Inside the hookah-lounge craze
by DAVE SCHWAB
Jul 23, 2014 | 15424 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Pharoah’s Cafe Lounge on Garnet Avenue is one of several hookah-lounge escapes for visitors. Photos by Dave Schwab
Pharoah’s Cafe Lounge on Garnet Avenue is one of several hookah-lounge escapes for visitors. Photos by Dave Schwab
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Frank Shamas is the owner of Pharaoh’s Lounge. Photo by Dave Schwab
Frank Shamas is the owner of Pharaoh’s Lounge. Photo by Dave Schwab
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If you’re looking for an offbeat entertainment alternative while you’re down at the beach, check out a hookah lounge.

And if you’re so inclined, there are about a half-dozen lounges to choose from in Pacific Beach.

One choice is Pharaoh’s Café Lounge at 976 Garnet Ave.

Formerly Zanzibar Café. Pharaoh’s spent six months completely remodeling the retail space, which was “resurrected” and reopened three months ago as a full-on restaurant-lounge. Pharaoh’s serves up food, smoke and beer and wine in its own unique, exotic style.

“People come here for the environment to see different kinds of people from different cultures,” said Frank Shamas of Pharaoh’s about what draws guests. “A hookah lounge is a very different place, a social place.”

Other Pacific Beach hookah lounges include: Off the Hookah, 972 Garnet Ave., Sinbad Café, 1050 Garnet Ave., Hook Me Up Hookah, 1140 Garnet Ave., and Red Velvet Hookah Lounge, 1425 Garnet Ave.

Pharaoh’s has a lot to offer, both the familiar and the unfamiliar. Big-screen TVs offer the latest in sports while guests lounge in the spacious interior that features plenty of tables for groups and lots of upholstered booths.

“It has to be very welcoming and offer new ideas,” said Shamas of the ambiance of hookah lounges like Pharaoh’s, noting “There are many options for hookah bars now. Before, there weren’t many,” he said.

Shamas said hookah lounges are popping up all over the country. In San Diego, he said there are as many as 30 concentrated along El Cajon Boulevard alone.

A hookah is a multi-stemmed waterpipe used to vaporize and smoke flavored tobacco called shisha, which is passed through a glass water basin before being inhaled. Hookahs are an ancient smoking tradition, originating from the Persian Empire. Hookahs later spread to Egypt in the Middle East and Turkey during the Ottoman dynasty.

The smoking apparatus has since gained popularity throughout the world.

The shisha is virgin, natural tobacco with flavoring and glycerine, said Shamas. A customer can purchase 250 grams of flavored shisha in a wide variety of flavors, which costs $14 to $20. That amount of shisha will typically last a group of three people about two hours.

Hookah pipes are meant to be shared, said Shamas.

He said that’s a big part of the lounge’s appeal.

What else is appealing about Pharaoh’s is the food. Fresh fruit and fruit drinks are offered, as well as a full menu and deli. Offerings include salads, sandwiches and panninis for lunch, brunch and dinner.

“We’ll be open for breakfast soon once we’ve established ourselves here,” said Shamas.

Pharaoh’s is also a great place to people-watch, any time of the night or day, as Shamas can attest.

“It’s very social and you can meet lots of new people,” he said, adding there’s a never-ending stream of passersby to gaze at; people of every age, background and walk of life.

“It’s a younger crowd at night than it is during the daytime,” said Shamas, noting the lounge is open late on weeknights, until 4 a.m., and 2 or 3 a.m. on weekdays depending on the turnout to capture that crowd.

“We get large groups of 20 people sometimes,” said Shamas.

He offers an open invitation for guests to drop in and experience what a hookah lounge is all about.

“Come in and try it at least once,” he said. “It’s very social, very modern. The brands, flavors and tastes of the tobacco are amazing. It’s something different, something unique.”
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