Burning to open

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Josh Pennell
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City’s first hookah lounge offers unique experience, but encounters delays

Perhaps the hardest thing for people to get past with hookah bars is the thought of them being like some ancient opium den where the only thing shadier than the lighting of the place is the characters who hang out there. But as the owner of the province’s first hookah lounge tells The Telegram, these places are all about community.

Mohamad El Bakri of Aladdin’s Hookah Lounge sits at a booth in his business with a hookah. El Bakri’s business will be the first and only hookah lounge in the province. — Photo by Josh Pennell/The Telegram

Aladdin’s Hookah Lounge on Water Street is very much a legal operation and is very much ready to open. It’s also been delayed from doing so.

Mohamad El Bakri is the co-owner of the business with his friend, Tareq Yousef. El Bakri came here seven years ago to attend school and had the idea for a hookah bar since then. From Palestine, El Bakri says where he comes from every neighbourhood has a hookah lounge.

 Like a coffee shop

“It’s like the hangout place, you know. That’s where people from different kinds of ages and different kinds of interests hang out. It’s like going to a coffee shop with the addition of the hookah and the atmosphere,” he says.

That atmosphere doesn’t involve alcohol, but a selection of hot and cold beverages. This city’s hookah hot spot will include offerings of Turkish coffee, Arabian tea and some Middle Eastern desserts.

Then, of course, there’s the hookah itself — an aromatic and flavoured herbal-based tobacco smoked through an apparatus where the smoke passes through a water chamber.

“The smoke is not really like smoke. It’s more like water vapour. So it doesn’t stink. It doesn’t stick to you. It smells good. It tastes good. It comes in different flavours,” says El Bakri.

El Bakri plans to have 10 or more flavours available. For $14.95 you come in and purchase a hookah which may be shared. That will last a good hour or more, he says. If a refill on the herb is wanted, it will be cheaper than the initial order. If a pair comes in and splits a hookah and has a beverage and a dessert, they’ll lay down $20, he says. Smoking a hookah does give a bit of a “buzz”, says El Bakri, but it’s not a high. It’s similar to the buzz somebody might get from a cigarette or cigar. So the experience is a unique blend of aromas from the hookah, beverages and desserts — a place where people of various ages and backgrounds collect, relax and converse.

“You put all these things together and you have a different experience that’s not comparable to anything else,” says El Bakri.

It’s a different experience and it’s becoming widespread in parts of Canada. The business duo have installed a top-shelf ventilation system, but El Bakri swears even without it the smoke wouldn’t linger in the lounge. The hookah lounge is for people who aren’t even into the hookah, he says.

“You’re not going to walk in and see a cloud of fog.”

People who know what it is are anxious to see it open and people who are unsure are still curious. For those who don’t know what it is or may have a false impression of it being illegal, El Bakri and Yousef have met the falsehood head on.

“We just take the time to explain to them what it is and we offer them to try it,” El Bakri says. “The feedback we’ve been getting is great.”

In the meantime, weeks of potential sales have been going up in smoke and not at all in the way the pair had hoped. Their lounge is fully decorated and ready to go, but El Bakri says there are some other things the city wants done to the building before they can open. They’re just waiting to hear what they are so they can get them done, but as of now the city hasn’t communicated exactly what the issue is. The Telegram contacted city hall but there was no response as of deadline.

El Bakri is telling customers to keep an eye on the Facebook page for Aladdin’s Hookah Lounge for when the opening date will be. It will likely be very short notice because as soon as they get word from the city, they plan on having the requests done very quickly. Meanwhile, even if the opening date has turned out to be something of a slow burn, El Bakri is keeping a very clear focus on his hookah future.

“Things are looking bright,” he says.

Geographic location: Water Street, Palestine, Canada

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Recent comments

  • Ryan Scaplen
    July 11, 2014 - 00:31

    sounds sick breh

  • bissan hazem
    July 10, 2014 - 23:01

    I had question came to my mind after thinking and reading few comments, what about if Bars decide to install state of the art ventilation system and allowed internal smoking? What about the restaurant not allowed to service smoking customers in open spaces,not closed buildings, where their ventilation is the whole universe? What about restaurant and bars with outside Decks? Why open parking space of hospital considered smoke free area? It's open ventilation on the whole universe? Does anybody ask himself where the state of art ventilation system will vent the smoke? of course in the surrounding area. What is the fault of the local and people passing by to be subjected to second hand smoking? Does anybody ask himself or the owners asking themself this questions?

  • bissan hazem
    July 10, 2014 - 16:57

    First of all, big difference exist between designated smoking room and whole establishment selling smoking products. The Hookah lounge isn't designated smoking room but commercial smoking establishment. The ventilation system will do nothing but to take the smoke from inside and blow it in the face of people outside. Where is the rights of the non-smokers and people with allergy, people don't like the smell of it. What is the point of installing the law if the authority will give people exceptions? Now, what about the health hazards? The so claimed Herbal Molasses Nicotine Free isn't really Nicotine free according to some scientific research. It contain more harmful chemicals than cigarettes. The state of the art ventilation system one of the owners talking about will take smoke loaded with Tar and concentrated amount of Carbon Dioxide and Monoxide, from inside, and blow it in the people faces outside. The whole area will be affected. This quotation from The Telegram article titled 'Burning to open' according to Mohamad El Bakri, one of the owners: (Smoking a hookah does give a bit of a “buzz”, says El Bakri, but it’s not a high. It’s similar to the buzz somebody might get from a cigarette or cigar.) The question now is it regulated the same as cigarette or cigar? Do you know what is non-regulated mean? It mean teen boys and girls could order it and they don't need to show ID's. Why anybody need such establishment in the town? If people chose to consume such products in their homes, it's their personal choice, after all people smoke Cigarettes and Cigars. but opening such establishment in dense residential and commercial area or anywhere in the town. what kind of quality life will be with large number of people including kids and infants will be subjected to second hand smoking. Located on the right and left side the Hookah lounge is restaurant and sports shop, what is their fault and what is their customers fault? allowing that lounge to open is very Questionable.

    • Jeremy
      July 21, 2014 - 05:04

      Do you think the vent is gonna be straight out into the street in peoples faces? You've just proven to me the level of your stupidity. Maybe you should check with your brain before you speak next time.

  • I'm all for it
    July 10, 2014 - 08:06

    These days when you go into a hookah establishment, each customer gets a disposable mouthpiece to use. Very sanitary! Best of luck, hope the city doesn't hold this up much longer.

  • heyshu
    July 09, 2014 - 17:38

    look forward to coming

    • bissan hazem
      July 09, 2014 - 23:47

      keep looking

  • Buddy
    July 09, 2014 - 11:50

    The lounges are totally legal, and if you don't want to share a hookah with someone because of germs, don't! Do you expect a restaurant to sanitize a milkshake before you share it with someone? Good luck with your project and I hope it gets off the ground soon! And people. If you have an issue with the establishment, take it up with the department of health. It is a totally legal endeavor and Mr El Bakri is doing nothing wrong. Don't attack him!

    • bissan hazem
      July 09, 2014 - 16:30

      I would like to remind you that smoking inside building is forbidden by law. and smoking is smoking. El-Bakeri admit that the buzz from Herbal Molasses is the same as Cigar or Cigarette. So the question about health risk, Is the Herbal Molasses smoking pose danger same as regular Tobacco products? The answer is Yes. Why it should treated any differently?

    • bissan hazem
      July 09, 2014 - 16:48

      Exactly Buddy, this matter will be taken to the department of health to question how violation of Anti-smoking law allowed? All the town know that internal smoking is not allowed. It's pointless what some people argue.

  • Av
    July 08, 2014 - 23:04

    Finally! Some diverse cultural experiences in our small big city. Can't wait! Best of luck!

  • Corporate Psycho
    July 08, 2014 - 20:15

    Get a room by's.

  • terry myers
    July 08, 2014 - 19:43

    no idea how how to do snow removal,no idea how to maintain roads and no clue how to welcome something as new and cool as a hookah lounge.the oldest city in north america also has the the most useless council,bar none.

  • bissan hazem
    July 08, 2014 - 18:41

    This quotation from the article (Smoking a hookah does give a bit of a “buzz”, says El Bakri, but it’s not a high. It’s similar to the buzz somebody might get from a cigarette or cigar. ) I suggest instead of attack me personally to watch what you said. Cigarettes and Alcohol is regulated and taxed by the government while what you claim Herbal Molasses Nicotine free cause buzz the same as Cigar and Cigarettes so logically it had the same affect. but is it regulated the same? Then in your reply on the comment (Yuck) you talked about cleaning procedure of the Hookah while in the article you encourage people to share Hookah to save on the Bill and pay only 20 Dollar for two people. Is this make sense for you? because how many people i know read the article, it make no sense for them.

    • Mike
      July 09, 2014 - 12:03

      You make no sense.

    • bissan hazem
      July 09, 2014 - 16:32

      It make all sense.

    • bissan hazem
      July 09, 2014 - 16:44

      I write with my real name, i got nothing to hide. I hope people thing they are right to write with their real names, not same person writing multiple comments. It's not very health practice. I could do the same and i could ask friends to write comments but i chose not to do so.

  • nomadman
    July 08, 2014 - 16:28

    Another stitch in the increasingly cultural mosaic that is downtown St. John's. In response to bissan hazem, Hookah smoking is a harmless and relaxing ancient Middle Eastern tradition; hookah smoke is entirely legal and virtually devoid of toxins, save a negligible (read: undetectable) amount of nicotine. If you want to make an argument against unhealthy business endeavors, you're in the right place: St. John's has more alcohol establishments per capita than any place on the continent.

  • bissan hazem
    July 08, 2014 - 15:33

    Your establishment is violating the smoking law that prohibited internal smoking. This very fact could be enough to argue but since you spread accusations about me i have right to reply. The fact that you violate anti-smoking laws, will be enough to question the process allow you to start such establishment. The information about damaging health effect for what you describe it water vapor is published by very respectful trustee organizations such as Alberta health services, University of Alberta and Hospitals in Toronto. I didn’t write them. actually over 50% of the articles about how bad such establishment and the risk pose to public health is published neither on the Telegram or CBC, how they are giving you space to promote such establishment is very questionable. I used to sell Herbal Molasses but i stop long time ago after this facts came to me. I still sell Hookahs but it could be used for decoration or it would be for people use it in their home. This would be personal choice for them. Your establishment could benefit me and increase my sales. It was not about affect my what you call it little home business, it was about people health. The smoke from Herbal Molasses is have stinky nature and pose health hazards such as lung cancer, lung problem, second hand smoking affect because of concentrated amounts of Carbon monoxide, Carbon dioxide and Tar. according to scientific research, people who have Heart condition, and smoked one Herbal Molasses Nicotine free Hookah session, this could be fatal. Try to be professional when you write reply on somebody, don’t personalize your reply. This is my advice for you. Making money over people health when the facts clear for you about the damage your establishment cause is selfish. finally, i didn’t made several pages to attack your business. I write with my real name and i could send tons of message with fake names but i don’t. It is not part of my nature.

  • bissan hazem
    July 08, 2014 - 15:22

    “The smoke is not really like smoke. It’s more like water vapour.' This statement is not true. It's not Water Vapour. It contain Tar and concentrated amount of Carbon Dioxide. and it had the same effect as second hand smoking.. What i said proven by scientific research and it's not something random.

  • Yuck
    July 08, 2014 - 12:27

    I love my Hookah but a lounge? I don't know where to start, but I sure don't want to use pipe's that have been passed around. I don't want to suck other peoples germs and saliva...I think this is a really bad idea and investment.

    • Aladdin's Hookah Lounge
      July 08, 2014 - 13:05

      Good day sir, Your concern is definitely a major one that we had to address before being able to operate. The hookahs undergo a full washing and cleaning procedure before they can be reused again by another restaurant. They have to be washed, then cleaned with special solutions and then sanitized and rinsed. The same thing that happens to your plate and spoon that you use in a restaurant. This is governed and monitored by the department of health. Our hookas are totally washable including the hoses. This is not the only business of it kind to ever exist in the world. There are thousands of these lounges all around the world. You can rest assured that all these details are being addressed and resolved accordingly. If you have any other concerns please dont hesitate to let us know. Thank you

    • Aladdin's Hookah Lounge
      July 08, 2014 - 13:37

      I meant to say: "The hookahs undergo a full washing and cleaning procedure before they can be reused again by another CUSTOMER" My apologies

    • Aladdin's Hookah Lounge
      July 08, 2014 - 14:05

      I meant to say: "The hookahs undergo a full washing and cleaning procedure before they can be reused again by another CUSTOMER" My apologies

    • bissan hazem
      July 08, 2014 - 16:27

      His answer isn't satisfactory for me personally. Whatever cleaning procedures he describe will not guarantee viral and bacterial diseases not to be transferred from person to another. What about if people share the Hookah? he mentioned this facts in the article twice. First (For $14.95 you come in and purchase a hookah which may be shared.) and second ( If a pair comes in and splits a hookah). How the cleaning procedure will help prevent spreading of diseases in this situation?

  • Mahmoud
    July 08, 2014 - 12:25

    I wish you best of luck and never ending success :*

  • Jeff
    July 08, 2014 - 09:11

    Best of luck to you, Mohamad. I look forward to making a visit.

    • ronald osmond
      July 11, 2014 - 00:37

      bys if you got a problem with the hookah bars being unsanitary or damaging to your health just dont go. let people who want to have a good time sharing a hookah over some coffee do their thing. by the way i wish they would allow the ganja in places like these ps smoke a bit of the plant by bissan it wont hurtcha