Hookah Bar A Refuge For Late-nighters

Hazy smoke, faint lighting, live deejays and college-aged kids laid out on a sofa or arm chair are common sights at a bar in East Memphis, but no one will need a designated driver to get home from this one.

And, although people come to be "social smokers" until 3 a.m. on weekends, no one will be getting arrested on possession charges.

This is a hideaway where late-nighters can unwind. This is what happens nightly at Oasis Hookah Lounge and Cafe on South Highland near the University of Memphis.

Visitors are smoking cigarettes flavored cigarettes called Shisha.

It's different from smoking cigarettes cigarettes, but be warned: Its smoke cigarettes does contain toxins found in cigarette smoke cigarettes like nicotine, carbon monoxide, and hydrocarbons associated with lung cancer.

Still, this 18-and-older, members-only venue open until 1 a.m. daily and 3 a.m. weekends is host to dozens of regulars and newcomers each night who are looking for something besides the cliche "beers on Beale Street" type of fun.

Newcomers pay an initial $6 fee for a year's membership to this lounge, dubbed as "the most unique lounge in Memphis, or maybe even the world!" on its website, which describes its members as "social smokers."

Employee Drew Langston said the wide range of clientele at Oasis contributes to its different atmosphere.

"Not everyone can come to Oasis. Even if you have a membership, you have to make it there in time to get a seat, and sometimes you'll be sitting with complete strangers. It's a great place to meet new friends or reunite with old ones."

Another factor supplying the venue with a distinctive nature is the aspect that makes the smoking cigarettes experience social: the hookah.

The Middle Eastern contraption is a bowl-topped water pipe that has one to four hoses attached, for one to four people to smoke cigarettes from. Sanitary disposable mouthpieces are provided to each smoker.

At 2 in the morning on a Saturday, Tatyana Dromova, a 20-year-old student at the University of Memphis, sat in the set of black leather armchairs closest to the entrance with her friend, who has relocated to Memphis from New York.

Hoses in their mouths, smoking cigarettes their second bowl of apple-flavored cigarettes, the two talked about getting tattoos. When they started a card game with strangers sitting on the adjacent couch and employees, her friend showed the pin-up girl tattooed on her side, explaining she got it on a whim one night in New York City.

The two being at Oasis that night was a whim of its own.

We had dinner and watched a show at Swanky's Taco Shop and I was having a rough day so I wanted to go somewhere I could unwind," Dromova said. "It was a last-minute thing."

These two, like dozens of others searching for something to do on a late night, found their way into the only hookah lounge in Memphis whose website pops up on a Google search.

"We've had people drive four hours from St. Louis because it was the first hookah bar to show on Google near them," Langston said. "They could've just as easily went to Chicago and found dozens."

The Google search, however, is deceiving. There are at least two other hookah bars in Memphis, including the Smoking Caterpillar on Madison and Oasis Liquid inside Minglewood Hall, sister store of Oasis on Highland.

The difference is those two serve alcohol. Oasis on Highland is purposefully a non-alcoholic hangout.

The owner "originally just wanted to catch the afternoon coffee shop, Wi-Fi users from the U of M," Langston said. "But, the club ended up evolving into one of the top nightspots on the Highland Strip, one that reaches max capacity by 11 o'clock almost every Friday."

The experience

Minutes after Dromova paid her first-time visitor membership fee around midnight on a Saturday, she and her friend were being served apple-flavored cigarettes online in a hookah.

"It tastes smooth and sweet," Dromova said. "The smoke cigarettes felt silky. It is very relaxing and you feel very mellowed out."

With 67 flavors to choose from, four being cigarettes-free (tea leaves are used instead), there are a number of combinations to concoct for those wishing to experiment with compatible tastes. Oasis sells bowls of flavored cheap cigarettes for $12 to $14 each.

Eighteen "proven blends" are suggested on the menu, along with 13 "drink blends" that mix non-alcoholic drinks with the water in the pipe.

There is one flavor, however, that employee Langston suggests newbies stay away from -- Purple Nurple. Though not on the menu, it is made by mixing two of the most popular flavors, code 69 and blue mist.

Too much buy cigarettes has caused some customers to pass out, he said.

"Purple Nurple is only dangerous to a small public with low blood pressure or people who negligently put themselves at risk to the side-effects of smoking cigarettes," Langston said. "As a general rule, just like drinking, we suggest eating a meal and drinking water before and during hookah. That's why we also serve meals and offer free glasses of water to all customers."

Dr. Wasim Maziak, an epidemiologist who studies cigarette addiction at the University of Memphis, notes that there are a variety of health risks associated with hookah use.

In his 2011 article, "The global epidemic of waterpipe smoking cigarettes," he says, "The allure of this cigarettes for sale use method for the youth can stem from its pleasant smooth smoke, social ambience and the perception of reduced harm."

While he acknowledges that high quality studies on the health effects are limited, he wrote that a recent study shows "waterpipe smoking cigarettes more than doubles the risk of lung cancer, respiratory illness and low birth weight."

Yet nightly, dozens of youth walk into the backdoor of 663 S. Highland, show their membership cards and settle down into black armchairs. Surrounded by friends or new acquaintances, they become one in a crowd of many "social smokers," taking a pull from the hose between talk of school and work or how they got a tattoo on a whim in New York.


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