New Longview Hookah lounge a lure for hipsters
Feb. 15, 2014 at 10 p.m.
Sean Swanson was explaining the ancient origins of the hookah when the phone rang in the parlor of a new business that's off to a sizzling start for him and co-owner Trent Shaw.
"Yes, sir. A hookah is a device to smoke tobacco flavors out of," he told the caller, who was not the first to wonder just what they do at The Tipsy Gypsy Hookah Lounge.
"No, sir. We don't promote anything like that," the 26-year-old entrepreneur and Kilgore native replied. "No, sir. We're not a head shop or a 'buy shop' or anything like that. Yes, sir. Not a problem at all."
He hung up.
The stage was set around Swanson on that January Thursday afternoon, for crowds expected to attend the Gypsy's weekly acoustic night. Blues saxophonist LaDarius Daniels was on the bill, which is built via a Facebook page signup.
Six conversation pits comprised of comfy couches and chairs line each long wall of the main social area. Low light washes from lamps and soaked curtains add optional coziness if drawn.
A Connect Four game sat idle on a table in the main room, other games were waiting on shelves nearby. Beyond the main area, hand-painted murals accent pool tables poised for sharps.
A wall down the center of the 6,000-square-foot lounge separated that space from a bar that was still under construction physically and menu-wise. Shaw and Swanson had been negotiating with local winery, Enoch's Stomp.
A small "No Smoking" sign was discreetly posted in the main room.
"There's no smoking inside - anywhere," Swanson said, acknowledging the irony. "We have a patio area with a heater out back for that."
Hookah lounges might have been around since ancient times in India, but they are just getting fired up in the West. In regions with Eastern or Middle Eastern population centers, such as Dalworthington Gardens tucked inside Arlington, hookah lounges have become a mecca for those cultures.
"That's how it is in Dallas and the suburbs of Dallas," Swanson said. "It's still Indian. It's a whole subgenre."
As young adults in Longview, Swanson and Shaw saw this type of venue as something their peers could appreciate.
"Basically, man, there's no culture in Longview besides honky tonks, bars and Graham's (Central Station)," Swanson said. "The hip, cool thing is coming back. Lounges are coming back, the piano bar. Really, instead of moving away from Longview, we decided to try and make it better. A lot of our friends bailed out and went to Austin."
About 650 of them are still here, as evidenced by the lounge's opening weekend. All told, some 2,600 showed for the first four weekends ending Jan. 19.
"And I only knew about 15 percent of the people," he said. "We're just trying to be what the people want. And with 2,600 people in four weeks with zero publicity, that's crazy."
The age range has been roughly 23- to 35-year-olds.
"And a couple of doctors and lawyers are starting to hang out," he added. "We have Kinky Friedman and the Jewboys coming on (Wednesday). It's the Seeds of Change tour, he's running for the Texas Department of Agriculture (commissioner job)."
Perhaps the Lone Star comedian and sometime state office candidate will sit for sheesha, the hookah word for tobacco.
He won't need a lighter.
The tobacco, wet and coated in sticky flavoring, is placed in a metal, lidded bowl atop which a Tipsy Gypsy staff member places coals.
Puffing on a tube at the other end of the tall contraption draws out the vaporized flavor, chosen from among 45 on the menu.
"It just draws the moisture and flavor out," Swanson said. "And leaves it dry. ... This is a 100 percent legal way to enjoy flavorful tobaccos in a social atmosphere."
This is not Swanson's first night rodeo. A business owner of sorts since age 15, he formerly was behind the indie rock/modern punk club, Venue 717, in his hometown of Kilgore.
He said he and Shaw hope to export their lounge during the next five or so years.
"A friend of ours was talking about getting one on the outskirts of Tyler," he said. "And, now, we're trying to get one in Denton and make it to Austin and be done."
Wherever Tipsy Gypsies waltz across Texas, the first campfire was in Longview.
"This will be our home," Swanson said.