Go Ahead, Inhale

Jason Crosby

The first thing I saw upon approaching Off the Hookah was a brightly dressed bevy of shrieking party girls. Amid running mascara and tiny shaking fists (with perfectly manicured fingernails), I heard rumblings about a "fake I.D." and witnessed the subsequent expulsion of the entire pack from the club. As I got closer, I realized that getting the boot was not the issue that sparked their ire; they were demanding that they each be reimbursed for the $10 cover charge. I didn't see what happened at the end of their argument, but who could blame them? That's a steep price for a bar that charges $7 a drink.

Since cover charges are only for mere mortals, I grabbed the arm of my companion — whose face is so delectably fuzzy that henceforth he will simply be referred to as the Beard — and we slipped inside.

Ambiance: With its seizure-inducing strobe lights, giant mirrors, throbbing dance music, and billowing scented smoke, Off the Hookah can best be described as a shroomtastic trip into a disco-infused opium den. The walls are decorated with Eastern and Egyptian trinkets, from tassels to studs to gold curtains to paintings of sexy belly dancers. (One wall even has a realistic-looking gold sarcophagus.) There are multiple bars, all dispensing liquor in plastic cups. Along the left wall are canopied beds that are clearly "reserved." To the right of the entrance is a small, quiet bar area with giant mirrors and speckled tile. This room, the bartender says, is called the "Frozen Room." This is deliciously ironic because this is the one room with no air conditioning and thus the only room not densely populated.

I grabbed the Beard and pulled him through the main room — we found ourselves accidentally friendly with more barely concealed T&A than you could shake a stick at — until we arrived at a small dance stage and several tables outfitted with cushy, red-velvet chairs. Beyond the stage is a wall-length, red-hued waterfall lined with Mayan-inspired statues, in case Off the Hookah's decadence were ever in question. Girls in shiny shirts took pictures of other girls in shiny shirts posing together with drinks and big white smiles, various pop and R&B hits boomed over the speakers, and a very small, very drunk guy in a white shirt tried to run behind one of the bars (and was forcibly removed).

Drinks: After depositing the Beard into a cushy red chair, I scurried over to the bar. I ordered two vodka drinks from the bartender. Mike, the tall, well-dressed guy leaning on the bar next to me, was tapping along with the hip-hop remix playing over the speakers. He wrinkled his nose a little.

"Smoke getting to you?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said.

Standing in a fog of hookah smoke, I could see his point. "First time here?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said. "Cool place — I just don't smoke." He continued bobbing to the music.

"Good for you," I said.

"Well, not anymore, at least," he said. "You know, back 20 years ago, you could smoke a joint a foot long." That's a myth, just like unicorns and marital fidelity, I thought to myself.

"You can't do that anymore," he said, sensing my disbelief. "If you did" — he used his index finger to draw a quick line across his throat — "you'd die."

Belly dancer: I carted our beverages back to the table, where I found that the Beard had already both acquired a hookah and charged it directly to my tab. There was also a gorgeous belly dancer swiveling around the small stage directly to the right of our table. Marina had a mane of long black hair and wore a skimpy pink outfit with a belt of jingling gold coins. She had lithe, smooth limbs and a perfectly flat abdomen that flexed as she popped her hips to a techno song that alternated the words "belly dancer" and "snake charmer." I watched in awe, too mesmerized to throw back the vodka. She lit some sticks on fire, brandished them around her body, grazed her exposed flesh with them, and then finally pushed them into her mouth in a distinct deep-throating motion. Needless to say, it was hot and immediately made the club a winner.

Patrons: The next thing I noticed about Off the Hookah, besides its dreamy atmosphere, gorgeous belly dancer, and hordes of sexy partiers, was the distinct inclination for girls and boys to dance separately from each other. This, of course, conjured up images of a middle school social, so I decided to venture outside. (By now, the Beard had ordered another vodka tonic and had managed to encase himself in a cloud of strawberry-scented smoke.)

As I was getting up from our candle-lit table, I noticed a guy with a slender frame and spiky hair pretending to grope the ass of another guy who was dancing in a four-person dance train. Nearby, a dark-haired girl snapped a photo. The groper ran over to look at the pictures, and, unsatisfied with the first shot, went back for a second round of pretend-groping while the photographer snapped away.

"What, did the first one not turn out?" I asked, when he ran back over to check the camera.

"No, but this one did," said the guy, who told me his name was Devon (but I might have misheard, and it might actually have been Kevin or Melvin or even Francisco).

"So does that mean tomorrow it will be all over MySpace?" I asked.

He gave me a withering look. "You mean Facebook." Touché.

Patio: Outside are two patio bars — one that's "inside the club" and one that you can drink at without paying the cover. It was here that I met Chris and James, who were pounding back beers. Chris had steady, dark eyes and a somber voice, and James was classically handsome, with a strong jaw and blond hair hidden under a ball cap.

"You boys look like you're getting hammered," I said.

"I'm not," Chris said.

"He's my baby sitter tonight," said James, his eyes slightly unfocused.

"What's the occasion?"

"It's Friday, and it's been a shitty week," James said, very matter-of-factly for a drunk person. "That's occasion enough."

"What do you guys do during the week?" I asked.

"We work on yachts," said James.

"Wow," I said.

"Yeah, it's actually pretty fun," James continued. "It's not what I went to school for, but you're outside, you're seeing new things. And it pays OK, but the best part is that everything's covered. Someone cooks for us; we don't have to even pay for stuff like... deodorant. It's all covered."

"Wait... that sounds awesome. How was your week shitty again?" I asked.

"Well, it was hot out," James shrugged sheepishly.

"So are you guys going inside to dance?" I asked.

"We can't," said Chris. "There's a dress code."

"Yeah, they wouldn't let us in," James said, motioning to his shorts.

"Well, that's their loss, then," I said.

When I slipped back into the club, I was grabbed at by a short Mexican kid who, when I responded negatively, accused me of disliking short Mexicans. When I found the Beard again, he was drunkenly blowing smoke rings and dancing in his red, cushy chair to Justin Timberlake. Figuring he'd be ready to go, I nodded my head in the direction of the door. He rolled his eyes and motioned for me to sit down. He handed me the hose. I put my lips on the little plastic mouthpiece, took a big strawberry-scented puff, and let it out slowly, allowing the white smoke to billow over my face and overhead. Before I knew it, I was draining more vodka and (futilely) attempting to blow smoke rings. Well, what the hell. It was Friday after a long, shitty week — nothing that vodka, a hookah, and belly dancing couldn't cure.

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