Above, co-owners Monaf Abdel and Waleed Houdroge in H2ookah, the first hookah lounge in the Salem-Keizer area. Exotic tobaccos can be purchased and either smoked on-site or taken home. KEIZERTIMES/Jason Cox

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

Used to be you had to go to Portland or Salem to do a lot of things.

Keizer Station meant you could get blue jeans in town.

Now you can go to a hookah bar without crossing the city line, too.

H2ookah, located on River Road [MAP: 1], is the first one in the Salem-Keizer area, but its owners aren’t strangers to the business. Co-owner Waleed Houdroge owns two more in Portland.

“This is a good spot to come hang out and just relax,” said Monaf Abdel, who is Houdroge’s business partner and lives in Salem.

You must be 18 to enter (they’ll be checking for ID) because tobacco is smoked on site. Like a cigar bar, hookah bars are exempt from the statewide workplace smoking ban.

They’ll host a formal grand opening today (Friday, July 30).

In a nutshell H2ookah will offer exotic flavors of tobacco that can be smoked on the premises or taken home. A hookah is a glass or metal device used to smoke the tobacco, with multiple tubes sticking out to inhale it. It’s placed in the top, and the smoke is cooled and filtered through water in the bottom.

Having trouble visualizing? Picture the Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland.

“People haven’t seen anything like this around here,” Abdel said.

They’ll offer a couple dozen tobacco flavors, many mixed with dried fruits to create a cornucopia of flavors.

In addition to tobacco and hookahs, they will sell sodas, energy drinks, water and packaged snacks.

The walls of the shop are lined with comfy couches, and the walls are painted warm colors, with numerous hookahs lining walls. Blacklights and music provide a club-like atmosphere without the alcohol.

In addition, they plan to have separate upstairs and downstairs lounges, and video game systems for customers to play while they are in. Free wi-fi will be available for customers.

“People want to try something different,” Abdel said. “When they try something with flavor they find out it’s really good.”

The word the two men keep repeating is relaxing – maintaining a low-key atmosphere where people can come and just, well, relax.

“It’s about being social,” Houdroge said.

They chose their spot in part because they needed a standalone building to comply with state regulations, and also because River Road has quite a bit of traffic.