If you wander into the Purple Haze Hookah Lounge, it’s best to assume you’re staying a while. A handful of café-style tables draped in maroon fabric line one wall, but the rest of the seating is of the sofa or pillow variety. Once you’ve found your way to a dim corner, and once you’ve sunk into a deep couch cushion, and once one of the owners, Ahmad Baig or Osama Zaid, have brought you a four-foot hookah stuffed with jasmine-flavored tobacco, and once you’ve begun inhaling the sweet milky smoke, trust me, you’re not going anywhere. In fact, in the two hours I spent there one recent evening—$10 buys you a full hookah worth of tobacco—I didn’t see any of the other dozen or so patrons leave.
Missoula’s first-ever hookah bar sits tucked into a parking lot just off Brooks Street in a space that previously sold secondhand children’s clothes. Zaid and Baig say they’re both students at the University of Montana, but would prefer that I sit and smoke my hookah rather than ask questions. They opened the business about four weeks ago, but refuse to elaborate on their long-term plans. That includes how they plan to deal with the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act, which goes into effect October 1.
“Any place where there are employees and the public goes into it and it’s inside, it’s smoke free,” says Victoria Glass of the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services.
This doesn’t seem to worry Zaid or Baig. They’re concerned with more pressing matters.
“Do you need more charcoal?” Baig asks my friend and me.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I think we’re done.”
He picks up a pair of tongs and breaks up the coals sitting on top of our hookah.
“You need more charcoal,” he says, and begins lighting a new coal.
“So,” I ask, “what are you going to do when the smoking ban goes into effect?”
Baig shrugs. “We’ll think of something,” he says.