For those of you not in the know, there’s three hookah lounges vying to open in the Lehigh Valley and it looks like Essence Hookah Lounge on 3rd Street in Bethlehem may be the first one to open. The lounge, run by Orwa “O” Makhoul and Hadi Rabih, is expected to open later this month according to the two.
I recently stopped in on First Friday after reading on their Facebook Fanpage that they’d be there serving up hookahs for those that stop by to check out the progress. I was greeted by Hadi and set up with a hookah with orange tobacco. I told a white lie and said I had never smoked hookah before (I’ve been to lounges in Philly) to gauge what he would say and how he would introduce me to the activity. He discussed how to smoke it, the different flavors, the health risks (of which he says it is much safer than smoking cigarettes, others would disagree), and the virtues of the activity itself.??A hookah is a water pipe (think: bong) that (usually) flavored tobacco is smoked out of. The tobacco is placed in the bowl, which is covered with hole-poked tin foil, and topped off with a charcoal which heats the tobacco to the proper temperature.
Now, there is some debate and a lot of unstudied opinions on the health risks associated with smoking a hookah. First off, you are taking in a TON more nicotine than if you smoke a cigarette, as well as a lot more smoke. What you aren’t smoking is whatever they add into a cigarette that you always see on those “Truth” commercials, as this is natural, unprocessed tobacco with flavoring added. Also, when you’re smoking it, it doesn’t burn at all. You don’t get that irritating feeling that makes you want to cough and gag the first time you’ve ever taken a drag off of a cig. According to the owners, some people inhale it but some smoke it like a cigar, which is what they recommend. I don’t smoke cigarettes because I can’t stand inhaling anything, but I have a hard time not inhaling hookah smoke because it’s so smooth you can’t even tell you’re doing it. You’ve been warned.
Hookah is a big thing in major cities around the country and is especially popular in middle eastern cultures where it is used as a social time to gather with friends, family, and meet new acquaintances. The Lehigh Valley is seriously on the lag with having a hookah lounge as they’ve permeated the culture in those big cities for years now. I suspect more lounges would’ve opened by now if it weren’t for Pennsylvania passing smoking bans and problems with the Clean Air Act (which, from what I hear, is what is giving these new lounges problems.) Enough with the riffraff, let’s talk about the lounge itself and what’s to come.
If you’ve been in the business adjacent to Essence, the Hard Bean Cafe, you know what a beautiful, antiquated structure lays inside. Rich, aged wood provides a loft space that is as delightful as it is old. The whole place is in a state of transformation at the moment, but I was told that when completed the walls will be an eclectic mix of original brick and deep red plaster, with the wood ceilings and floors being stained darker. Black leather couches, which are already in place but still in plastic wrapping, will create the social and homely atmosphere many in other cities and countries have come to adore.
The lounge will boast four plasma screen TVs. There will be a VIP lounge in the room upstairs which will feature a large HDTV for private parties, as well as special hookah options. What are the special hookah options you ask? Well instead of having a regular bowl on the hookah, they will substitute it with different types of carved out fruit to hold to tobacco, which will add a different flavor and texture to the smoke, according to the owners. They will place low key dance music, have a small dance floor, and be a serviced BYOB establishment. Hookahs will be around $12 per hookah and there may be an additional fee depending on how many people are smoking out of the hookah, etc. They promise they will have a huge variety of flavors to smoke.
My opinion? Even though there was still a lot to be done the place looked extremely promising. From the inactivity of Hookah Turka’s (the lounge opening on Broad Street in Bethlehem) Twitter and website, this may very well be the first hookah lounge to officially open its doors in the Lehigh Valley. The mood set by the red lighting and dark furniture will go very well with the relaxation of smoking as well as the setting a hookah lounge is meant to provide. This place is definitely one to check out when it opens and I’ll be sure to stop by closer to opening date to follow up.