It's been a while since I've had a chance to stop into a nice cocktail lounge, so when I heard how behind the times I was on the new(ish) Zoya Hookah Lounge, I figured it was as good an option as any. I've never felt particularly inclined to visit a hookah lounge, but the word was that Zoya was dishing out some interesting new concoctions, a rumor that warranted further investigation.
Zoya resides in the space previously occupied by the Buddha Lounge, a stylish restaurant and bar on a corner of 15th Street and the Seventh Avenue Ybor strip. The restaurant closed about a year ago, leaving the space — which is attached to the Czar nightclub — open. In a smart strategic move, Czar took over and opened Zoya, expanding its empire to include the full block.
Czar has always done a great job of creating a unique aesthetic in its club, so Zoya has the warm feel of a Middle Eastern lounge, with soft red lighting in a room filled with plush sofas, horseshoe-shaped booths, Moroccan rugs and ornate hanging lanterns.
The purpose of most hookah lounges is to create a relaxing environment where a group can share shisha, flavored tobaccos smoked from a community hookah. Alcohol is often involved, but this is the first time I've seen a hookah lounge with such a strong emphasis on craft cocktails. Head bartender Jamie has created an impressive list of original signature cocktails that change on a regular basis, often to reflect the changing of the seasons.
On the current autumn menu, you'll find more than a dozen of these cocktails, ranging from subtle twists on classics, such as the Moroccan Mule, to completely original creations, like the Turkish Tea — a mix of Russian Standard vodka, elderflower liqueur, chai tea and lemongrass-infused simple syrup, garnished with a lemon twist. The latter was quite good, though I felt that the elderflower liqueur somewhat overpowered the chai.
After perusing the cocktail list, it was no surprise to find that the craft beer selection was also strong, with drafts from Stone, Sierra Nevada and Abita, and a small but solid bottle list. The wine list is along similar lines — short and sweet — and champagne bottles are available, ranging from the budget-friendly Cristalino Brut Cava all the way up to Dom Perignon.
Each of the four nights Zoya is open have unique specials — all-you-can-smoke hookahs on Wednesdays for $12 a person, 2-for-1 cocktails on Fridays from 8 to 10 p.m., 2-for-1 hookah elixirs from 8 to 10 p.m. Saturdays, and a nice bit of kitsch with a fortune-teller on Thursdays.