WHERE THERE’S SMOKE: Providence is cracking down on hookah lounges, but has yet to extinguish the practice. Pictured above, from left: patrons Devon Mills, Leanne Lamoly and Ghazy Daher at Skarr Hookah Lounge.
First it was VIP bottle service. Now it’s hookahs.
In its latest push to tame unruly nightlife, the city this winter cracked down on bars and restaurants serving Middle Eastern-style water pipes in violation of state anti-smoking laws.
Since a warning letter announcing the start of the crackdown last November, police have brought violations against eight establishments in difference parts of the city, according to Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare.
Raids have seen pipes seized by police and fines issued by the city Board of Licenses.
But although it may have slowed hookah business, the city’s push hasn’t ended the practice.
Numerous establishments still advertise hookahs and many, if not already serving, are pushing for exemptions to begin again.
“The city came in about a month ago and I stopped serving [hookah] for a few days, but everyone else kept serving,” said Joe Karam, owner of Opa restaurant on Atwells Avenue in the Federal Hill neighborhood. “I spoke to my lawyer and he said we have the proper tobacco license and ventilation system, so we continue serving.”
Gianfranco Marrocco, owner of several Federal Hill nightspots – including two designated smoking lounges – expects the effects of the crackdown to wane with time.
“What I have seen with some neighbors is they stopped when the enforcement started, but it impacted them so much now they are starting again,” said Marrocco, who has clashed with the city over a number of nightlife issues, including the legal fight over VIP bottle service last year. (In November, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the city, and against the R.I. Department of Business Regulation, saying any VIP bottle service is illegal.)
“First bottle service and then hookah. I don’t know what is next,” Marrocco said. “They will make Providence a dry town. I don’t know how much less business-friendly the city can become.”
While Marrocco’s Smoke Lounge cigar bar and Skarr Hookah Lounge are designated smoking bars, a third property, Amici Sports Bar and Grill, was cited by the city for a hookah violation this winter.