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Do Hookah Bars Have an Uncertain Future?

Sometime over the weekend, the lone Hillsborough Street hookah bar-Marrakesh Cafe- closed its doors with a sign indicating that Shakedown Street is set to replace it. The possible factors leading to its demise aren’t few and far between: a decline in business on Hillsborough Street since roundabout construction, the looming loss of the ability to sell food with the smoking ban, and increased local competition.

Less than two months ago, local cantankerous commentator Raleigh Gawker proclaimed: Hookah Bars Totally Spaced Out On Smoking Ban, a reference to the recent bill preventing smoking in most establishments where food is served. Marrakesh Cafe fell into the category of hookah bar that also serves food, so it was a good bet they would have been adversely affected by the recent legislation.

I have no idea what led to the owners to close the doors for good. Anecdotally, I can say that in the several times I walked past that business was slow. I’ve been to two other hookah bars in town, and thoroughly enjoyed myself each time (as a non-smoker). It was a nice alternative to the traditional loud and crowded bars. Admittedly, without alcohol the environment did seem slightly lacking.

Regardless, it seems a shame that these places didn’t find some sort of exemption in the legislation. As of next year, their only option will be to discontinue the sale of food, which may disable their business.

As for what will take its place: A hippie joint whose name is based on either a Grateful Dead album or the place at a music festival where food/drugs/alcohol can be obtained. A visit to the web site (warning: music) features the dancing bears and jam music in the background as well as a link to apply for employment. The requirements for employment read like a playlist from the Hippie Hour on WKNC: Love for Grateful Dead, Phish, Bob Marley, Allman Brothers, and Keller Williams.

It will be interesting to see how this place stacks up against The Farmhouse, another bar/food joint whose name is also based off of a jam band album (Phish).

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