Make us your home page

Business owner bring hookah tradition to downtown Clearwater

CLEARWATER — In 1993, architect David Spears designed his first hookah bar in Chicago.

"Back then, most people didn't have a clue about what a hookah bar was," says Spears, 56. "They thought it was something about drugs."

There is something mysterious and exotic about the strangely shaped device sometimes associated with hashish smokers and dark dens. And one can't help but wonder why that hookah-smoking caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland was such an odd shade of blue.

But Spears, who has designed 14 hookah lounges in the Chicago area, said his new establishment, Mr. Hookah, at 801 Cleveland St. in downtown Clearwater, is an upscale place — one you could bring grandma to.

"I am the only hookah lounge serving families," he says. "The others, you get the feeling of illegal."

All ages are admitted, but smokers must be 18. No alcohol is served. The menu options include smoothies, non-alcoholic beers, fresh juice, special coffees and herbal teas, cooler drinks and cake slices.

There's even a dress code for men: no flip flops, sleeveless shirts, baggy attire, tank tops or hats.

In the tidy kitchen are about 40 varieties of hookah tobacco with flavors that include blueberry, citrus mint, jasmine, guava, melon and rose. Hookah tobacco is made from the leaves of the fragrant trees and bushes, then mixed with tobacco and glycerin, Spears said.

"This is not traditional tobacco," he said. "They call it tobacco because it is smoked like tobacco."

Prices range from $10 to $30 for a smoking session.

On its website, the American Lung Association warns users not to assume that hookah smoking is any safer than cigarette smoking. Since a typical hookah session lasts 40 to 45 minutes, versus a few minutes for a cigarette, exposure to dangerous chemicals may be increased with hookah use, the site says.

Spears has a disclaimer on his menu that reads: Hookah pipes are not a safe alternative to cigarette smoke.

Spears hails from Egypt, where he started smoking at age 9. Hookah cafes are popular there. The ancient tradition of hookah smoking began in India and Persia centuries ago.

With a hookah, also known as a water pipe or "hubbly bubbly," flavored tobacco is heated with a hot coal. The smoke is cooled as it passes through water and into a flexible tube.

Spears' hookahs "are built specially for me in Egypt — my own design," he said. "They are stainless steel welded with silver so they never rust. The other kinds, they are made in China."

He said his hoses, unlike others made of plastic, come from goat skins, just like they did hundreds of years ago. "Plastic affects the flavor," he said.

And, he says, not only are the hookahs washed carefully after every use, but the tobacco is washed too for a smoother taste.

"It's how we do it in my country," he said.

Mr. Hookah is on the corner of Cleveland and Myrtle Avenue in a space previously occupied by a coffee shop and car rental business. Inside, it is well-decorated with cozy groupings of upholstered couches and chairs. A few fake tigers mill about the room.

Geri Campos Lopez, Clearwater's director of economic development, said the Mr. Hookah lounge is a welcome addition to the Cleveland Street District.

"It brings in the 20- and 30-year-olds," she said. "It adds a diverse element, which we're happy about since many of our events tend to attract young families and baby boomers."

Rachel Hinson, 21, and Tanner Budda, 20, both of Panama City, were recently celebrating her 21st birthday and looking for something new to try when they spotted Mr. Hookah.

"We saw another one on the way here that looked dingy, but this place is really nice," she said.

They chose the watermelon flavor of tobacco. They inhaled. They blew smoke bubbles with a special wand and then popped them with their hands.

When manager Ashley Love brought them a lighted piece of birthday cake, Hinson blew out the candle with a large plume of smoke, just like a dragon.

"This is a relaxing way to spend a birthday," she said. "I like the flavor. It's all good."

>>if you go

Mr. Hookah

Where: 801 Cleveland St., Clearwater

Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Call: (727) 600-8045

. if you go

Mr. Hookah

Where: 801 Cleveland St., Clearwater

Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Call: (727) 600-8045

Business owner bring hookah tradition to downtown Clearwater 09/07/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 7, 2012 7:31pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. PunditFact: George Will's comparison of tax preparers, firefighters based on outdated data


    The statement

    "America has more people employed as tax preparers (1.2 million) than as police and firefighters."

    George Will, July 12 in a column

    The ruling

    WASHINGTON - JANUARY 08: Conservative newspaper columnist George Will poses on the red carpet upon arrival at a salute to FOX News Channel's Brit Hume on January 8, 2009 in Washington, DC. Hume was honored for his 35 years in journalism. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
  2. Appointments at Shutts & Bowen and Tech Data highlight this week's Tampa Bay business Movers & Shakers



    Retired U.S. Navy Commander Scott G. Johnson has joined Shutts & Bowen LLP in its Tampa office as a senior attorney in the firm's Government Contracts and Corporate Law Practice Groups. Johnson brings 15 years of legal experience and 24 years of naval service to his position. At Shutts, Scott will …

    United States Navy Commander (Retired) Scott G. Johnson joins Shutts & Bowen LLP in its Tampa office. [Company handout]
  3. Macy's chairman replaces ex-HSN head Grossman on National Retail Federation board


    Terry Lundgren, chairman of Macy's Inc., will replace Weight Watchers CEO Mindy Grossman as chair of the National Retail Federation, the organization announced Wednesday. Grossman stepped down from her position following her move from leading St. Petersburg-based HSN to Weight Watchers.

    Weight Watchers CEO and former HSN chief Mindy Grossman is being replaced as chair of the National Retail Federation. [HSN Inc.]
  4. Unexpected weak quarter at MarineMax slashes boating retailer shares nearly 25 percent


    CLEARWATER — Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, a boating business leader issued a small craft warning.

    Bill McGill Jr., CEO of Clearwater's MarineMax, the country's biggest recreational boat retailer. [Courtesy of MarineMax]
  5. CapTrust moving headquarters to downtown Park Tower


    TAMPA — CAPTRUST Advisors, a Raleigh, N.C.-based investment consulting firm, is moving its Tampa offices into Park Tower. CapTrust's new space will be 10,500 square feet — the entirety of the 18th floor of the downtown building, which is scheduled to undergo a multi-million-dollar renovation by 2018.

    CAPTRUST Advisors' Tampa location is moving into Park Tower. Pictured is the current CapTrust location at 102 W. Whiting St. | [Times file photo]