Gypsy Café © • All Rights Reserved • Created by Yanni
THE ROVING EYE
While the world waits, however cynically, for Big Tobacco to make a “safe cigarette,” an interim solution
might be found in a water pipe at the Gypsy Café in Westwood Village.
More accurately, the inhalation at Gypsy Café is a hookah. That’s if you come at it from a Moroccan
perspective. To the Lebanese, it’s a nargile. The Turks call it a chichi; the Persians, chelyoun.
Whatever you call them, you can pull 12 different flavors of smoke from the table-high toke tanks.
Gypsy Café co-owner David Malamed says apple and strawberry are the most popular tobacco flavors at
his quirky eatery nestled among the chain stores, neon and noodle peddlers on Broxton Avenue.
Malamed, 51, a native Persian, said drawing from the hookah is a healthy alternative to cigarette
smoking that brings people from all classes together on the sidewalk in front of his place.
“It’s something tasteful that doesn’t give you a headache,” he said. “We like to offer something that’s
the best type of smoking. You always have a better choice in life.”
The hookahs are authentic, imported from Egypt, Malamed said. Here’s how they work: Tobacco is
mixed with honey and flavored herbs and placed in a tin foil covered cup atop the hookah. Smoldering
charcoal is placed on top of the foil to burn the tobacco. With a thread-covered hose, smokers draw air through the tobacco/herb
mixture, down the body of the hookah, into water at the base and into their mouth. It’s up to the individual whether or not to
inhale. Flavors include curry, peach, rose and cappuccino. A hookah-cup full of tobacco at the Gypsy Café will run you $10, and
will provide about 45 minutes of puffing.
Los Angeles Business Journal
December 4 2000
CLOUDS OF CONFUSION
Westside cafes carry on Middle Eastern tradition of smoking hookahs, but the water pipes gives rise to cultural and health questions.
Like a cobra hypnotized by a reed flute, plumes of sweet smelling smoke attract dozens of
patrons to a quiet corner on Broxton Avenue.
Sipping on espressos and cappuccinos, munching on hummus and tabbouleh and swaying to the
sounds of sitars and tablas, they spill out of the 22-year-old Gypsy Cafe in Westwood, the area
considered to be the heart of the Westside's Persian community.
But to the eclectic crowd, the food and beverage is just an added bonus, These days, what's
packing customers in are the 2-foot high hookahs perched on most tables.
Resembling an elaborate water pipe, the hookahs at Gypsy, complete with tufts of fur on the
handle and a candy-cane striped hose protruding from the top, could arouse suspicion. But
smokers, many of which hail from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are merely engaging in an age-old Middle Eastern tradition.
"It is customary to smoke after you eat," said Gypsy owner Joseph Melamed, a native of Iran. "But not like here, when you have
a cigarette. It's more for the flavor. The sweet taste in your mouth.”
But this piece of Middle Eastern culture does not necessarily fit in with L.A. lifestyle and laws.
Beyond being one of a handful of places on the Westside that rents out hookahs-another is Galaxy Gallery on Melrose
Avenue—the question of whether people can smoke inside seems to be a point of cultural confusion as hookah smoking appears
to be catching on as a new trend. Cafe manager Georgi Hader said Gypsy allows indoor hookah smoking because the tobacco
that they are serving up doesn't have nicotine in it and doesn't disturb the customers. Galaxy manager Barry Kramer also said
that hookah tobacco has no nicotine, which is why his establishment allows indoor smoking.
But that isn't how fire officials, who enforce smoking ordinances, see it. Any percentage of tobacco in a product that is smoked
indoors is violating the state labor codes, said Los Angeles City Fire Department Capt. Mark Gozawa. First-time smoking
offenders are fined $81 and business owners that allow smoking indoors are taken to a city attorney hearing and must pay up to
$500 in fines, Gozawa said. Melamed agrees to these conditions, and explained that sometimes his employees are unsure of the
"Smoking inside should not be permitted and we will not repeat that again," Melamed said.
Smoking hookahs in the Middle East, whether indoors or outdoors are part of the social mores and
are commonly seen in cafes, said Hossein Ziai, professor of Iranian and Islamic studies at UCLA.
“Smoking a narghile, a hubbly-bubbly or whatever you want to call is just like Parisians drinking
coffee and smoking Gauloises cigarettes or Americans drinking Starbucks and smoking a Camel,”
said Ziai. “The distinction is the instrument that is used to smoke the tobacco. It's social smoking."
Clearly hookahs are not your standard smoke.
Selecting from 12 different flavors, including apple, mint, melon and cherry that are mixed with
molasses and tobacco flakes, smokers can rent out these ancient pipes—also called chichas or
narghiles—for $10 at Gypsy. For sanitation's sake, each comes with as many disposable mouthpiece
tips as needed and a free refill. But more than the taste, some patrons claim to get a "warm fuzzy
feeling" off the smoke. "It's kind of like a cigar buzz," said Rosanna Mendoza visiting Gypsy from
Connecticut. That may be one reason swarms of young adults—some still in high school—are
migrating to Gypsy. Beverly Hills High School senior Elizabeth Oved and her trio of friends have
practically been a fixture at Gypsy this summer and plan to continue to come on the weekends once school is in session.
"This is a meeting spot for high schoolers all around the Westside,' said Oved, 18. "It's
something different for us teens. We don't smoke cigarettes, we don't do drugs. This makes you
a little lightheaded, but it's safe. It’s fun, cool and very Mediterranean."
But some say hookah smoking is not as harmless as it may seem, and may open the door to
smoking cigarettes. "If tobacco is burned in any way, then you're receiving a dose of nicotine
and that's bad. It just happens to be flavored,” said Dr. Raymond Melrose, a West Los Angeles
oral pathologist and president-elect of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Cancer Society.
"The potential for nicotine addiction is there and that could drive them to cigarettes, I'm sure
this tobacco is unrefined and that can be even more harmful than cigarettes.”
Like cigarettes, smoking hookahs is illegal to anyone under 18. To ensure that these high schoolers are not breaking the law,
Hader said employees at Gypsy card their patrons. Oved concurs. Indoors or outdoors, the, clouds of sweet-smelling smoke
wafting through the night air are a definite draw .Starting out with only four hookahs, Melamed said the 40 bookahs he now has
are all usually blowing smoke on a weekend night. "The Gypsy is usually packed, especially after 10 p.m.” said, Sally Hasenstab,
manager of BJ’s Pizza across the street. “It's very social and a very cultural thing. But he runs a tight ship over there. It never
gets out of hand. Cops drive by often, hang out. It seems to be pretty mellow.”
In the future, Melamed said he hopes to expand upon this Middle Eastern tradition. He said he is talking with building and safety
inspectors about opening up a coffeehouse inside a large circus-style tent with hanging lamps, magic carpets and belly dancers.
But for now, he’ll settle with the little slice of old Beirut he's created in Westwood.
"Being in this area makes you feel like you are in another country, like Saudi Arabia," said patron Victoria Anderson of
Hollywood. “The smell brings you back to another time. It's very mystical.”
Those cafes that rent hookahs aren’t just blowing smoke
Has Westwood Village become the casbah? Smelling the burnt aroma emanating around Peter, a 24-
year-old UCLA history student hanging out at Gypsy Café on a recent
Friday night, you’d be suspicious. Perched at his feet is a giant hookah. And Peter is inhaling.
"People walk by all the time and think I'm smoking marijuana," he admits. His friends Ryan and
Iskander, fellow Bruins, take a break from their concentrated chess game to pipe in (literally and
figuratively). "It's like a fancy bong." says Iskander. Indeed. It looks pretty luxe, what with those tufts
of fur on the handle and that colorful candy cane-striped hose.
So what is Peter smoking? Strawberry-flavored tobacco, or, to use the lingo of Hookah Brothers, the
downtown Los Angeles company that supplies the hookahs and the water tobacco, "Egyptian Herbs."
(Coffee & Cream in Sylmar and Galaxy Gallery on Melrose Avenue also rent hookahs.) "I don't even
get a buzz off it," Pcter insists. "It's just the flavor." Lynn, an 18-year-old Santa Monica College
freshman who's here almost every weekend with her friend, Sanam, prefers watermelon. But not orange. "It tastes like fluoride."
And the grape, according to Sanam, reminds her of Dimetapp. Gypsy Café, in the hookah business for about six months, rents
them for $10, with one free tobacco refill and as many disposable mouthpieces as needed. On a busy night, all 20 of its hookahs
are blowing smoke. "'It can't get any crazier than this." says Joseph Melamed, who runs the cafe. Lynn has a possible
explanation for the hookah hoopla. "It's an innocent way of partying," she explains, the way malts functioned in a previous age
of courtship. "If guys want to meet you or go out with you, they'll buy you one."
>Don't smoke anything out of the hookah but the water tobacco it was intended for.
>Never put the hookah on a table (or anything tall). This maybe inconvenient if the hookah is small, but
it's meant to be placed, gently resting, on the floor.
>Never light a cigarette with the hookah's burning coals.
>After removing the mouthpiece, set the hookah down, then let the next person pick it up. Don't pass the
pipe directly to your compatriots
Los Angeles - L.A. after dark
DEAR SOS: I have been unable to figure out what makes the Famous Gypsy Style Tomato Soup so good at Gypsy Café in
Westwood. A few of us on campus have tried to re-create it and failed miserably. Hope you can help.
DEAR R.: Potato is the surprise ingredient in this tasty, yet simple, tomato soup. Sautéing the onions and using cream and
Parmesan can’t hurt either.Gypsy Cafe Tomato Soup
Active Work Time: 25 minutes • Total Preparation Time: 1 hour
1 tablespoon oil or butter
1 red onion, chopped
1 large baking potato, baked and peeled
4 cups tomato sauce combined with 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tablespoon chicken base
1/2 cup hot water
Dried oregano• Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until lender, 5 minutes. Place onion and potato in food
processor and purée until smooth. Combine tomato sauce and half-and-half in large saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 to
15 minutes. Add potato-onion mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until thick and smooth. Add cheese. Mix chicken base with
water and stir into soup. Simmer over low heat 5 to 10 minutes. Add dash oregano before serving.
4 to 6 servings. Each of 6 servings. 276 calories; 1,402 mg sodium; 31 mg cholesterol; 13 grams fat; 36 grams carbohydrates;
8 grams protein; 3.87 grams fiber.
Los Angeles Times
November 8, 2000
PASSING THE PIPE
The communal smoking of flavored tobacco in fancy water pipes is a club and café craze.
By CHRISTINE FREY
Times Staff Writer
At an outdoor café in Pacific Beach, Ryan Sims is passed the pipe. Taking the
mouthpiece, he sucks in the sweet scent, then pauses a moment. The 23-year-old
exhales white wisps of strawberry, raspberry and pineapple.
"It's like smoking perfume," laughs his friend, Jaclyn Markle, 20.
In Egypt, it's called a sheesha. In Turkey, it's called a nargile. In California clubs and
nightspots, it's called a hookah. Common throughout the Middle East where it
originated several hundred years ago, the water pipe is popping up in American
restaurants, coffeehouses and bars.
Many of the people lighting up are young—some still teens, most college age—and include not only those who smoke other
tobacco products but those who consider themselves nonsmokers. Unlike smoking cigarettes, traditional pipes and cigars,
smoking a hookah is a communal experience-more akin to the Native American tradition of passing a peace pipe than grabbing a
smoke to satisfy a nicotine craving.
Many users say that the flavored tobacco is easier to inhale than that in cigarettes. The preferred pipe of the caterpillar in "Alice
in Wonderland," water pipes call for a leisurely pull, and by the time the smoke is filtered through the water chamber and a long
tube and hits the lungs, it is cool. Variations on the water pipe theme-especially the bong-have long been a staple of the head
shops that count pot and hashish smokers among their clientele, But, for the generation currently discovering the pipes, this is
not about using illegal drugs-though it is a way to toy with one of the symbols of that culture as well as sample a mild-tasting
On a recent Friday night in Pasadena, Rachel Lesky, 25, smoked a hookah for the first time at an outside table-smoking being
prohibited nearly everywhere indoors-at Equator coffeehouse. Though she is allergic to cigarette smoke, the fumes from the
mixed fruit tobacco didn’t bother her, "It's really mellow and very calming," Lesky said. A few tables over, a half-dozen high
school students shared a hookah.
The group usually gathers at the coffeehouse once a week to smoke and socialize. "I didn’t like the taste of cigarettes, said a La
Cañada 18-year-old who ordered a hookah and was sharing it with friends who were not old enough to buy tobacco, which is to
say, under 18, -You don’t even feel it. It's a great social event.”
Traditionally, a sheesha or nargile is smoked after a meal or with tea or coffee. A small bowl at the top of the pipe contains the
tobacco, which is heated by coals placed on a foil covering. When a person inhales from an attached tube, smoke is drawn to the
bottom of the pipe, where it is filtered through water.
The tobacco is mixed with fruit paste, molasses or honey for flavor—apple, cola and mint are
common—and lasts for about 15 to 30 minutes, depending upon the number of people
smoking. Privately, some people may smoke other substances, but those in the hookah
business say that their pipe is not designed for drugs such as pot. Still, says Equator owner
Teddy Bedjakian, "when you see [some people] smoking it, they're smoking it like they're
smoking weed. You can hear them coughing."
Mark Ascar first met the hookah in Egypt. While visiting there, he and his friends often
smoked at the end of the day or after a night on the town. "That was the focal point," said
Ascar, 26. 'Everyone [was] drinking, kicking back, puffing on hookahs."
Four years ago, Ascar, a 1995 UCLA business graduate, returned from one of his trips with
several dozen hookahs and started selling them on Venice Beach. Now Hookah Bros.
manufacturers and distributes water pipes to about 1,000 retailers, a combination of pipe
shops and restaurants, around the country from its Los Angeles warehouse.
The hookahs, which retail for approximately $65 to $300, stand from about 1 1/2 to 3 1/2
feet high and may have up to six tubes. Most have a colored glass bowl at the base. Bright
fabric— blue leopard print or red flames— covers the tubes; plastic mouthpieces can be
replaced for each smoker. For many establishments, hookahs have become a profitable part
of their business. That has led many—from five-star restaurants to trendy clubs-to add them
to their menus, Ascar said.
When a customer orders up a pipe, it comes with a, pinch of tobacco available in a variety of flavors, Ordering a hookah can cost
anywhere from $4 to $13, tobacco refills run about $5.
Only those 18, and older can legally purchase tobacco, and most places check IDs. Sinbad Café in San Diego County's Pacific
Beach has a bouncer who checks IDs at the door, and at Gypsy Café in Westwood, owner Joseph Melamed even had a customer
arrested for using a fake ID. Some establishments, though, only require seeing the ID of the person purchasing the hookah, not
everyone smoking it. Which means that at a table where an 18 year-old orders the pipe, there may well be smokers under
Often located near campuses, hookah bars have become a popular hangout for the 18-to-21-year-old crowd. Gypsy Café and
Habibi Café are blocks from UCLA campus, and Sinbad Café draws a number of San Diego students in the area. Many people
meet for a smoke after—or sometimes instead of—the bar or club, 'Its a good place to come when you have a mixed party [of
different ages]," said Sims of Pacific Beach.
Gypsy Café and Habibi Café in Westwood offer hookahs in addition to Middle Eastern fare. Galaxy Gallery, a pipe shop and
coffeehouse on Melrose Avenue, lets customers smoke hookahs at outdoor tables or purchase their own to take home. Arabian
Nights in Long Beach boasts low booths where patrons can smoke and watch belly dancing.
Although those in the business say that the tobacco used in hookahs has less nicotine than cigarettes, and no tar, health experts
warn that all tobacco use poses some risk. John Wolfe, a respiratory therapist who worked in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in the early
1990s, said that though he appreciated the cultural significance of the pipe, he hoped there was not widespread adoption in the
United States. "The bottom line is facts that apply to smoking cigarettes apply to any nicotine product," said Wolfe, who also
works with the American Lung Assn. T o date, there has been little study of the health issues related to use of the hookah.
Some observers expect interest in hookahs to burn out as it has for other fads such as cigars. "None of them have had the
impact [of cigarettes],” said Danny McGoldrick, research director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "Those types of
products are going to be short-term trends.”
For now, though, the smoke still lingers. On a busy weekend night, Gypsy Café in Westwood serves up more than 100 hookahs,
Melamed said. Other business owners say the hookah break has become increasingly popular as more people incorporate it into
In Egypt, for example, people smoke hookahs and play backgammon, said Ascar of Hookah Bros. “Here you smoke a hookah and
watch the Lakers.”
Los Angeles Times
May 1 2002
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