Photo Credit: Harlem Hookah
Harlem Hookah: New York City's Only Black-Owned And Woman-Owned Hookah Bar
Harlem Hookah is the type of alliterative name that just rolls so easily off the tongue. So you would imagine that someone else had scooped it up to bestow upon a trendy club. At least that’s what Dr. Tiffany Bowen thought as she was enjoying some hookah and drinks in New York City and dreading the commute back to Harlem.
“I was like, ‘Man, I wish I could have this experience but close to home’,” recalled Bowen. “‘I would love to just walk home right now. I can’t believe there’s no hookah in Harlem.‘ I literally just said that out loud.”
“I Googled and no one took the name Harlem Hookah. That would be such a good name for a business. The next day I woke up still thinking about it. I grabbed the domain name and worked on trademarking it before I had any plans to actually open this.”
Her foresight paid off. Three years later, Harlem Hookah opened its doors in Central Harlem. The trendy lounge and restaurant offers authentic Egyptian shisha, updated comfort food, and premium spirits. It incorporates all the elements that Bowen valued and desired in a nightlife haunt.
“I knew that the area deserved something,” she said. “I know other people were looking for the same thing: a place you could go to for good food, good drinks, hookah, upscale, sexy vibe, and safe. We don’t have to go downtown to get the quality that we deserve.”
For Black History Month, the lounge will feature Black-owned spirits including HH Bespoke Spirits, Shinju Whiskey and more. They will also integrate different sauces and condiments from Black-owned food companies into their menu. One of these is Oh Shito!, a spicy and savory pepper sauce from Ghana. Yo Pitts! Foods’ line of ketchup, mustard, and sauces will accompany the sliders and fries served at Harlem Hookah. The Charleston Gourmet Burger Company out of South Carolina will also join the rotation with a variety of burger marinades and sauces.
Bowen holds a Ph.D. in Education and is a former first grade teacher. But as divergent as that may seem from owning a hookah lounge, the New York native admits that she has always been the proverbial life of the party within her network.
“I was always the go-to in my circle for anything related to parties, fun, or decorating. Even though you don’t immediately see the connection between the two, I was behind the scenes a teacher by day, always planning by night. So when my friends and family heard I was opening the place, they weren’t surprised.”
She added, “Though I have my doctorate in education, my emphasis was leadership and organization. So that really can be applied to anything. And when you’re talking about managing people, managing staff, and working with others, which I have to do on a daily basis, I feel like my education still comes in handy.”
It has also been clutch when dealing with difficult situations. Harlem Hookah has been the target of aggressive harassment and according to Bowen “racist verbal attacks” over the past five years from the condo residents in the area. Complaints have ranged from loitering to noise. But despite Bowen’s best efforts to deescalate the situation, the tension persists.
“I feel like this is how so many businesses are being bullied out of Harlem, and we’re just not for it,” she shared. “We’ve created dozens of jobs for people in the neighborhood. We offer our staff benefits like medical, and I feel like we’re one of the small businesses that actually is able to do that in the neighborhood. We’re bringing something of quality to both the customers and our team members.”
“I’m sure at times there’s noise and stuff like that, and we’ve hired sound engineers to try to remediate the issues. But despite all of our efforts, it just seems like they’re not willing to work with us, and they’re not welcoming us into the area. We’re hoping that with time this improves, but we’re also trying to advocate and be vocal about the fact that this is not acceptable.”
The ongoing drama has not hindered the lounge’s success or the plans for expansion. Harlem Hookah will be heading to Florida’s shores in 2023. Bowen fell in love with the artsy and beautiful Wynwood area in Miami, making it the perfect area to continue to grow her business.
“I’m sure we’ll see our New York customers even at our Florida location, but I’m sure we’ll also gain a following in Florida as well.”