It’s quiet at The Vibe Hookah Lounge. They’ve only just opened their doors for the night and don’t expect the crowds to come pouring in until later in the evening. In fact, there are only two booths full, and one of them is filled with close family and friends that are gathered around the table to play dominoes.
Even without the crowd, hookah smoke hangs sweetly in the air, melting into the soft pop music that is playing over the speakers.
The owner sits at the bar, casually conversing with his eldest son, Parviz, about the new beers he had been tasting earlier that day. Then the front door opens and in walk two men that are loudly greeted by those playing dominoes. One of the men, Ali, shakes hands with another son of the owner before leaving the booth to approach the bar.
The owner looks at Ali out of the corner of his eye. “You have something to tell me?” he asks, arms crossed and head tilted back.
“No,” responds Ali, though he starts to bounces his phone against the wood of the bar.
The owner leans forward, trying to look serious, but there is a smile playing at the corner of his mouth. “You sure you have nothing to tell me?”
“No, Papa,” Ali answers. He sees the smile in Papa’s face and shakes his head laughing. “You know I tell you everything.”
“Okay, just making sure.” Papa leans back in his chair and nods his head, satisfied.
Across the bar, Parviz holds out a sheet of crackers to Ali. “Want a cracker?”
Contrary to how it might seem, Ali is not one of Papa Barraghi’s sons, though there are four who work at The Vibe. No, Ali is just another customer.
But there’s no such thing as just another customer at The Vibe .
“Everyone that comes in, they see my kids calling me Papa and they start to call me Papa,” Papa explains. The middle-aged man crosses his arms over his chest and leans back in the tall bar stool, looking up at the ceiling when he speaks. Papa is the only name he gives, the only one he will be called in his own establishment. Every so often, he reaches up to smooth out the grey hairs in his mustache. “When they have problems, they come to me. We are like a family.”
And over the last three years their family has been growing. “I’ve made more friends here than I did in 14 years in Canada,” Parviz Barraghi says.
That’s not to say that owning their own hookah lounge has been a simple endeavor. The Barraghi’s started in downtown Harrisonburg, where Papa bought a restaurant named “Franklin’s”.
“He had no experience in the food service industry,” Parviz says. “But I did.” So he moved from Canada to join his father and brothers in Harrisonburg as they converted Franklin’s into the Brooklyn Hookah Bar.
They sold that location in 2012 and moved to the other side of South Main Street, where The Vibe Hookah Lounge stands today. The building used to be a Tandoori Chicken restaurant, but in just three months, they had gutted the place and worked to create their original vibe.
Everything in the Lounge is new from when the Barraghi’s took over the restaurant. “Except the bricks,” Parviz jokes, grinning.
But a lot of the customers are far from new. Regulars like Nick Hoover, Will Spitzer, Tracy Donovan and David Suter come in at least twice a week to relax, drink and smoke their favorite Hookah.
They fit comfortably around the table, gathered around the three-foot-tall hookah pipe. Attached to the gold neck of the pipe is a long black hose which they pass between each other as they talk.
“What flavor are we smoking tonight?” David asks, hand outstretched for the hose that Nick taps against his bottom lip.
“Uhhh,” Nick pauses to take a long pull from the hose, the water in the bottom of the hookah bubbling as the air hisses through the hose and into Nick’s mouth. “Watermelon mint,” he finally answers, his words accompanied by a rush of smoke that just adds to the haze already in the air.
Tracy’s hand stops halfway to her mouth, her lit cigarette held between her first and second finger. “I thought it was gum mint.”
“We’re trying to branch out,” David offers before taking the hose from Nick.
“Yeah,” Will says, a perpetual grin stuck to his face. “The watermelon is different.”
The gang has been coming to the Lounge for the last two and a half years, practically since the Barraghi’s opened their doors. Since then, they’ve tried just about every flavor on the menu in just about every combination, including some mystery flavors that the brother’s would mix up for them.
“Those just started getting bad,” Will giggles, shaking his head at the memory.
Nick even worked at the lounge for a while, and started teaching every customer how to blow smoke rings. Behind him now, David casually pouts his mouth into an “O” shape and exhales in quick bursts that send lopsided rings of smoke into the air.
“I looked it up and thought it was cool,” Nick defends himself when the group starts teasing about how excited he was.
“And then Parviz showed you up,” Tracy teases.
Nick points the hookah hose at her. “He’s been smoking longer than I’ve been alive!”
Papa Barraghi comes around to shift the coal that sits atop the hookah, something that needs to be done every couple minutes to ensure the best hookah flavor.
“Mango,” he says to Nick, calling him by one of the several nicknames that Nick has acquired over the last couple years.
“You are the softest customer I’ve ever had.” It’s an inside joke apparently, because Nick laughs long and hard.
The gang has made a makeshift home here. Among the four of them, there has been a wedding, a divorce, two college graduations and two moves around the county. The one constant in their life has been The Vibe and the Barraghi’s, who accept them the way they accept all of their customers.
“We treat customers like family,” Papa says back at the bar. “They will come back if they feel at home.”