In an effort to pay homage to their origins, most hookah bars on this side of the pond will take default decorating cues from Near and Middle Eastern cultural roots. The Raven Hookah Lounge, nestled next to Alamo Drafthouse Westlakes off Loop 410, apparently never got the memo. While the blue, neon lettering out front looks mildly conspicuous in the otherwise darkened concrete sea of a parking lot, there's absolutely no forewarning for the Victorian, vaguely steampunk decor that awaits inside. Lights draped in red gauze cast dim shadows on the wrought iron chairs and velvet curtains, setting a slightly ominous tone for an evening of social smoking.
A hookah is a water pipe that traditionally sits on the floor as the mouthpiece is passed from person to person. The smoke, usually fruit or herb flavored, passes through a water-filled chamber that aids in both the cooling and filtering processes. In recent years, the tradition has been making major headway in the United States, particularly since special permits allow the bars to continue operating in areas with smoking bans. (Bear in mind, however, that shisha — the type of tobacco used in hookah — carries with it many of the same health risks as cigarettes.)
Raven Hookah Lounge, relying on the activity's prominence as a social vehicle for those not quite of drinking age, has chosen to forego the cultural implications for the cool factor. Offering shisha with names like Sex Panther, Fuzzy Navel, and Voltage (ranging from $11.99-13.99), Raven knows how to cater to a clientele that's maybe pushing their mid-20s.
For a place that doesn't open until 7 p.m. any given day and closes at least an hour after midnight, we were expecting a little more action on a Saturday night. Only a group of older teens banging on laptops between puffs (free Wi-Fi: check) share the space with us.
"It's pretty slow for a Saturday, but that's because it's Halloween weekend," the waiter offered somewhat apologetically along with our menus. "But hey, a few hardcore/punk bands are supposed to show up any minute."
We wondered how the bands would be greeted by the high school study group at the bar. I use the term "bar" loosely, of course, as Raven is BYOB (each group of four is limited to one bottle or 24-pack, for a nominal fee). Drinks for sale on premise include the water, juice, and soda categories, and the menu does also offers an assortment of prepackaged snacks for under $2.
The real focus of this place, though, is the shisha, and at least to our relatively inexperienced lungs, the recommended Sex Panther was pleasant enough. After a while, a few more folks started filing in, some old enough to carry in cases of beer.
With the place filling in to near half capacity, the sweet-smelling smoky haze was accompanied by a welcome communal buzz. And when the bands ultimately went MIA, the speakers began to pipe in late '90s pop-punk (think Blink-182) and dubstep.
The combination of people, music, and décor, while strange, was somewhat enjoyable, at least as a novelty. There's plenty of potential here; The Raven hosts local poets, comics, and artists on various nights of the week — when they actually show up, that is. I assured the framed portrait of Edgar Allen Poe on the wall that our departure was simply a see-you-later, not a goodbye, as we waved our final farewells. •
The Raven Hookah Lounge
1255 SW Loop 410, Ste 133
Vibe Dazed and confused meets Victorian era, come for the hookah but BYOB
Best Use Effin’ Thursdays for live music, upcoming art show with Ray Tattooed Boy and Alex Pistol 8-10pm Wed, Nov 2
Prices $11.99-13.99 shisha, happy hour (25 percent off) from 7-8pm every day