Some hookah lounges are business modeled as such from their inception. Others are cafés to which the element of hookah smoking was added later. Hookah lounges of all sorts have become popular in parts of Europe and North America in the last decade.
Often, hookah lounges are owned and operated by people from the Muslim world or other regions where use of the hookah is a centuries-old tradition. Some offer Middle Eastern cuisine menu items. Almost all offer what most Westerners call Turkish coffee. Many hookah lounges incorporate such elements as Islamic decor and Arabic music or Indian music.. Hookahs have originated from Muslim lands in the Middle East, Islamic jurisprudence allows tobacco smoking of any form.
An elderly patron of an establishent in Turkey describes the advantages of the hookah lounge as follows:
"Smoking a hookah is nothing like smoking a cigarette...cigarettes are for nervous people, competitive people, people on the run...when you smoke a hookah, you have time to think. It teaches you patience and tolerance, and gives you an appreciation of good company."A younger customer adds:
"The important thing is not what you put in the pipe, but who is with you while you're smoking...it's a complete experience...in a cafe like this one, you find the good people, the old people, the interesting people. As long as there is a need for company and friendship, as long as people want to stop and think, there will be nargile cafes.
Typically a disposable mouthpiece is provided for each user for hygiene reasons. Hookah lounges do not typically have liquor licenses but instead derive the bulk of their revenue from sales of coffee, soft drinks and snack foods.
Some hookah lounges have well-equipped kitchens and are more akin to bistros. In the broadest sense, any restaurant or nightclub can be considered a hookah lounge if it offers patrons hookahs, shisha, and a comfortable place to smoke.
Due to several state anti-tobacco laws, many Hookah Bars have made the transition from smoking traditional shisha to smoking herbal shisha because it contains no tobacco, tar or nicotine and is legal indoors in areas specific to the prohibition of tobacco smoking.
In this traditional setting the hookah is typically of the single-hose variety. This is in contrast with the multi-hose variety favored in the hookah lounge and intended to emphasize the communal nature of the activity.
Many hookah lounges in the United States have chic or modernistic elements such as glass tables, plasma televisions and oxygen bars. Most bars in the U.S. require patrons to be at least 17 years of age to smoke hookah and 18 years of age to purchase (exceptions are Utah, Arizona and New York).
One purveyor of hookahs and shisha claims:
"It's at its largest demand ever in this country...I don't think it's going away anytime soon. There's so much more room for the product to expand. Only a small percentage of Americans know about it.
Many municipalities, especially in North America and Europe, have enacted smoking bans in public places. Sometimes, however, businesses can obtain special permits allowing smoking within; these permits are typically available only for hookah lounges, cigar bars, tobacconists, and similar establishments where smoking is the focus of activity. They are less frequently available for places in which alcohol or food is served.
In some cases, the ban is against tobacco smoking specifically. When this is the case, a hookah lounge may remain in business by replacing traditional, tobacco-based shisha with tobacco-free, herbal alternatives.