Huff and puff

Owner Sammy Khader smokes hookah at Hubbly Bubbly.
BY: Mark Hancock

His fond and authentic memories were dampened when he was of age to hang out in the American versions of the popular smoking bars.

“Since I’ve been smoking for so long, when I hit 18, I was looking for a place to smoke hookah and came up empty-handed,” Khader said. “I would say hookah — worldwide — is chilled-out, relaxed, something you do with a friend. Very similar to smoking a cigarette, it’s kind of a bonding thing. Hookah is similar to that, except the U.S. has kind of geared it more towards the club scene rather than being the chilled-out vibe that it’s supposed to be.”

To remedy a lack of authentic scenes, at the beginning of 2013, Khader opened Hubbly Bubbly Hookah & Cafe, motivated by his desire for a lounge that “gave off a chilled vibe, where people can just come and relax, socialize, smoke and enjoy hookah for what it is, without all the alcohol, partying and craziness behind it.” Hubbly Bubbly (HB) is open daily at 4 p.m. until 12 a.m. on the weekdays and Sunday, and until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday at 2900 N. Classen Blvd. You must be age 18 or older to enter the cafe.

Not even a year into operation, HB has been “an absolute success,” according to Khader. It has attracted celebrities like Eric Maynor of the Washington Wizards, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Brandon Pettigrew from the Detroit Lions, he said.

Khader believes the reason for HB’s success is twofold: the high-quality shisha — the tobacco and flavored molasses mixture that goes into the hookah — and his strict dedication to maintain the authenticity behind the ritual and culture of hookah.

“We do things differently, based on things that I’ve learned in the Middle East,” Khader said. “For example, the way we’ll blow out the ash that goes inside the bowls, the way we put on the coals, the way that we swing around the coals to get them lit up… I know customers find that really impressive,” he said.

Khader also took tips from his dad, a hookah smoker for nearly six decades. While most customers might not notice, Khader goes the extra mile to ensure practices — down to how the hookah is delivered by staff — are culturally authentic.

HB’s menu, loaded with over 50 shisha flavors, ranges from the classic lemon and orange to more experimental flavors such as dulce de leche, energy drink and mojito, as well as numerous specialty mixes. HB also stocks Hydro brand, herbal flavors free of nicotine and tobacco.

Hookah pipes
BY: Mark Hancock

Khader said his advice for the hookah first-timer is to “choose a flavor you like, come with good company and have some time to kill and relax.” If you ask Khader for a flavor recommendation, he’ll sure give it.

“[Customers] always want to know what I think is best,” Khader said with a sigh. “Whenever you own a hookah, you’re always trying to come up with new mixes and flavors,” he said. “Every single hookah I make is my new favorite. It’s hard for me to pick one. I guess it just depends on my mood.”

Regardless of his mood, Khader guarantees the mood of Hubbly Bubbly will always be chilled and relaxed, but — most importantly — genuine.

“I think that we’ve brought some thing completely different to Oklahoma City,” Khader said. “Hubbly Bubbly has brought a unique vibe that I haven’t really experienced in Oklahoma, and I’m happy I can bring that here.”

It’s not all shisha and coals, though. Khader is committed to creating a community space at HB. The cafe features a bimonthly open mic night at 9 p.m. Mondays — hosted by local writer and performance artist Brennan McCloy — in order to give other performance artists a space to practice their talents.

The walls of the lounge exhibit visual art from local artists, and the most recent movement is that toward a more eco-friendly way of operating.

He’s exploring partnerships with local charities to help raise community awareness, and overall, he aims to cultivate diversity in the metro.

In August, Khader added a simple menu of appetizers and desserts, including hummus ($5.50), baba ghanoush ($5.50), banana split waffle ($6) and traditional baklava ($1). He also stocks loose-leaf tea from t, an urban teahouse.

Khader’s concept is a mesh of east coast and west coast styles, but he said the true compliment is when people tell him Hubbly Bubbly gives them an authentic Middle Eastern vibe.

“Then I know I’ve done my job,” he said.

Louis Fowler

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