Alex Tabet

Photo By D. Brian Burghart

Hookah lounges have been coming in and out of fashion since time immemorial. At times, they’ve been associated with less than savory notions. These days, they’re very acceptable, even hip. After various trials and tribulations, 21-year-old Alex Tabet opened his hookah lounge, Exotic Exhale, 961 W. Fifth St. Call 324-5446.

How did you come to open a hookah lounge?

We started the head shop about six years ago, and we’re one of the few shops that carry hookahs in town. We saw that our customers really love the idea of it. So we decided to open up a hookah lounge and start the trend in Reno.

And were you the first hookah lounge? I remember there used to be several of them.

We were actually the second hookah lounge. The first was Hookava, which was off First Street. Just the fact that we are Lebanese—we knew a lot about hookah, it’s our tradition, almost religion. We know how to set up hookahs blindfolded.

When did you open?

I’d say a year and a half or so. It took us awhile to open it. We ran into a lot of problems. Leases. A lot of places didn’t want a hookah lounge to be in their building, so they would like pull the plug at the last second. So it took us a little while, but it was worth it.

And do you have business experience, or do you go to school? You’re pretty young to own a business.

I’m majoring in international business. But I’ve been dealing with business. I’ve been running my parent’s business since I was 15 years old. I came from experience, so it’s helping me a lot with the hookah lounge thing.

What is the exact name of the hookah lounge?

The sign outside says Smoke-N-Head Hookah Lounge, but we go by Exotic Exhale Hookah Lounge. That’s how everybody knows us.

What would surprise people about hookah?

Once they try it, they would be surprised at how smooth it is. They’d understand how relaxing it is to sit down and be patient and socialize with others, as opposed to smoking cigarettes outside for two minutes quickly and then going on to the job, you know.

How long does a hookah session take?

Anywhere from an hour to two.

Oh, wow. And what are the hours of the hookah lounge?

We just started up again. I had to close down for school for a bit, but now it’s Thursday through Saturday, from 8 until midnight or later.

The hookah tobacco is called sheesh, right?

Correct. It’s basically flavored tobacco with no tar in it, but it does have 0.05 percent nicotine, so there’s barely any traces of nicotine, and there’s none of that nasty chemical stuff in the cigarettes. So you’re basically heating it up and getting the vapor out of it.

It’s not heavy like smoking a cigarette, more like inhaling flavor?

Exactly. It’s like puffing on flavored air.

Are there age limits?

It’s usually 18 and over.