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Deep-thrumming bass in the evening, smooth instrumentals in the afternoon and sweet, lung-clutching vapors at all hours await the future patrons of DA City Hookah Cafe, Grove Park’s first hookah lounge. Unlikely owner Tim City, an unassuming ninth-grade English teacher at Frederick Douglass High, wants to show his students that they “don’t have to be boxed in” to one profession and to provide the neighborhood with a venue to mingle, a stage for performers, a “multi-purpose event center” and, ultimately, a space to eat and smoke at the same time. The establishment has already undergone a “low-key, soft opening” among friends and will put its arsenal of 40 hookahs to work in time for February’s Superbowl.
The history of the space is equally disarming: the previous owner of the building at 809 Hollywood NW mass-manufactured hotdogs for sporting events. Due to a COVID-imposed halt on the demand for ball game grub, the 2,500 square-foot warehouse was posted on Craigslist for sale. City called the building an “open canvas.”
“I know the area and what they got going on as well, I’m trying to cater to that,” City told What Now Atlanta. “You look at the demographic that’s here…you got T.I. and Killer Mike [living here], you got the new Beltline, you got these $500,000 homes around the block—let me get in where I can and do my part to uplift the community as well.”
Like any English teacher who isn’t just blowing smoke, City has an eye for detail. The name of the soon-to-open lounge, City said, has multi-faceted significance. The “D,” depicted in the lounge’s logo with the iconic old English D, signifies City’s stomping grounds in Detroit. The “A,” shown on their signage as an Atlanta Brave’s logo, represents City’s current home. “City” and “hookah” are self-explanatory.
Former Frederick Douglass students will make up his staff of about 15 employees, he said: “to be able to do full-circle, it’s a wonderful thing, to be able to give back to these kids… ‘you’re doing promotion, you’re doing marketing, you’re going to do my graphics, my videography’—They can say ‘my former teacher gave me employment.'”
At house parties, City once made his own shisha, stripping the stems from tobacco before leaving them to steep in water and adding flavorings like honey and molasses. His first dizzying puff was inhaled during a trying finals week when he was an undergraduate.
“I love hookah, I like the consumption of it. it stimulates your mind to get into a creative space. I didn’t do any, you know, hard narcotics or anything like that, and my friends were like ‘you should try hookah,'” recalled City. “It’s big in the local [Detroit] community and when I tried it I was like ‘it’s not that bad.’ I started doing more research on it, the flavors, what they meant to the culture, and I became a connoisseur. I started going to different hookah spots, and I knew I could do this too, and I could do it better.”
DA City will “primarily focus on the shisha and the experience”— blueberry, orange, mango, melon, mighty freeze and blue mist will be featured among “heads” to choose from. To fill patron’s stomachs along with their lungs, however, a succinct menu featuring Detroit specialties like corned beef sandwiches and hibachi (“we’re big on hibachi for some reason”) will be listed alongside Atlanta mainstays like lemon pepper wings and options for vegans and vegetarians.
But make no mistake, the hookah is the main event—”we don’t want to jam-pack you like a Cheesecake Factory.”
Bottles ranging from Grey Goose to Ace of Spades champagne will grace a drink menu worthy of a music video. No less than ten television screens will broadcast sports events and scrolling karaoke lyrics, and a 120-foot projection will scale one of the warehouse’s walls. And, an important feature for City, there will be a stage—a stand-up comedian himself (hookah, teaching the major themes in Lord of the Flies, telling jokes—what can’t this guy do?), City envisions a schedule of open mics, art showingcases and comedy events post-pandemic.
“I’m thinking more about people that want to even just use the stage,” he said. “I want this space to be used more than just a hookah environment.”
So, put that in your pipe and smoke it—or, puff on something sweeter at DA City.