Smoke billows from our mouths as we draw out the syllables of each word, then dances above our heads in a mesmerizing manner. We have just taken a drag from the hookah pipe sitting in front of us and are attempting to create clouds of smoke-letters in the air.
Needless to say, we are failing miserably. We look much less like the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland than we'd hoped..
Fortunately, though, no one here at Texas Hookah Lounge seems bothered by the abundance of smoke our attempts are producing. The haze is just par for the course in this place. To us it seems pretty late to have such a packed crowd, but the staff doesn't appear to be bothered in the least.
Sandwiched among a smattering of other Montrose bars like Anvil, Etro and Boondocks on the lower Westheimer "curve," the cozy lounge begs for hookah fanatics and other bar castoffs who aren't quite ready to call it a night. And plenty of people aren't quite ready to go home this evening, apparently. The crowd is testing the fire-code limits, each table packed to the gills, with groups of folks circling the hookah pipe on each one.
Everything about this lounge is eclectic, from the subject matter of shisha — which can refer to both the pipe itself and the molasses-based tobaccos smoked within it — to the patrons, with laid-back college kids and high-heeled business folks all chatting animatedly over billowing clouds of smoke. One thing is abundantly clear as you step inside, though: This little lounge is not in the cocktail business.
Absent are the bottles of Grey Goose or elaborate cocktails that line the tables of the neighboring bars. In their place sit expensive hookahs, which gleam from their stations at center stage. The high-end lounge scene is an interesting concept, particularly on this bar-heavy stretch of Westheimer, but hookah cafes in Houston are nothing new. They've dotted the streets for years, reflecting what a multicultural mecca this city has become. Judging by the number of folks flocking to Texas Hookah Lounge on this Friday night, the concept seems to be working.
Until our arrival, we had been blissfully unaware of Texas Hookah Lounge's lack of alcohol. After all, it's housed between two bars, which led to our assumption that we could sit back and observe Houston's hookah culture while sipping on some vodka. Nope. (However, the lounge is BYOB and bring your own food, and accepts food deliveries.)
Not that anyone here is complaining, though. It seems that if you're in Texas Hookah Lounge, it is for one thing, and one thing only: the shisha. Lots and lots of it. The sheer breadth of choices that this lounge offers up — more than 90 variations — is a bit of an undertaking, to say the least.
Traditional herbal brands like Afzal and Al Fakher are on the menu, but Texas Hookah Lounge mixes it up by adding upgraded premium flavors. You can then upgrade even further by throwing in some fresh fruit, with everything from pineapple and strawberry to melon on offer.
We're soon lost on what to do. This lounge is proving a much different concept from anything we had encountered on other Nightfly visits. As intrigued as we are, we're every bit as overwhelmed by all the choices.
But Aliyah, the doe-eyed girl seated next to us, comes to our aid. Counting herself as a regular on the local hookah scene, she points us in the right direction, rapidly scrolling through the shisha list. Meanwhile, the table on the other side of us debates the merits of using fresh fruit.
The fruit fans win, and their table opts for a pineapple-strawberry mix, which the waiter mixes tableside. The results seem to be universally accepted. Naysayers and fruit-fanatics all crowd around the pipe excitedly, each awaiting his or her next toke.
Welcome to the new version of an after-hours bar, where the hookah smoke reigns supreme and novices make themselves look ridiculous with their efforts to fit in.
Send your after-dark tips to [email protected].