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Ancient Middle East Tradition of Hookah Takes American College Towns by Storm

For young American adults not old enough to go to clubs or bars, options for nightlife are limited. Malls and movie theaters have lost their appeal. Now, a growing number are turning to an old Middle Eastern tradition for a night out.

There's a new alternative for young people looking for something to do. It's the hookah bar. They're popping up near college towns and attracting young people with a unique atmosphere.

An ancient Middle Eastern tradition, the hookah originated in India. The pipe has a long hose attached to the glass, lamp shaped body. Flavored tobacco, called shisha, is filtered and water-cooled before being passed to the smoker through a hose. The hookah is usually shared as people take turns smoking from it.

Prince Café is one of at least six hookah bars in the Washington, D.C. area. This one, located near Georgetown University, is a popular spot for students.

Phinney McIntire,18, is grateful to have a new nightlife option. ”If you're not 21, night life is basically you either go to your friend's house or you go to a movie," he said. "You go bowling or something like that. Again, this is something kind of rebellious you can do. It's not drinking but it's legal - and it's more fun, I'd say".

For David Ruskin, 21, it's all about atmosphere. ”I believe people will go to a hookah bar because of the relaxing setting," he said. "Now, not everyone wants to go out to a bar or club where everything is so intense and crazy. People like to just sit back and relax, and just smoke a hookah with friends and talk and converse about what's been going on with their lives."

Patrons choose from dozens of flavors of tobacco ranging from fruity to herbal. But smoking isn't the only attraction. Hookah bars also offer a variety of exotic dishes and authentic, imported non-alcoholic drinks.

”It’s such a cool tradition," said Mr. Ruskin. "It's such a unique tradition. I think people here really embrace that. It's just something very new and different. And when you're trying to do something cool with your night, it's just the perfect thing to do."

Other young people agree, and new hookah bars are opening across the country. Middle Eastern restaurants are adding hookah to the menu as well.