Arabian lights

Arabian lights

Despite a citywide ban on smoking, one Lawrence business has found a way to bring the Lebanese practice of smoking hookah to the trendy social scene of “Mass street.”

Along with his mother Leila, father Bassam, two brothers Hani and Hazem and his fiancé Beth, Bassem Chahine helps to run the Lebanese Hookah House located at 730 Massachusetts St. in Lawrence.

Chahine said since the business opened on Sept. 6, the Hookah House has been very busy.

Hookahs are devices used to smoke tobacco through water and have a long history.

“The hookah is about 4,000 years old and is a huge tradition in every Middle-Eastern city,” Chahine said. “We just wanted to bring that tradition to Lawrence.”

However, Chahine endured some setbacks along the way.

“We had the idea (for the Hookah House) two years ago, but then the ban came,” he said. “The city told us that we should wait a year with the ban. We went back to them after that, and they gave us the rules.”

Toni Wheeler, staff attorney with the city of Lawrence, said while no formal approval for the Hookah House was given by the city, the Chahine family was notified of the details of the city ordinance regulating the smoking and sale of tobacco and proceeded from there.

The ordinance, which was passed in 2004, prohibits the smoking of tobacco in such closed places as bars and restaurants, but allows exemptions for tobacco retailers, she said.

The ordinance defines a tobacco retailer as a business that sells primarily tobacco, with all other sales being incidental, Wheeler said.

Chahine said a large majority of the Hookah House’s sales come from tobacco, and only people 18 and over are allowed inside.

Chahine was grateful he was able to open his business despite the smoking ban.

“The city was very helpful. They liked the idea of bringing something new to Lawrence,” he said. “I want to thank them a lot.”

Junior Scot Rogers said the Hookah House was not what he had pictured.

“I thought it would be shady and skeezy,” he said. “A sort of hole in the wall with dirt on the floors – a very smoky place.”

Rogers’ impressions after visiting the Hookah House were far different from his expectations.

“It was amazing. I was really surprised as to how clean the air was,” he said. “But the best part was seeing another culture and the mixing of different world cultures.”

Rogers said he recommends others visit the Hookah House.

“It would be a really cool place for a date,” he said. “I also think people who don’t smoke should go because it has a great social atmosphere.”

For $10, patrons may rent a hookah, which comes with a free serving of hummus and a drink of the customer’s choice, Chahine said.

The Lebanese Hookah House is open from 5 p.m. to midnight on weekdays and 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. on weekends.