Tucked into a strip mall middle unit on the northeast side of 6th Avenue and Garrison, you’ll find The Karma House serving up kava, community and tea. They are also filling a role too often overlooked for people recovering from substance use disorders. 

Open during the week until 3 or 4 a.m. and around the clock on weekends, The Karma House provides an alcohol-free social setting. For people trying to stay sober, that can be a godsend.

Social isolation has always been a significant driver for relapses. For example, a person with an alcohol use disorder may have a created a behavioral pattern by going to a bar every night. Not only does the bar provide their substance of choice, it provides a setting to be with other people.

Breaking that pattern can be psychologically overwhelming. Think of the social disconnect so many people felt during pandemic lockdowns. The isolation became crippling for huge swaths of our society. 

Social beings by nature, people suddenly stripped of that interaction suffer.

That is a truth almost every person recovering from substance use disorders recognizes inherently. Sometimes the anxiety and loneliness can feel as overwhelming as the chemical dependency.

The Karma House steps into that void. 

Run as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that donates its proceeds back into the community, it is focused on “alternative products and services which promote a healthy and active lifestyle.” It is not uncommon to see its parking lot full and people sitting at patio tables late into the night. 

That is exactly how I noticed it — walking home from a late church meeting the crowd outside was hard to miss. Sitting in a quiet suburban neighborhood (though far enough from any residential homes to avoid any noise or traffic issues), the gatherings became impossible to overlook whenever I drove past.

Eventually I stopped in to check it out.

The vibe is an eclectic mix between Paris on the Platte — the iconic coffee house for alternative Gen X teens — and a local bar. Couches and pillows sit to either side of the entryway and stools pull up to the live-edge wood bar top. There is a pool table and meeting room in the back. While it has become a go-to for sober individuals, it also attracts a host of community members and creatives who enjoy the atmosphere.

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Art for sale adorns the walls alongside house rules that require patrons to “be respectful to each other” and “clean up after yourself” while mandating “no alcohol or drugs are allowed on premises or in the parking lot at any time.”

First time visitors get a free “shell” of kava and an introductory lesson on its history. Advocates claim the active ingredients help with anxiety, stress, sleeping problems and withdrawal symptoms. I can attest that it will numb the back of your throat and tongue.

Interest piqued, I followed up with my friend Jay Voigt, a substance use disorder expert, about The Karma House. He told me that while mainstream medicine remained skeptical about kava and kratom (a controversial extract sometimes promoted for opioid withdrawal), there is no doubt that providing safe social settings beyond regular recovery meetings is a vital piece of successful recovery. 

Voigt himself sits on the board for S.AF.E — Sober And Fun (or at least that is family-friendly version) Entertainment. They gather groups of sober individuals together to provide safe, sober spaces at sporting and music events. You can regularly find them at Rockies, Nuggets, Avalanche and Broncos games.

But intermittent safe spaces cannot fill the daily gap in the way a place like The Karma House does. Throw in the yoga, massage, movie nights and video game tournaments scheduled in the space, and it is no wonder they have become a vital part of the community.

If good works lead to good karma, then The Karma House is one of the best places to find yourself in Denver.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq.

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Mario Nicolais

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq