem was to blame, a claim whose merit Mayne disputed vigorously. Along with Jillian, they refuse to return to a broken House of Kava. 

“I told regulars to go leave reviews on Yelp explaining what happened to us so others would know how horrible of a business owner Joyci is,” Mayne says. There, the once-loyal crowd sing their outrage: “I simply cannot continue to support an establishment where workers are continuously mistreated,” one says. “The kratom was extremely weak compared to Brooklyn Kava’s,” says another. 

*Amount of money spent was edited for the privacy of the interviewee.

All images courtesy of House of Kava.

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