A Look at Hookah Bars and Lounges

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The hookah is a traditional smoking pipe, in the form of a glass based water pipe. A combination of molasses/honey and cool mint or fruit flavored tobacco is usually then smoked through a hose connected to the hookah.

As prevalent in parts of the Middle East and India as delis or Starbucks are in the United States, with one on every corner, hookah lounges and hookah bars, once quite rare in the West, have lately been seeing a rise in popularity here in the United States. From the friendly ambience of many of these establishments to the uniquely relaxed mood of hookah smoking and the kid-in-a-candy store variety of flavorful tobaccos available, hookah lounges and bars have a lot to offer.

Much of this upsurge in popularity is due to college and university populations, who find hookah lounges an attractive way to spend quality time with friends in a sober, but socially easy, environment. Hookah lounges are big with sororities and fraternities, but there are older sets of patrons on the scene as well, and a multiplicity of ethnicities and people from all walks of life can be found in various hookah lounges.

Different hookah bars and lounges offer different things to go with the smoking experience. At some lounges, an older clientele comes to play cards, backgammon, or chess, while pool tables, video games, and big screen TVs are an offer for the younger crowd. Many lounges serve food and drink, from Turkish coffee, spicy chai, and honey-drenched bamieh fritters to foie gras and Moroccan spiced lamb, while hookah bars offer everything from wine and cocktails to package deals–including private booth or lounge, hookah, drinks, and appetizers–which run about $125 for four. Rental prices for hookahs in lounges generally run from $5 to $20 an hour, with tobacco prices from $4 to $9 per bowl. Whatever’s is offered, people feel comfortable enough to linger and gathered around the hookah pipe.

Group of young friends relaxing in hookah lounge/bar

Someone on staff–often the proprietor of the lounge–is always happy to help those new to the experience of hookah smoking and guide them through it. Pipes are generally prepared for the patrons with whatever exotic flavor of tobacco they choose. There’s usually a hookah coal carrier, circulating through the lounge with coals and tongs to replenish any waning hookah coals.

Music ranges from jazz to hip hop to tablah-backed Middle Eastern pop music, décor from re-interpretations of a Cairo café to tiki hut to sophisticated bar. Whether the people come to play games, drink cardamom-infused coffee, sip cocktails, or just kick back and relax, hookah lounges and bars offer a unique multicultural take on an age-old tradition.

You’ve probably seen a hookah, but it has totally slipped your memory. Most children who grew up in the United States have almost certainly seen a hookah. But, like most people, you’ve likely forgotten what one looks like and what they’re used for. Think back. Recall the tale of a girl named Alice who seemingly stranded in a strange, imaginative world. In Lewis Carroll’s story, Alice in Wonderland, Alice stumbles upon an arrogant and inquisitive caterpillar. Perched atop a giant mushroom, and smoking what appears to be a strange musical instrument, the caterpillar asks Alice a quite memorable question– “Who are YOU?” The musical instrument is not really a musical instrument at all. It is, in fact, a hookah and this hookah-smoking caterpillar is how most children get their first glimpse of this curiously strange smoking device.

When Lewis Carroll wrote the story of Alice in 1865, hookahs had been in existence and in use for several centuries. Though never really popular in European countries, the hookah was and is still very popular in Eastern cultures like Egypt and India. So, how is it that this mysterious thing called hookah has never seen its day in Europe or, in more recent times, the United States? Perhaps the time is upon us!

In the past, cigars have been the ‘gourmet smoke’ for those wishing to break out of the conventional, cigarette-smoking mold. Crafted from higher-grade tobaccos and hand-rolled in exotic lands, cigars have become a true contender to the additive-infused cigarettes of modern day. Cigars have become so popular, in fact, that they have cropped up an entire industry that is based around their existence. Cigar and specialty tobacco shops are evidence of the profit to be made from selling tobacco in a different form factor than that of the cigarette. In addition to cigar shops, cigar bars have proven that smoking-tailored establishments can be both socially-acceptable and huge profit centers for their owners. It is society’s acceptance of the cigar bar that makes hookah bars and hookah cafes a possibility!

There is no doubt that the tobacco industry has seen better days and, from the aftermath of the Big Tobacco lawsuits, it’s a wonder that these companies are still around. Did you know that there are over 600 legally-allowed additives that tobacco companies can add to their cigarettes? That’s an amazing cocktail of chemicals that cigarette smokers are putting into their bodies every time they choose to light up! In comparison, today’s hookah tobacco, commonly referred to as shisha (pronounced: shee-shuh), is comprised only of a handful of natural ingredients. These ingredients are typically tobacco, all-natural glycerin or honey, sugar and natural flavorings. That’s 596 additives short of what could be in a normal, run-of-the-pack cigarette! It’s facts like these that bring most people to believe that hookah smoking is a less-harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes. According to research at the Mayo Clinic smoking hookah is not safer than smoking cigarettes.  While research about hookah smoking is still emerging, evidence shows that it poses many dangers click here. Unfortunately, no major study has been performed to evaluate the health effects of smoking hookah. So, we’ll have to wait for a definitive answer to that question.

Because hookah lounges are exempt from the smoking bans, and because the hookah trend is increasing at a high rate among youth, many believe it is becoming a public health concern.  Many hookah users do not understand the health risks that come along with it. Common beliefs include hookah smoking contains the same chemicals found in cigarettes, it is not safer because it is smoked as often, it is addictive, and even if the tobacco is filtered with water, the carcinogens click here are not filtered out. For this reason, many cities want to create tougher restrictions for hookah lounges, and some want them shut down altogether.

As you can see, hookahs have edged their way into the European and American lifestyle. The cigar bars of yesteryear have paved the way for a unique opportunity for the Hookahs to bring back the social, intimate entrepreneurs of today. Hookah cafes and hookah bars stand to make millions by providing the public with something that they’ve been looking for and haven’t been able to find in the countless other cafes and bars.

So what are your opinions on hookah?  Has hookah lounges and bars invaded your city? Please leave a comment below, I would love to hear your comments.

29 Replies to “A Look at Hookah Bars and Lounges”

  1. I’ve never been to one of these before. I’m not sure if I’d like it or not. I’m usually not a fan of lots of smoke and drinking. I prefer quiet. And books.

  2. Can’t say I’ve been to a hookah bar or heard of anyone frequenting one, nor can I say I’ll like to visit one. I’m not a fan of smoking. I do like places where you can eat, drink, read books, listen to music and even dance.

  3. There is a hookah bar near me. I have never gone in, but I have been curious. Thank you for giving me a glimpse into what is happening in there. I doubt if I will ever go now because I am a bit of a health nut, but I do find the lounge vibe appealing.

  4. Fun fact I am in Playa De Carmen for my bday and I celebrated here yesteday by going to a hookah lounge! I also used to be a hookah girl and manager in Atlanta for a hookah spot ran by Egyptians I learned a lot!

  5. I’ve heard about Hookah Bars but I didn’t know they were this prevalent. I have asthma so I wont be to a Hookah Bar I think I wont be visiting one any time soon! But I liked reading this, it was a very informational post. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I haven’t seen one in a while, but we had this Mediterranean Restaurant in our city that used to have Hookah out for rental. It didn’t work out as the building eventually caught on fire. Although i don’t believe the Hookah was determined to be at fault.

  7. There is a hookah bar in Makati Avenue in Manila, but since smoking is ban since the last year, the hookah is now available in a private place.
    Its better because the smokes are crazy!

  8. I have never been to one of these bars but they have always looked like such a great time. I would love to go and experience one.

  9. I’ve been to lots of hookah lounges in the US. They are also quite popular in Granada, Spain, where I live. There tends to be a big influence from Moroccan culture here, which is likely why.

  10. We had a local hookah bar that my husband and I would visit from time to time. I was so upset they closed. Being in a small Southern town didn’t help. I have always loved the relaxed and intimate atmosphere.

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