Cool Smoke: Hookah Cafe’s The Hot New Thing

Here is a very cool article from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the takeoff of Hookahs in the USA. It has some cool ideas in it, and is one of the few articles I’ve seen in newspapers that doesn’t portray the hookah in a bad light. Thank God, someone is working to change the illusion that this is just a bong.

Cool smoke: Hookah cafes the hot new thing

By KIMBERLY EDDS Washington Post

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Los Angeles — Scott Nelson leans back in his chair as he blows smoke rings in the air. The smell of apple and peach tobacco inside the Gypsy Cafe, just steps away from the University of California campus, is so thick you can almost taste it as it escapes from the tall water pipes on top of nearly every table.

For hundreds of years, Middle Eastern men have flocked to water pipes — also known as hookahs or narghiles — to smoke fruit- flavored tobacco, talk and watch the world pass by. Now hookah houses are appearing in U.S. cities, including Jacksonville, Fla.; Evanston, Ill.; and Madison, Wis. (the Cafe Hookah, which opened about six months ago).

In college towns or big cities such as Chicago, San Diego and Washington, cafe owners want their walls bursting with trend-seeking college students and 20-somethings eager to try the newest thing and tell their friends about it.

“It’s just relaxing,” said Nelson, 19, who drives more than a half- hour every Friday night to hang out at the Gypsy.

“We’re addicted to the hookah,” said Catherine Rieder, 18, as she puffed away. “With a cigarette, you can take it with you, but with the hookah, you can only do it once in a while. It’s special.”

Nestled between a movie theater and a cookie store, the Gypsy Cafe, with the feel of an unhurried European coffee shop, attempts to seduce its clients with the taste of another world. Lush purple draperies envelop the richly textured walls, as hookahs — with elegant necks and glass bodies that seem to dance in the light — sit with their hoses wrapped around their necks like exotic snakes.

Hookah enthusiasts say tobacco smoked from the water pipe contains a small proportion of the nicotine and none of the tar and chemicals found in American cigarettes. But health officials aren’t ready to give the hookah their seal of approval.

Several studies indicate that hookah smoke contains significant amounts of nicotine and high amounts of arsenic and other heavy metals, said Tom Houston, director of science and community health advocacy for the American Medical Association. Incidences of lip and tongue cancer among hookah users are reasonably high, and the effect on the heart of using hookahs is the same as cigarette smoking, he said.

And Houston worries about young people who develop a taste for nicotine through smoking a hookah, and “when they can’t find a hookah bar they borrow a cigarette, and there they go.”

The flavored mixture, shishah, is tobacco combined with fruit and molasses or honey. Flavors include mint, jasmine and mango. Double apple — a mixture of red and green apples — remains a bestseller.

Tobacco is placed on a metal plate with a hole in the bottom that connects to a water-filled metal container below and is heated by special charcoal. When the smoker inhales, smoke travels through the water, down the tube and into the smoker’s mouth. The result, enthusiasts say, is a delicious assault on the senses that has none of the harshness of cigarette or cigar smoking.

And the experience is easy on the pocketbook. A bowl of tobacco averages $10 and lasts about 45 minutes between two people, leaving plenty of time for conversation and dessert.

More than 13,000 customers have made their way through the doors of Cafe Hookah in Madison, Wis., since it opened six months ago, owner Vartan Seferian said. He plans to open four more Midwest locations in the next few months, all in college towns.

“Having a hookah bar is like going to a mountain with a little hammer and shovel, and finding gold and thinking, how am I going to get all this gold down?” Seferian said. “It has been crazy. Just crazy.”

Cafe owners and enthusiasts attribute the sudden surge in popularity to factors including a weak economy and greater interest in the Middle East.

Copyright 2003 Journal Sentinel Inc. Note: This notice does not apply to those news items already copyrighted and received through wire services or other media

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