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Navy men bring a bit of Middle East to Oak Harbor
After experiencing Middle Eastern culture while serving overseas, James Ryan and Charles Morgan are bringing a bit of it with Oak Harbor.
The Navy men plan to open the Haze Hookah Lounge on Pioneer Way this month.
They’ve created space with comfortable couches and local artwork where they hope people will hang out while puffing on hookahs loaded with molasses and flavorings.
“It’s really a social activity,” Morgan said.
“It’s just a good time to sit down with a couple of friends and smoke and talk.”
The two men said they are also trying to dispel myths about hookahs.
They’re not about drugs or anything sinister, they explained.
The hookah is a Middle Eastern water pipe normally used to smoke shisha, a flavored tobacco mixed with molasses.
It’s a tradition that goes back centuries in a wide swath of the world, from the Middle East to India and Pakistan. It has caught on in Europe and the United States in recent decades.
Ryan said he first encountered hookah culture when he was guarding “third country nationals” in Qatar in 2004. He said the men would smoke hookahs in the back of an old pickup.
After realizing it was just tobacco, Ryan decided to join them and was hooked.
Ryan and Morgan said they later met through a mutual friend and bonded over a hookah. They decided that Oak Harbor is an ideal place for a hookah bar, given all the Navy members who have traveled the world and are familiar with such establishments.
“We’re trying to fill the 18- to 20-year-old demographic,” Ryan said. “There’s really nothing for them to do in Oak Harbor.”
Hookah bars are nothing new in Washington state, but many have run into trouble with the state’s ban on smoking in public places.
Some bars tried to skirt the ban by becoming private clubs, but the legality is being tested in court.
Ryan and Morgan said they decided to avoid the issue altogether by turning to tobacco alternatives.
Customers will have a wide variety of products and flavors to choose from, but nothing contains tobacco or nicotine.
The Haze Hookah Lounge offers two basic products, Ryan explained.
One is called Hydro.
It’s a mixture of molasses, glycerin, tea leaves and flavoring.
The other is a new invention called steam stones, which are bathed in a mixture of glycerin and flavoring. When heated, the synthetic stones create dense steam similar to tobacco smoke.
“It’s essentially the same as having a flavored humidifier,” he said.
Ryan said they plan to open Friday, April 12.
Steve Powers, the city’s director of Development Services, said the business must make ventilation improvements before the city grants an occupancy permit.
Beyond that, the county Health Department and other agencies approved the business, Ryan said.
The business partners are renting a newly remodeled space in a building owned by City Councilman Bob Severns and attorney Chris Skinner. It’s located at 1090 S.E. Pioneer Way.
For $14 plus tax, a customer or customers will get a hookah loaded up with their preferred product and flavor, which range from a variety of fruit flavors to Dr. Pepper and energy drinks.
The men said they won’t allow people to bring in their own products to smoke, ensuring nobody smokes tobacco or anything nefarious.
It may be legal for people to smoke marijuana at such a business — the issue is being tested in Seattle — but Ryan and Morgan said allowing it would undercut their business with Navy personnel, who aren’t allowed to partake of pot — no matter what state law says.
Since the products don’t contain tobacco, the business could legally allow minors to partake. But Ryan and Morgan said they don’t want to be responsible for introducing young people to a smoking culture, so only adults will be allowed in.
At the Haze Hookah Lounge, a group of people can enjoy one hookah with multiple hoses or pass a single hose around. Each customers gets a sanitary, disposable mouth tip that sticks into the end of a hose.
Each session can last up to an hour and a half.
The lounge will also offer coffee, water, soda and energy drinks, but no food.
“We find the taste of food detracts from the hookah experience,” Ryan said.