USC graduates open Five Points locale to offer downtown alternative
Five Points has often been considered a social center for college students looking to have a good time by spending their money on alcohol. They enjoy their weekend away from stressful schoolwork by clanking their beer bottles, dancing to the heart-thumping music and carrying on with no worries.
However, for the professional and collegiate community looking to simply relax and avoid the annoyances and hassles that come with the Five Points’ crowded bar scene, options are sometimes limited.
Ada Owens and Lance Brown, both USC graduates, sought to change that.
As Columbia’s only retail tobacco lounge, the Hookah Spot offers a change of scenery for students and professionals searching for a more tranquil alternative to the downtown scene. Owens and Brown saw the business venture as an opportunity to create something more inviting and upscale compared to the usual bar and club setting.
“We felt that Columbia had a void of things for young professionals to do, so we thought it would be good to open in the entertainment district which is Five Points,” said Owens, who graduated in 2005.
“It really helps Five Points as a whole to have other options other than coming to get drunk.”
Hookah has risen in popularity recently for tobacco smoking in the United States, Owens said. Its origins extend back centuries ago in Middle Eastern countries like Iran, Pakistan and Turkey. During those times, hookah was often associated with status, when people would hold meetings in special rooms designed for sitting and smoking a hookah.
“Back then, hookah was the centerpiece of social gatherings, where men would meet and discuss crucial subjects like the politics and local events in their country,” Owens said. “So, it was basically used no differently than how we use it today.”
Today, hookah bars near U.S. college campuses have continued this custom of socialization. And since its grand opening during the St. Patrick’s Day festival in Five Points, the Hookah Spot has garnered positive responses from customers.
“We have had a pretty good reception from our Saudi Arabian and Middle Eastern customers,” said Brown, who graduated in 2004. “Some of them have even started becoming regular within the 15 days that we have been open.”
Walking into the Hookah Spot, the lounge is all about elegance and seduction. Marvelous draperies shroud richly textured walls. Dim lighting accompanies rhythmic music while visitors relax on luxurious couches, smoking from the one of the lounge’s elegant water pipes. Early birds can take advantage of the lounge’s VIP area, where they can host private events while watching TV on a private monitor.
“We definitely took a lot of pride in the decor we chose and wanted to make sure everything was upscale because we’re in an upscale environment,” Owens said. “Even though we’re near the USC campus, we decided not to go with the Gamecock theme because that’s pretty typical. We wanted this to be very inviting and make everybody feel welcome.”
The servers aren’t subtle with their state-of-the-art service. Customers choose from the lounge’s 50 tobacco flavors on an electronic tablet. The order is automatically sent to the back to be mixed.
“Efficiency is the key to running this business,” Brown said. “It’s what we need, and it’s what we have to have. Otherwise, everything would be so unorganized and everybody would just be scrambling about.”
Despite being in an entertainment district with mostly bars, the Hookah Spot does not sell alcohol and dedicates its sales completely to flavored tobacco, providing an opportunity prohibited in bars. If you’re not interested in tobacco, you can still smoke tea leaves or blow bubbles with the hookah.
For minors, the Hookah Spot may be a better option than getting turned away from a bar.
“I remember coming to Five Points as an 18-year-old freshman and everything was off limits because I wasn’t old enough,” Brown said. “Now, freshmen can come here and converse with their friends in a more relaxed atmosphere without getting busted for a fake ID.”
As Brown and Owens are aware, their hookah lounge was not the first to take Columbia by storm. The 803 Hookah Lounge, which was located right next door to Beezer’s on Sumter Street, also sought to provide Columbia residents with the relaxation that comes with flavored tobacco.
Unfortunately, a combination of factors, including a shooting that occurred in June last year, forced the shop to close. Alex Safran, a former employee at 803 Hookah Lounge, remembers working in the run-down establishment.
“[The 803] wasn’t held together very well,” said Safran, who now works as a manager at the Hookah Spot. “The owners really didn’t display any leadership and couldn’t handle things when it got busy. When crowds were starting to come in late night, everybody was basically on their own.”
Safran expressed his relief with working in a legitimate tobacco lounge with an organized workspace, clean bathrooms and knowledgeable ownership.
Brown and Owens have taken precautions to insure their establishment remains professional and efficient. They have hired officers from the Columbia Police Department for Friday and Saturday nights to ensure every customer is of age and follows the dress code.
The Hookah Spot is located at 617 Harden St. To reserve a private party or make VIP reservations, contact the Hookah Spot at firstname.lastname@example.org.