As far back as 1620, Middle Eastern men and women have enjoyed smoking fruit-flavored tobacco through water pipes, or hookahs, in tandem with coffee, confections and conversation. Part of the allure of the hookah experience is the highly ceremonial nature of the smoking process.
After a thorough cleaning, the reservoir at the bottom of the device is filled with water. The stem of the mechanism is then attached, and tobacco blended with molasses and other flavoring is packed into the bowl and covered with a metal screen. A slow-burning charcoal is then lit and placed atop the screen with a dainty pair of tongs, and you're on your way to flavor country. As you puff on the hose extending from the hookah's midsection, smoke is drawn downward into the reservoir of liquid; the current of air carrying the smoke makes a soft bubbling sound as it passes through the liquid and undergoes a cooling ablution. The smoke enters your mouth with an elusive tactile sensation that accompanies the flavor of the tobacco like the mouth-feel of wine or chocolate. If you choose to inhale, you'll gradually experience a delicate euphoria that makes the nicotine hammer-blow of cigarettes seem barbaric, and as you exhale, undulating arabesques of cooled smoke ornament the air and perfume the environs gently. A bowl of hookah tobacco lasts about an hour, so you have ample time to relax, reflect and enjoy -- which is precisely the idea.
If you'd like to experience the full range of sensations the hookah offers, do so at Nik's Wine Bar and Bistro (307 Belt Street, 314-454-0403) or 609 (609 Eastgate Avenue, 314-721-9168). 609 offers a hookah package for four to six people that includes hookah, cocktails and appetizers in a private room, and Nik's carries a vast selection of fine wines to complement your smoking. -- John Goddard
Janitor of Lunacy
Now that Mystery Science Theater 3000 reruns have been jettisoned from the Sci-Fi Channel lineup, how are you supposed to get your fill of marooned-janitor-and-smartass-robots interactive film criticism? Thankfully, the Zoom! Lounge has 115 episodes of the hilarious cult hit for its new MST3K and Martinis night, so the skewering of terrible films may continue unabated. Additionally, the presence of alcohol makes it possible that someone in the audience will have the guts to shout a zinger that rivals Tom Servo's devastating quips. MST3K and Martinis is celebrated every Friday night at the Zoom! Lounge, in the basement of the Complex (3511 Chouteau Avenue, 314-772-2645), and admission is free with the $3 cover charge. -- Niles Baranowski
Sunday Natty Sunday
So you seem to think you have the whole "urban chic" thing down pat, eh? Guess what, bitches? If you haven't been to Mangia Italiano (3145 South Grand Boulevard, 314-664-8585; free) on a Sunday night, you've missed too many opportunities to grind ass with the sexiest of STL's musical elite. Every Sunday, uurrrrbody lets their pants fall down at around 10 p.m. for the best dub-reggae spin currently occurring within the city limits. If you enjoy watching local rock stars attempting to dance, this night of skank is for you. And for Mangia's sake, behave yourself: Sunday is a sacred day of relaxation for restaurant types, working or not. -- John Goddard
The automobile has not been kind to St. Louis. From the destruction of our streetcar system, to the carving up of the city to make room for interstates, to the sterile sprawl of the far suburbs, car culture has been a disaster for this city. What can we do to fight the massive system that favors automobiles over human beings? Dom Nozzi has a few ideas. His new book, Road to Ruin: An Introduction to Sprawl and How to Cure It, looks at the problem objectively and draws from Nozzi's sixteen years of experience as a city planner. Nozzi visits the Commonspace (615 North Grand Boulevard) at 1 p.m.; bring your favorite elected official. The event is free to the public, and all ages are welcome. Email email@example.com or call 314-531-1707 for more info. -- Jason Toon