Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Notes From Undergrads: Hooked on Hookahs?

posted by Jason Finkes

One of an occasional series at Hyde Park Progress exploring things from an undergraduate perspective.

As has already been discussed (and at great lengths in the comment field of my last post), Hyde Park lacks in late night locations for cups of tea, conversation and general hang-outs. This time around, I want to examine one of the places that I was excited and surprised to see make it in to Hyde Park: the Noon Hookah Lounge.

The first thing to clear up is that it is not the best hookah lounge in the city. That prize goes to one up on the Northside, whose name I can't recall, that really cultivates a unique "oriental" experience complete with floor cushions and low tables, bellydancers and Turkish coffee. For those who want to give it a shot as a one time experience, I heartily recommend making the trek with a group of friends.

However, for the more quotidian experience, Hyde Park's Noon Hookah Lounge does deliver. I've been three times, twice with people who have been to real hookah lounges in the middle-east and the most recent when I conversed with a new friend. The only real complaint that can be offered by my cosmopolitan friends as to the inauthenticity of the experience was the lounge's failure to provide an ashing tool to move around the coal and keep it burning hot. And admitedly, this is mitigated by the Lounge's relatively constant attention towards providing new coals.

The actual experience of the lounge, each time, was stellar. There is little that can compare with spending 3 hours at a time (how the time flew!) chatting about the state of medicine, educational philosophy and a combination of literature, philosophy and politics. The lounge reminds me of the salons and cafes of nascent modernity, an area in which people sit down and have intimate conversation at a broad range of topics, sharing well-reasoned opinions and developing new ones.

I cannot in good conscience ignore the aspect of the smoke, though. There are as many opinions about the healthiness of hookah smoking as there are opinions shared while smoking it. Some say it's worse than smoking a pack of cigarettes due to the length of time spent breathing the smoke, others say that the water filters the smoke well and that it burns at a lower temperature, generating less of the obnoxious noxious elements of cigarette smoking. This is in addition to the issues of cigarette stink, where hookah excels in flavor and residual smell. You come out reeking of mint or fruit scented smoke instead of stale tobacco and additives. So while it can be unpleasant for many, it is a valid if infrequent option for a niche market.

If Hyde Park is to maintain its current small shop feel and mentality (with "like 3 shoe shops" and lamp shops), the Hookah Lounge is of the quality and character that I would expect. A niche market, but a decent iteration; small, but interesting, and due to the health concerns, a place that one would go like to go to with some regularity, if infrequently. It would be even better if there were a few other places to put in to a late night weekend entertainment rotation.


Elizabeth Fama said...

Ah, well. This is where my squareness shines like a beacon: I can't be in a room with any smoke, period. Blech. You'll all have to enjoy that place without me.

Anonymous said...

I've been in a couple times, used to live in the Mayfair. Enjoyed myself, even though I'm not a smoker. They have really good coffee, too.

What I'd like to see in HP and is very much lacking is a 24 hour diner. A White Palace, Golden Nugget kind of place, where you can go with your friends at 2am for coffee and pancakes. A place like that would RAKE IT IN, especially if it was near campus. So why don't we have one? (Rhetorical question)

A particularly frustrating memory of growing up with NIMBYs: I went to high school in the North Suburbs. My high school was one of the very few (2 I think) that did not have lights on the football field. Consequently, we never played any home night games. Students and other football players (myself included) used to complain about this, since almost all of our opponents had lights. (I loved playing night games since we didn't have to practice the following Saturday and got the rest of the weekend off).

The explanation given to us by the school district for not putting up lights: "They attract gangs." I'm not sure what night football games have that would be attractive to the huge number of Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples operating in the North Shore *cough cough*, but apparently this quality vanished at some point since they finally installed lights a couple years ago.

Anyway, to end my rambling diatribe, can we please have a 24 hour diner? I'm not even a U of C student and I'd still go.

quinn said...

One warning with the hookah bar: don't ever count on it being open according to its schedule. At least five or six times in the last six months I've gone when it's supposed to be "open", only to find it totally closed, or with the lights on, doors locked, no one home. It's gotten so frustrating I've stopped going.

Zig & Lou said...

Excellent diner idea. I have had a winning concept for a real diner in HP for a few years (and in separate projects, a great burrito restaurant and an authentic knot-hole sushi joint) but the Hyde Park area is challenged by 'difficult' landlords and 'unique' property owners (with a few exceptions). On a local retail progress note, Z&H MarketCafe moves forward towards a May opening. 13 foot ceilings are a happy surprise that emerged during demolition.

chicago pop said...

the Hyde Park area is challenged by 'difficult' landlords and 'unique' property owners

Z&L, I'm curious to know more about this, if you are willing to go into details.

Meanwhile, we're anxiously awaiting your May opening! You can expect some fanfare here.

Jennifer said...

I'm with Elizabeth Fama: Can't we have someplace interesting to go for interesting conversations with new acquaintances that doesn't involve clouds of headache-inducing smoke?

And... I just asked the stupidest question ever. Nevermind.

Speaking of late-night food/coffee dives, what happened to Stay Up 4-Ever? That place was always hopping (smoke-free, too, as I recall), but for some reason they shut down after a year or two.

Famac said...

How much is a quarter?

Anonymous said...

Ali (owner of the hookah bar) has had some trouble finding people to work at Noon Hookah Lounge. I actually thought he had gone out of business a while back because I walked past it every day and it was closed up with no lights on.

Lately, it seems to keep more regular hours, so maybe give him another shot, Quinn. :-)

Regarding the diner comment, I'd really love to hear the story behind the difficult landlords.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Time for a guest post from Zig & Lou about the challenges of finding retail spaces in Hyde Park. (J/Tati has also touched on this with informative anecdotes about finding a location for his bike shop.) While I applaud the Cottage Grove Corridor/Bronzeville push for improvements, I can't help thinking that Zig & Lou's Zaleski & Horvath Market Cafe would have been a great addition to our neck of the woods.

chicago pop said...

I can't help thinking that Zig & Lou's Zaleski & Horvath Market Cafe would have been a great addition to our neck of the woods.

Dearest Elizabeth, that (1126 E. 47th Street) is our neck of the woods. It just means some Hyde Park fauna might have to adapt for survival outside the 4-square block ecosystem in which they tend to feed and reproduce.

The bad news for Golden Rectangulars, though I'm not sure they will be terribly upset to hear it, is that everything promising is happening north of there. Granted, there will always be loads of undergrads, retirees, and toddlers along 57th, but the future of Hyde Park-in-the-South Side is all north, at Village Center, Harper Court, 47th, and beyond.

bornatreese said...

Stay Up 4 Ever was where Medici bakery is now. This is all uninformative hearsay, but I heard that the students that opened it got tired of waiting to make a profit (and that they should have been willing to wait somewhat longer, but that they would have needed more paying customers during those late hours).

It seems like there are a few places in the neighborhood that could be conducive to a scene, if not a 24 hour one. Hyde Park Art Center if opened for night time events, Little Black Pearl, ditto, Chant.

If you really need 24 hour, for now you are stuck with Dunkin Donuts and Walgreens. . .

Elizabeth Fama said...

Dearest Chicago Pop, I just wish 1126 East 47th St. was within comfortable walking distance from my house, since, in a perfect world, I hope to never drive my car again. The best of all worlds would be to have the sort of density in which we could have a Z&H for Kenwood/Bronzeville, and another for HP.

P.S. I'm not sure I understand the undergrads, retirees, and toddlers comment; you might have to elaborate.

LPB said...


Thank you for bringing up the issue of odd hours at the hookah lounge.

Has anyone in Hyde Park ever seen C'est Si Bon actually open? They supposedly offer Sunday brunch, but every time we've stopped by at that time, it's closed. What's with that?!!

chicago pop said...

C'est si bon seems to resemble Orly's in that it's primarily a catering business that occupies prime restaurant space without really living up to it. We snuck into Orly's for dinner the other night, and intend to share our thoughts on the subject. At least Orly's is open when it says it is, and has a menu.

But, alas, as with all things in Harper Court, it really doesn't matter, because the deck is going to get shuffled anyway, thank god.

chicago pop said...

I just wish 1126 East 47th St. was within comfortable walking distance from my house, since, in a perfect world, I hope to never drive my car again.

Bellissima Elizabeth, how can I come down on anyone who never wants to drive again? I hereby nominate you for Sainthood status. Expect a letter from the Pope shortly. In the meantime, it's interesting that as much talk as there is about promoting walkability, when it comes down to it, people have very different notions of how far they are willing to go. "Comfortable walking distance" in New York can be up to a mile or so; same in Western and especially northern Europe. Ah, but mention of Northern Europeans solves our problem: Elizabeth, we must get you a bicycle! Be like the Danes (or Dutch) and hop on the saddle to Zig and Lou's!

Zig & Lou said...

Interesting how the Dutch came up, I am investigating a Dutch bike for delivery purposes (www.dutchbikes.us, in the cargo bike area). A quick note on retail real estate in the area. We actually searched for a suitable space for 11 months. Yes, 11 months. Our intention was to open on Cottage Grove (at the corner of 45th and Cottage Grove) but we were unable to secure a lease in that building. Perhaps the wackiest negotiation process ever. It is our intention to eventually open a larger space (+-5000 sq ft is the dream) along Cottage Grove to compliment our 47th Street space. We will be encouraging people to visit us on foot or bike, as I have big plans to walk to work (or to ride my scooter when motivation fails me). Also, what is the "Golden Rectangle"?

Elizabeth Fama said...

Carissimo C-Pop, while I'm happy to walk more than a mile to get many places, Z&H will be a total of about 20 blocks away, round-trip (18 of those being north-south). And, thank you, but I'm not getting on my bike again until this ice is gone. I may be a Hyde Parker, but I draw the line at biking on ice and reading while biking.

I've spent some time in Florence, Rome, and Brussels, and you don't have to walk 2.66 miles to find a cheese shop. THAT'S density. THAT'S what I'm talking about.

bornatreese said...

47th St. IS a comfortable walking distance from campus--the advantage density would provide are streets filled with people out walking at night for non-nefarious purposes, so that you could feel comfortable walking that comfortable distance.

chicago pop said...

Read you LOUD AND CLEAR with those caps. Yes, cold weather makes Euro-comparisons hazardous, just like the ice. So let's get some density. Hey, if we can get decent (semi) bagels out of Orly's, why not a decent cheese shop somewhere on 55th or 53rd?

It all gets back to the mystery, as E Fama mentioned, of difficult and unique landlords.

Jason Finkes said...

On the list of lack luster late nightlife including Walgreen's and Dunkin', you left out McDonald's...BUT ONLY IF YOU HAVE A CAR.

That's one thing that really pisses me off. It's only the drive-thru that is open (which is understandible) but you have to have a car to use it. In fact, I got harrassed by the police for standing on the sensor trying to get a late night Big Mac one time.

chicago pop said...

In fact, I got harrassed by the police for standing on the sensor trying to get a late night Big Mac one time.

Jason, as traumatic as that must have been, it's actually kind of a funny story.

Richard Gill said...

(g)didyounowrong mentioned the need for something like a 24-hour Golden Nugget or White Palace (Palace, not Castle) near campus. Salonica pretty much fits that mold (sans the 24-hour feature). It's near the Metra station, which basically runs from 5AM to 1AM; it's near campus; lots of potential customers live close by; police like to eat there. No special licensing is needed for all-night restaurant operation as long as no alcohol is served. A-a-a-n-n-d-d (pause for effect) it's not a (GASP, CRINGE) chain.

Of course, a 24-hour or extended-hour operation wouldn't be possible without the restaurant owner's interest in doing so.

There might be a few neighborly objections, but they might not be able to do much about it. Anyway, it's a diner, not a noisy bar. The people residing in the luxurious St.-Stephens-on-Blackstone Condominium wouldn't object. I suppose a "unique or difficult" landlord or restrictive lease could be a problem, but otherwise...

J/tati said...

I am investigating a Dutch bike for delivery purposes

Or you could have one built for you, right here in the neighborhood :)

Anonymous said...

I love Salonica (their egg lemon soup is delicious), but again, not open 24 hours. If they were I think it would be profitable, but like you say, the neighbors would probably piss and moan.

Richard Gill said...

Greg -

Sure, some of the neighbors will piss and moan, but other neighbors will like a 24-hour diner nearby.

Some people probably don't want a restaurant there at all. It attracts that undesirable element that only goes there to eat.

Anyway, if the law says a licensed restaurant can set its own hours, what are the pisser/moaners going to be able to do about it?

Anonymous said...


Good points. I don't care so much about the locals complaining per se, but we all know how these things can spiral out of control. Pretty soon, you have a Spicer/Lane community task force of old grannies and oddball malcontents trying to get the city to rewrite ordinances to force Hyde Park restaurants to close at 8pm.

Or maybe they'd handcuff themselves to the bike racks outside. (I'd actually enjoy seeing that).

The other thing Salonica should do is start accepting credit cards again. Why did they stop doing that?

Dean W. Armstrong said...

Stay Up Forever died, I think, the moment that the powers-that-be decided you couldn't offer free internet on a computer (there was some zoning or licensing issue). Then there was the taxing issue: They listed the price of a cup of coffee as 1.00. This was 92 cents plus tax. The tax authorities claimed either they weren't paying their taxes correctly or that you couldn't list a price including tax, so instead of setting the price as 92 cents on the board, they started charging 1.08 a cup.

At that point I stopped going there.

Otto said...

others say that the water filters the smoke well and that it burns at a lower temperature, generating less of the obnoxious noxious elements of cigarette smoking.

A lower temperature burn (viz., partial combustion) results in a *worse* chemical soup.

The filtration properties of a water pipe of course depend on the size of the bubbles. The things will wash something out (and nicotine is water-soluble), but in my experience, this is mostly large particulate. It's the tiny stuff that lodges deep in the lungs.

Anyway, does anyone know whether Noon Hookah's ability to have a menu or coffee service has been affected by Public Act 95-0017?

Anonymous said...

I asked Ali about that ages ago. I was surprised to see a smoking establishment even opening.

According to him, You can work within the law if the majority percentage of your business is related to smoking. Apparently, they're within the limits of what you can do regarding serving food and coffee. It's some percentage but I can't remember exactly what it was.