Exhale Old City Opens Downtown

Exhale Old City, 108-2 East Jackson, Knoxville, January 2017

The newest business in the Old City opened very softly on New Year’s Eve and a few nights since. Owner Mohammed Fawaz, who you may remember the owner I mentioned in my article about the opening of the Juice Box last spring, says the response has been instant and very strong. A snapchat photo, he says, or a Facebook reference to opening the doors of Exhale Old City for a few hours brings an immediate crowd to the new location at 108-2 East Jackson Avenue, between Pilot Light and White Buffalo.

He also operates another hookah lounge near campus, but says that location is much more casual and is directed at students (it is 18 and up). The campus location, which has been open two years, has only been his business for six months. With about an eighty-person seating capacity, patrons often have to be turned away because they are full.

Exhale Old City, 108-2 East Jackson, Knoxville, January 2017

Exhale Old City, 108-2 East Jackson, Knoxville, January 2017

He’s serious about his hookahs and says the new hookah lounge is the best you will find outside a large city. He points to Chicago, New York City, Miami and others as having excellent hookah bars as a result of larger concentrations of Arab Americans in those places. Outside these spots, he says you won’t find the quality you’ll find at Exhale. Not in Nashville, not in Asheville.

It’s the setup and the quality of the tobacco which makes the difference and he points out that each of his hookahs cost about $200, far more than those found other places and that many of the components are hand-made. A hookah consists of a water pipe including a body, stem, water base, hose (they use disposable hoses, so everyone gets a new one) and a bowl for holding the tobacco. The flavored tobacco (shisha) favored by the lounge is Starbuzz, which is very high-end.

Exhale Old City, 108-2 East Jackson, Knoxville, January 2017

Exhale Old City, 108-2 East Jackson, Knoxville, January 2017

The complete absence of air leaks makes the experience more pleasant and prevents head-aches after smoking and theirs are completely sealed with a galvanized metal body leading up to a beautiful hand-made, glazed, clay bowl. The coals are contained by a metal top – which is to be compared with the tin-foil tops favored in many shops. Their coals are coconut coals, another small detail which makes a difference.

His goal is to attract young professionals and others who would like to have a relaxing evening with friends and prefer to avoid the loud music and dance floors of many of the other Old City options. He describes the hookah culture in his native Lebanon (though he grew up in Nigeria) and elsewhere to be one of good conversation and comfortable social encounters. He said that hookahs are so common in Lebanon that even Starbucks provides them. No alcohol will be served, though he says customers may bring their own wine, if they like. The lounge is restricted to twenty-one and up.

Mohammed Fawaz, Exhale Old City, 108-2 East Jackson, Knoxville, January 2017

Exhale Old City, 108-2 East Jackson, Knoxville, January 2017

If you’ve never been inside a hookah lounge, you might be surprised to find a sweet smell that in no way resembles the smell of cigarettes or tobacco, both of which are not permitted. A lengthy list of flavors is offered and customers are allowed to blend tobaccos making an almost endless list of possibilities. One of the strongest flavors has dedicated hookahs so the flavor doesn’t contaminate the other tobaccos. Each hookah is meticulously cleaned after each use.

One hookah, which can last around an hour and may be shared by up to three people, costs $20 and includes an appetizer. Mixed nuts and chips with salsa are currently available. I particularly enjoyed the mixed nuts and he says he’s talking with Yassin about the possibility of offering his hummus. Crepes, which have recently become a hit at the Juice Box are also available. They are starting with sweet crepes, but will soon add savory and sandwiches and paninis are under consideration. They also offer Turkish and American coffee and Chai Karak, a drink I’d never had, but enjoyed greatly when I stopped in.

Mohammed says the goal is to be like a hookah cafe one might find in the middle east, though he points out they would have open-air seating and maybe an Arabic singer. He doesn’t have plans to include those, but he plans to play interesting music and he hopes it will be a place where cultures collide and people learn more about others who may be different.

Chai Karak, Exhale Old City, 108-2 East Jackson, Knoxville, January 2017

Aqeel, the manager, who is originally from Saudi Arabia and has a degree in mechanical engineering, came to Knoxville by way of Jordan and Portland, in order to further his studies. Using his management experience and his experience working at another hookah bar near campus, he’s excited about providing excellent service, saying that he enjoys reading the room to notice quickly if someone has a need. He also enjoys making improvements behind the scenes and says his goal is that customers have not a good, but a perfect experience.

Initial hours are Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 6:00 PM – 4:00 AM. When my eyes bugged out a little at the 4:00 AM closing time, he laughed and pointed out that they’ll stay open later (or earlier?) if they are busy. Hours may be expanded later. More information is available at their Facebook page where (if you scroll through the posts) a menu is available. You’ll not meet friendlier people, so if hookahs sound interesting to you, stop in and introduce yourself. And check out the cool Buddha.

Urban Adventures on a Warm January Weekend (plus Ticket Winners Announced)

A Dopo Pizzeria, Williams Street, Knoxville, January 2017

I hadn’t intended to write about this, but I always have my camera around and, as it turned out, Urban Woman and I had a great time this past Friday night, Saturday and Sunday. In the midst of it, we kept saying, “Man, this has been so much fun. No way would we be doing this if we hadn’t moved to the city. So, here it is. Part normal, part exploring and some of it just wouldn’t happen in a non-urban location.

We used our Nowait app for the first time to get a table for us and friends at A Dopo Pizzeria. First, on the app, I recommend it. Several downtown restaurants use it and when you open the app, you get a list of the participating restaurants starting with the one closest to you (yes, it knows where you are standing) and gives the wait time for each. You can get in virtual line and it will tell you the time you should arrive. It wasn’t perfect for us – we still had about a 20 minute wait when we got there – but it cut down on our wait time.

A Dopo Pizzeria, Williams Street, Knoxville, January 2017

A Dopo Pizzeria, Williams Street, Knoxville, January 2017

Arriving at the restaurant on Williams Street, we stood outside while we waiting and I looked in every direction and marveled a bit at how far the area has come in recent years. My first visit was to the Steampunk Carnivalle and I thought I was in a distant part of the city. Now it’s in sight of the Mill and Mine, Public House, Tennessee Valley Bikes, future site of Regas Square Condos, GEO Hair Lab, Paulk and Company, First Christian Church venue, FORK Design and more. Just around the corner we saw the wonderful River and Rail production of “The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph’s Baby.” Sure, there’s remaining barbed wire across the street providing the urban edge, but it’s a rapidly developing area.

Inner Voices String Quartet, GEO Hairl Lab, Knoxville, January 2017

Inner Voices String Quartet, GEO Hairl Lab, Knoxville, January 2017

After a great meal at a very good price, we walked across the street to GEO Hair Lab, while our friends walked to the current glass exhibit at the Emporium. You might marvel that we would go to the salon on a Friday night for a little trim and color, but no, it’s cooler than that. Inner Voices Stringed Quartet played selected quartets – including those of Samuel Barber – for a crowd of about 80.

Sound strange? Yes, a bit – the four women played their instruments near the sinks while some of the patrons sat in the large salon chairs. But it was about ninety minutes of wonderful. I couldn’t imagine a better way to enjoy a Friday evening. We talked on the way home about what we’d have been doing if we still lived in our old subdivision. Answer: Watching TV and eating bad fast food.

DreamBikes, Central Street, Knoxville, January 2017

Saturday morning dawned incredibly warm causing me to wonder of the ethics of enjoying strangely warm January temperatures while still being concerned about its cause. Ethics aside, we walked from our home toward the first Nourish Knoxville Winter Market of the season. But we took lots of detours.

Walking through the 100 block, Urban Woman wanted to window shop at Nest Knoxville, which resulted in entering the store and buying candles we’ve enjoyed since. Down Jackson and into the Old City, Urban Woman surprised me when she suggested we take a look in DreamBikes. Five minutes later she’d closed a deal on a retro-bike and got a free basket thrown in. We picked my jaw up and walked on.

Scrappin’ in the City, Hall of Fame Dr., Knoxville, January 2017

Karm Thrift Store, Hall of Fame, Knoxville, January 2017

We walked through the Fourth and Gill neighborhood and over to Hall of Fame. Urban Woman looked around Scappin’ in the City for a few minutes before we walked into our destination: the KARM Thrift Store. That’s where I broke the bank on a cool new butternut colored vest (watch for it around town) for $5.

Cool Details in Fourth and Gill, Knoxville, January 2017

Winter Farmers Market and Good Golly Tamale, Central United Methodist Church, Knoxville, January 2017

Winter Farmers Market and Good Golly Tamale, Central United Methodist Church, Knoxville, January 2017

We took an alternate route back through the Fourth and Gill neighborhood just to see some different homes. So much beauty and so many homes lovingly restored always inspires us. We finally made it to the Winter Market, made our purchases and grabbed tamales from Good Golly Tamale which we enjoyed in our usual spot on the front steps of the church before walking back to Nest for the candle and home.

Exploring the City with Urban Girl and Urban Boy, Knoxville, January 2017

Exploring the City with Urban Girl and Urban Boy, Knoxville, January 2017

Exploring the City with Urban Girl and Urban Boy, Knoxville, January 2017

Exploring the City with Urban Girl and Urban Boy, Knoxville, January 2017

I ended the weekend with an outing with Urban Girl and Urban Boy who is finally getting old enough to take to the mean streets of the city. Lot’s of climbing on sculptures, running around Krutch Park and climbing on their downtown favorite who we call “Row Man,” followed by slipping down alleyways Urban Girl thinks are her own secrets.

She thinks she owns the city. She’s spent a large amount of her lifetime downtown since we moved here when she was four-months old. Urban Boy will be the same. The city has left a permanent mark on their lives. They aren’t the same people they would have been otherwise. Neither are we and we are so thankful for our little slice of urban life.

Congratulations are due to the winners of our recent ticket giveaways: Gordon Coker won the two tickets to Big Ears and Mitchell Beason won the two tickets to Rhythm n Blooms. Congratulations to both. And look for more giveaways later this week.

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