Smoke Rises at Hookah Lounges Close to Campus

Patrons share a hookah at Arab Cowboy Café & Hookah Lounge in West Campus.

Photo Credit: Lauren Lowe

Hookah smoking is steadily gaining popularity in the United States. Veronica Johnston for Health Media Collaboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago writes that “one in five American college students report smoking hookah in the past year.” It’s no coincidence then that many of the hookah lounges that are popping up around the country are in close proximity to college campuses.

The Center for Disease Control defines a hookah as a waterpipe used to smoke shisha, a blend of shredded tobacco, flavoring and sweeteners such as honey or molasses. According to the American Lung Association, waterpipe smoking began in ancient India and Persia. Early hookahs were “believed to have been carved from a coconut shell, with the milk used as a filtering agent.”

Unfortunately, Austin does not have a wide variety of hookah bars; the overwhelming majority of Yelp listings are either Mediterranean restaurants that have a handful of hookahs for rent or Mediterranean/Middle Eastern-themed lounges that focus on hookah. But UT students don’t need to look very far for a good place to partake in the hookah trend. West Campus is home to two hookah lounges with a very mellow atmosphere and an array of shisha flavors to choose from.

Kasbah Hookah Lounge
2417 Guadalupe Street
Hours: Sunday - Wednesday 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., Thursday - Saturday 2 p.m. to 3 a.m.

The rooms at Kasbah are filled with comfy couches, hanging tapestries and ornate decorations. Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” plays over the quiet conversations of the patrons. White sweet-smelling smoke twirls and floats toward the ceiling in all rooms of the lounge. Kasbah offers more than 75 shisha options as well as various teas, coffee and snacks. Manager Alex Rigney said their bestselling shisha flavors are Starbuzz’s Blue Mist, a minty blueberry, and Double Apple.

“Generally [Kasbah] is the best,” Rigney said. “We generally have the best hookahs … and it’s the atmosphere, definitely. It’s very homey.”

Arab Cowboy Café & Hookah Lounge
901 W. 24th Street
Hours: Sunday - Wednesday 12 p.m. to 2 a.m., Thursday - Saturday 12 p.m. to 3 a.m.

A man from Tunisia and a woman from Kansas started Arab Cowboy. According to the lounge’s website, the couple met in Los Angeles and eventually opened a place meant to combine their cultures in Austin.

Arab Cowboy was originally a restaurant as well, but manager Katie Carrell says restrictions on preparing food and tobacco products in the same area made the owners choose a focus. Hookah was in higher demand. Arab Cowboy also displays and sells artwork from local artists that impress the owners.

Carrell, who has worked at Arab for more than four years, said that Blue Mist is also their bestselling shisha, but they have many popular custom blends such as peach-mango-mint. Plus, They offer several tobacco-free options. 

“We have some students and a lot of the younger crowd come in at night, but during the day it’s definitely a classier place… We kind of have a little bit more of a chill environment,” Carrell said.