Pipe Dreams: The Rise of the Hookah Lounge

by Clubplanet
02.12.2009

While most red-blooded Americans got their first glimpse of hookahs from the riddle-spewing, opium-wreathed caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, hookahs originated in 16th century India as entertainment for palace dwellers. The first manifestations relied on a small pipe distended from a coconut shell (lending historical precedent for the collegiate practice of making bongs out of apple cores). The smoking devices traveled on a wave of popularity to Arab countries, where hashish and opium were mixed with dark tobacco. It took several more centuries for the hookah to crop up in Western territories, but now the prevalence of decadent, pillow strewn lounges heralds America's newfound appreciation for Middle Eastern sensibilities--at least when it comes to hashish.

Ever the trendsetter, New York City blazed the trail of US hookah lounges with a smattering of plush, high-end boutique venues.  Le Souk gained attention when East Village passersby caught wind of the intoxicating tobacco blends while strolling by the lounge's breezy sidewalk front. At Souk, damask chaises are enclosed by gauzy veils, and patrons settle back on low pillows and cushioned booths while passing the pipe around. Following closely on its heels was Karma, Souk's slightly more austere cousin, with carmine carpets and velvet couches that look like they were recently pilfered from the Silk Road. Now the city is home to Cafe Khufu, El Dar and the incandescent Kush in the Lower East Side.


Miami quickly followed New York City's lead, and D'vine opened its doors to the tourists and natives hungry for a cosmopolitan fix, candlelit patios, and a modern art gallery veneer. Lincoln Road picked up the vibes and opened a slew of low-key Middle Eastern joints where Miami natives could select various flavors of tobacco and unwind on overstuffed couches. Then Oasis popped up on First Street in the burgeoning ethnic foods scene south in South Beath. Though the elegant little hookah spot earned up a well-deserved reputation for serving beer to minors, the tapas menu and warm interior won over high-brow locals on the prowl for a worldy evening.


True to its ballsy, brash heritage, Vegas rejuvenated its own hookah lounges with the upscale flare worthy of sultans and shahs. Paymon's Hookah Lounge settles guests into private, cushioned nooks and then sends "The Hookah Man" over to each table to give experts and tiros alike an informative appraisal of each hashish flavor, complete with a tray of tablets so customers can determine their desired flavor. The somewhat mellower Red Hookah is ideal for patrons who want the pipe without the fuss, and as an extra bonus they offer free wireless internet. Really gives the freelance lifestyle an Oriental touch.



The trendy neighborhood of WeHo leads the LA pack of hookah lounges with Habibi, a teeny, packed little affair off Broxton where tables are crammed so close that you can probably cross pipes with your neighbors. This set-up might offend uptight city folk, but this is the most authentically Middle Eastern layout we've seen in the country. Hookah lounges are supposed to be social gatherings in Muslim countries, and Habibi offers Los Angeleans an excuse to mix and mingle. But if you're yearn for elbow room, check out the extensive flavor collection at Gypsy Cafe, where over forty versions of hashish range from the standard strawberry to an unexpected liquorice.

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hookah     lasvegas     lesouk     losangeles     miami     nyc     vegas

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