Hookah lounge opens in Maryville
By Linda Braden Albert | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A Maryville business has the distinction of being the first of its kind in Blount County. The Rabbit Hole, a hookah lounge, held its soft opening July 4 at the Five Point roundabout and celebrated in style Saturday with its official opening day. Owners are Maryville residents Rik and Melanie Huddleston.
“There are several businesses in Knoxville operating similar business models,” Rik explained. “We noticed there was a fairly large population of college students here, Maryville College and the University of Tennessee, and there was nothing like it here in Maryville. We figured we could probably fill a little niche here.”
When you walk into The Rabbit Hole, the Alice in Wonderland theme is evident with clocks featuring familiar characters such as the Cheshire cat in the alcove at the entrance.
“We figured the Alice in Wonderland theme was a good way to tie together both a light, cartoon-y, colorful vibrance as well as something a bit more esoteric, to encourage people to talk about things that are outside the standard, everyday conversation topics,” Rik said. “Like going down the rabbit hole.”
The first area visible to patrons is a retail space that includes products such as goats milk soaps made by a vendor in Vonore, hand-crafted candles from New Market, incense, paper lanterns, purses and artwork. Plans are to allow local artists to display their work here.
A hookah pipe is a single or multi-stemmed instrument for smoking flavored tobacco known as Shisha. The smoke is passed through a water basin before inhalation.
Rik demonstrated how the pipes operate.
“You put a little bit of tobacco in the bowl piece, fill up the chamber here with water,” he said. “You put hot charcoal here on top, it smolders the tobacco.”
Melanie added, “The water provides a filter for the smoke and also cools the smoke.”
Rik said the tradition comes from the Middle East.
“It’s hundreds and hundreds of years old,” he said. “In Saudi Arabia, for example, alcohol is strictly forbidden, so at social clubs, they sit around the pipe. That’s their social hour instead of sitting around the bar having a beer with their friends.”
He said the practice was brought to the United States from the Middle East in the 1950s with soldiers returning from various military actions and is enjoying a huge surge of popularity now.
“There are, I believe, five locations in Knoxville,” Rik said.
The Rabbit Hole offers about 40 flavors of tobacco and has lower nicotine than a traditional cigarette. And, Melanie said, you don’t have to be a traditional smoker to enjoy the hookah. “My mom doesn’t smoke, has never smoked, and she occasionally smokes a hookah here. She says it’s more of a novelty. It’s flavorful, it’s light, it doesn’t feel like smoking. And it’s cool because it’s water filtered.”
The lounge area, with comfortable seating for patrons, accommodates individuals who wish to smoke and read in solitude or friends who want to socialize over a hookah. All who smoke must show proper identification, Rik said.
Recent Maryville High School graduates Connor Marine, Zach Sullivan and David Johnson were sharing a three-hose hookah filled with pirate’s cove, a flavored tobacco Johnson described as a light, spicy orange.
“It reminds you of the beach,” he said.
The Rabbit Hole currently offers movie nights each Friday with free popcorn. Trivia nights are planned as well.
“We will also be doing what I’m going to call social-conscious Saturdays, where I’ll be screening documentaries or podcasts, something that has social relevance — education reform, prison reform,” Rik said. The idea is to foster conversation and allow people to express their opinions in a safe, non-judgmental venue. Special events are also being planned throughout the month of October, including screenings of some Halloween flicks.
Rik said they will keep menus available from the cafe at nearby Southland Books so those who want snacks or coffee can do so while enjoying a freshly packed hookah and good conversation at The Rabbit Hole.
Rik, a graduate of Maryville High School, is a five-generation Maryvillian. Melanie moved to the Knoxville area from Oklahoma 12 years ago. The couple settled in Maryville permanently about six years ago. They have two children, a 7-year-old and an infant.