Let's get this out of the way: Vaping is an easy target. Vape culture — a phrase that's even somewhat startling to type — appears ridiculous to most outsiders, resulting in mockery and derision from non-smokers and "traditional" smokers alike. I get it — I've had my share of laughs at vaping's expense. But do vapers really deserve such scorn?
After a night in what most would consider to be a cool, not-at-all-lame bar, I woke up the next morning with the familiar congestion that accompanies time spent in places that allow smoking. The acrid stench of cigarette smoke remained fresh on my clothes and in my hair. No one laughed.
Later that afternoon, I stopped by VaPour, a Clearwater beer and wine bar that doubles as a vape lounge and retail shop. One of two locations (the other in Ybor City), VaPour is off Ulmerton Road, in a small unit of a decidedly un-hip strip mall.
A decal on the door proclaims VaPour to be "a smoke-free establishment," which made for an interesting contrast to the dense white clouds of fruit-scented vapor that greeted me upon entering. I'm talking San Francisco morning, Silent Hill levels of fog — the kind you'd expect to see in an unusually fragrant college dorm. If it were cigarette smoke, the bar would be downright uninhabitable.
On the other side of the cloud, however, was plain old breathable air. Sure, the scent of cartoonish, tutti-frutti-cotton-candy flavoring continued to waft over from the other side of the room, but it was awfully pleasant in lieu of the burning, caustic smoke to which I am accustomed.
VaPour is a compact space, featuring a vape bar and beer bar situated on opposite sides of the room. There are a few flat-screens for sports, news and Playstation, as well as a gigantic poster on the wall that is really not helping the credibility of vape enthusiasts (it's the Mona Lisa, mid-vape).
The space is minimal and attractive, with wall lanterns, a modern chandelier and ceramic lamps hanging over the beer bar. If you ignore the vape component and just go for the booze, you'll find a pretty standard setup: a dozen taps and 30 or so bottles in a cooler, a few house wines, and a couple of flight boards. There are some local brews, from Cigar City, St. Pete Brewing and Yuengling, as well as a few rotating seasonals and specialty brews, such as Leinenkugel Harvest Patch Shandy.
It's entirely competent, but the average beer enthusiast probably won't feel compelled to visit for beer alone. But what about someone who's trying to quit smoking but always feels the urge to light up when drinking? Or how about self-conscious vapers who aren't comfortable filling up their local taproom with dense plumes of green apple-scented vape clouds? For these folks, VaPour is a winning proposition.
There's another draw, in the form of kratom. Purported to produce a mellowing effect without causing outright inebriation, kratom is a bitter tea that's gaining popularity in the area. At VaPour, kratom comes with flavor shots to balance out the bitterness. How about strawberry cheesecake-flavored kratom tea? In the context of a hybrid vape-and-beer lounge, that actually sounds reasonable.
Everyone that I've mentioned VaPour to chuckled a bit at the concept. But if we're willing to be objective, it becomes clear that VaPour is kind of a cool idea. Why not provide a smoke-free space for vape enthusiasts who like drinking beer?
In 2016, we have to accept that vape culture is a real thing and that maybe it's not the worst thing in the world — especially when considering that smoking in bars generally gets a pass. Though it's admittedly not for everyone, there are plenty of people out there who could use a place to vape and drink. VaPour fills this emerging niche nicely. As an added bonus, your clothes and hair won't stink afterward.
Contact: [email protected]; @WordsWithJG.