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Al-Asad brings hookah culture to Western Mass.

Al-Asad brings hookah culture to Western Mass.
Yazen Al-Asad, the owner of Petra Hookah Lounge in Springfield, is seen with two of the water pipes.
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs
Feb. 6, 2012
By G. Michael Dobbs
news@thereminder.com
SPRINGFIELD — In a fast-paced world, the hookah urges a person to slow down, and Yazen Al-Asad, the owner of Petra Hookah Lounge, is trying to spread the message of the 500 year-old Arabic tradition.
Open since September at 270 Worthington St., Petra is a very different addition to the city’s entertainment district. The lounge features the Arabic water pipe, the hookah, a food and drink menu, but no alcohol.
Visiting on a Friday night, this reporter saw people of different ages and ethnic groups sitting in the plush and comfortable surroundings passing the mouthpiece of a water pipe.
Al-Asad said hookah lounges are ubiquitous in the Middle East.
“They are on every corner of every neighborhood in every city,” Al-Asad said of his native Jordan.
Here in this country the hookah is more familiar in larger cities at places that cater to both people of Middle East heritage and younger people who have discovered its charms, Al-Asad added.
He explained that what he is doing is unique for Western Massachusetts and his style of hookah is different than those hookah lounges in other parts of New England.
The hookah is a very different smoking experience, as Al-Asad and his staff will explain to patrons. At the top of the pipe is a ceramic vessel called “the head,” in which the hookah tobacco is placed. The tobacco, or “shisha,” often has a fruit flavor added, but traditionally has been soaked in honey or molasses.
What Al-Asad does that is so different is to place the head with the tobacco into a bowl with fruit. This reporter smoked a hookah featuring the house blend of tobacco placed inside a fresh pineapple.
The smoke is filtered through the bottom of the pipe where there is a reservoir of water.
The result is a smoking experience far different than what most Americans have had. Its flavor is remarkably different and the smoke is much cooler.
Any number of people can share the pipe as each person received a disposable mouthpiece.
Although many people do not inhale the smoke, Al-Asad said that inhaling is necessary to enjoy the smoke’s full flavor.
Al-Asad worked with the city’s Health Department and with the state’s Fire Marshall’s office to meet indoor air quality standards.
Upon entering the lounge one is struck that there isn’t the smell of pipe smoke in the air. Besides the required ventilation, Al-Asad added an air freshening system.
The hookahs range in price from $14.99 to $29.99 with the fruit bowls being the most expensive.
Ice and milk can be added to the water reservoir for an additional charge. The ice creates a cooler smoke, while the milk creates “a thicker sensation,” according to the menu.
The lounge does not offer any alcoholic beverages, but does feature a wide variety of teas, coffees, fruit smoothies and soda.
Al-Asad said that he wants his patrons to come into his lounge to relax and he believes alcohol would go counter to his intentions.
The lounge has a few food offerings including a homemade lentil soup and Al-Asad plans to expand his menu.
He features a live DJ on some nights as well as special themes nights. He will soon add belly dance performances on the weekend.
For more information, go to www.petrahookah.com or call 787-0002.

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