In north and central Vanuatu, the nakamal generally takes the form of a large building, assembled from traditional materials with the help of the entire community, under the direction of a particular chief. Entry to the nakamal is often restricted to men, and the building may be used as a sleeping and living area for unmarried men and boys and for male visitors to the village. Significantly, most nakamals lack a lockable door, indicating that all friendly visitors are welcome, although there may be a low barrier across the entrance to keep out animals.
In southern Vanuatu, a nakamal may be a large, sheltered outdoor space, such as under a banyan tree.
The nakamal may be used for meetings and ceremonies of various kinds, but its main function nowadays is as a place for the preparation and drinking of kava. In urban Vanuatu society the term nakamal is increasingly synonymous with "kava bar".
In New Caledonia nakamal are found throughout the island and also in the Loyalty Islands. They are generally identified by a red light outside the establishment. - when the light is turned on, the nakamal is open for business.