After a while, the college bar and party scene can get old. Alternative things to do on weekends are often expensive or difficult to find, especially in Poughkeepsie. Zorona Hookah Lounge provides the perfect night out for college students too young to get into bars and too broke to check out the restaurant scene.
Hookah has long been a staple of Middle Eastern tradition that is gaining ground among young people. For those concerned about health, although hookah smoking has the same risks as any tobacco use, using it once in a while will not greatly affect you. Hookah bars are common in New York City; there are sometimes belly dancers and Middle Eastern cuisine at higher-end places. They are popping up in college towns as well. Zorona has a regional advantage in that they are the only hookah bar in Poughkeepsie and conveniently located near Marist, Vassar, and Dutchess Community College.
Brian Nesheiwat has owned the lounge for four years. His father Yousef, whose picture hangs next to the entrance, had always dreamed of owning a hookah lounge, so Nesheiwat opened Zorona “to continue his dream.” Nesheiwat said that one of the best parts of Zorona is that “customers become family.” With mostly young locals and college students as clientele, there are several regulars. The specials board has funny names for flavors, which starts conversations with customers about the hookah. The only deterring factor, he said, is that some people do not know what hookah is. However hookah bars are becoming more popular as young people are attracted to the fruity flavors and relaxing quality of the smoke.
While Zorona hosts two DJs on Friday and Saturday who give the place more of a club-like atmosphere, the lounge tends to have a more low-key atmosphere on weeknights and earlier on weekends. This makes it a perfect place to unwind after work, as Albany graduate Steve Turrisi was doing. While sharing hookah with my friend and I, he told us about how he was turned on to smoking it in Israel before Zorona opened. “It’s a good way for young people to be social,” he said. Since so much communication occurs over technology, Turrisi pointed out that a night at the hookah bar facilitates better conversation than a loud bar or party.
Christina Coulter, my housemate and a sophomore at Marist, echoed Turrisi. She commented on the intimacy that the hookah bar provides that allows her to bond with friends. Another housemate, sophomore Alexis Seijas agreed, adding that while the service can sometimes be slow, the experience is relaxing. They both mentioned the high quality of the shisha, which is the special type of tobacco used in the hookahs. Also, the hookah is cheap when you split it with a group; one head that usually lasts several hours ranges from $12-$15 depending on the flavor. While they mentioned that it is often too loud and crowded on weekends, both ladies and I enjoy a night of bonding over hookah nonetheless.
If you are looking for a place to bring a date or a group of friends, Zorona is ideal. As Seijas put it, “it’s a nice change of pace.”
Zorona Hookah Lounge is located at 511 Haight Avenue in Poughkeepsie, just a short cab ride away if you do not have a car. It is open from Monday to Thursday, 7:00 p.m. to midnight, and Friday to Saturday, 7:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.