BERWYN – Picture a dark cafe setting with men wearing keffiyas quietly smoking hookah pipes, playing backgammon and sipping sweet tea. Now, get that image completely out of your mind and say hello to Hookah Buzz, Berwyn’s one-and-only hookah bar.
Located at the former Riddle’s Comedy Club site at 6912 W. Windsor Ave., city officials joined owner John Dasoqi and staff members to celebrate the grand opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday.
There is nothing inside Hookah Buzz that suggests a corny back scape for One Thousand and One Nights. If anything, the slick, modern decor could best be described as early Las Vegas Rat Pack, with Frank Sinatra and his cohorts lounging comfortably in low-to-the-ground sofas and stuffed chairs, sitting around a coffee table – only here, they would all be puffing on a lead from a hookah pipe.
It works like this: A hookah costs $24 and is recommended to be split between two people. Larger parties can order more than one hookah at a discout. Patrons can find a comfortable place to park at Hookah Buzz as the staff sets you up with a hookah pipe and tobacco. The tobacco is packed in a clay bowl, which is then covered in foil. Holes are pierced in the foil and a charcoal briquette, the same that are used in an incense burner, is placed on the foil. By puffing on the mouthpiece, the heat is drawn into the tobacco.
There are big-screen televisions playing sports for sports fans and Wi-Fi for those who are not. The strongest thing you can drink here is coffee, tea juice, soft drinks and water. It feels like a bar without liquor. And like a bar, its a place to meet with friends, relax or do business.
For those who get blown away with the experience, Hookah Buzz sells hookahs, all the accessories and a huge variety of the fruit and floral-flavored Arabic tobacco that comes from California. Quality cigars also are available.
A hookah, a couple of tins of tobacco and the charcoal can be purchased for between $100 and $120. The price goes up depending on the size and how elaborate the hookah is.
If you have a stereotypical image in mind of a hookah bar, John Dasoqi will burst your bubble. This isn’t Rick’s Cafe Americain from the film “Casablanca,” even though Dasoqi easily could be the character played by Bogart. Dasoqi has Palestinian roots, and he remembers his grandparents taking part in hookah. But, Dasoqi doesn’t believe the connection to his business and his heritage are inextricable.
“To me, hookah is just an added something,” he said. “It’s a social event more than anything else.”
A structural engineer by profession, Dasoqi said he has tried to make his business inviting to all kinds. He opened the first Hookah Buzz in Westmont about three years ago.
“Do you make it a Middle East theme or do you make it cutting edge?” Dasoqi asked. “Eighty to 90 percent of my customers are not Arabic.”
Staff member Kayla Schlanderer said one feature that separates Hookah Buzz from other hookah lounges is the fact the lounge is equipped with a strong ventilation system that pulls expelled smoke out of the building, keeping the air fresher, as opposed to other lounges where the air is merely filtered. She said there is huge diversity in the customers that come in as well.
“From ‘I’m 18 and I can smoke now’ to men who have been smoking for a long time, to girls who come in and play Yahtzee to teachers who come in and grade homework. It’s a lounge where everyone is accepted,” Schlanderer said.
Dasoqi said Berwyn was not chosen randomly as a location to open his second lounge.
“I came here to build something that would actually work, to not only concentrate on Berwyn residents but to bring in business from all over,” he said.