25 February 2009

Somewhere in the world a giant anthropomorphic caterpillar sheds a single tear.

Jacob Grier | The death of VA hookah bars:

One of the issues that was overlooked in Virginia’s smoking ban debate was its impact on hookah bars. [...]

Middle Eastern hookah bars are one of Northern Virginia’s hidden treasures, a unique cultural experience thriving in the suburbs. The small lounges feature delicious mint tea, water pipes with flavored tobacco, music, and special lighting at night. Given how few of them exist, it’s unlikely anyone working in them objects too strenuously to the smoky environment. Yet because Governor Tim Kaine thinks he knows better than the employees what’s best for them, they will soon no longer have a choice in the matter — or likely any job at all.
This makes me a sad blogger.

Hookahs lend texture and rhythm to a conversation. They fill up gaps, they inject pauses. They give you time to think. Hookahs promote introspection and camaraderie at the same time.

I was introduced to hookahs growing up in the DC suburbs. When you're too old to hang out at the mall or the movie theater and too young for bars, hookah bars are a great option. Every other weekend or so junior and senior year we'd head down to Shalimar Restaurant on M St (or Prince Cafe, if Shalimar was too crowded). Good times.

Hookah smoking got to be popular enough in my school that some friends and I actually went into business building them out of plumbing supplies for sale to our classmates. Not a bad business, to tell you the truth. Hookah's were a nice thing to have around at a house party because it was something the drinking and non-drinking attendees could bond over.

I ended up getting a professionally-produced model to take off to college with me. Sure, you get some weird looks setting up a hookah on the quad at a school like Notre Dame. (Most of the people walking by didn't even know what lacrosse was, and that's only from Canada. I hardly expected them to be familiar with the water pipe traditions of Southwest Asia.) So yes, you get some hairy eyeballs, but it's also a great excuse to hang outside and meet some people.

I still enjoy the hookah today. I'd recommend them to any other grad students out there interested in (legal) chemically-aided relaxation. Well, I'd recommend them to anybody, but I'm thinking students might enjoy the fact that you can take an hour off after dinner to smoke a bowl of shisha and still be clear headed enough afterwards to hit the books for a while before bed. I don't know about you, but I'm not on my A-game after unwinding with a couple of martinis.

In conclusion: Well done, Virginia. You've taken something nice and ruined it with your petty insistence that everybody in your state adopt an identical risk profile with respect to second-hand smoke. Great job treating all your citizens like adults. Keep up the good work.


  1. Yes. You got strange enough looks from your own friends/roommates, let alone complete strangers.

  2. Touché, sir. Touché. But was your life made more or less interesting based on my love of exotic smoking implements?

  3. It's sad. Soon enough I'll really have no ties to my culture in the public world (that most people will enjoy). This ban is just stupid!