hookahs in H’burg?

Brent Finnegan -- December 5th, 2006

This is my first attempt at a local review…

Last night I went to see some friends of mine play a few songs at a new venue in town called Isis. It’s a hookah bar (but bar is a misnomer, since they don’t serve alcohol). I had never heard of it, and my friend had to send me directions. It’s on Hawkins Street (just past the Saigon Cafe) tucked away behind Tienda Raquel. I really like Twisted Branch in C’ville, so I was intrigued by the idea of a hookah bar in H’burg.

When I walked in, the first thing I noticed was the black lights and the strange clash of interior designs. Since Isis is an Egyptian goddess, I assumed the theme was Egyptian, but one wall has a panorama of Manhattan, while the other walls have posters of Bruce Lee and Scarface, a la a college dorm room. In fact, with all the under-21 JMU students there puffing away on hookahs, it certainly felt more like a dorm than an Egyptian hookah bar or tea house.

Compared to other hookah bars I’ve been to (Twisted Branch, One 2 One in Austin, etc) the stool seating is crowded and uncomfortable. Since I don’t really smoke hookahs (eight dollars per hookah) I decided to sit on the tiny stool with my friends at a small table and listen to the band. I noticed the waiter going from table-to-table, puffing on everyone’s hookahs. When he came to our table he said, “everyone has to have a drink,” (a policy not posted at the door). I looked at the menu and saw that they had hot tea. Since I’m sort of a tea fanatic — and their tea cost $2.85 a cup — I figured they must have some good stuff (some of the teas at Twisted Branch are amazing). Moments later, the waiter brought back a to-go cup with a Lipton tea bag in it. Lipton tea bag and hot water for $2.85? Needless to say, my friends and I were not impressed.

I really hate to bash any new local business trying to make it, but I think Harrisonburg can do better.


32 Responses to “hookahs in H’burg?”

  1. Benjamin says:

    If you like being bullied by your server, paying too much for a hookah, drinking overpriced crappy tea in a poorly decorated college dorm room, Isis is the place for you. You won’t be seeing me there again.

  2. junkpearl says:

    I would stand in the doorway, hold up a sign, “are you kidding me?” I do have to wonder how many disease causing pathogens are being spread by the great hookah . . . yuck!

  3. RealHookahSmoker says:

    You all have probably never been to a hookah bar before, or understand the culture behind a hookah bar. First off, this is Isis Cafe’ not bar, so dont try to rag on it for not having an ABC licsense, since they are hard to come by to begin with. Second, the owner lived in new york, so if he wants to put a mural up of that on the wall, then why cant he. The layout is very ethnic, and the VIP room is the same as well. When you own a business you can throw your own flavor into it, and he did with those posters. What kind of dorm room do you stay in? 8 Dollars a hookah is pretty reasonable price, considering other hookahs go from 7-15 a hookah. Dont like sittin in a stool? Obviously you dont know about middle eastern culture. The waiter puffs on the hookah to start it up (obviously your not a hookah smoker). Your “hookah bar” AKA a fancy ass tea shop, obviously serves better tea because thats its specialty. And the everyone has to have a drink is a rule by the VA smoking law blah blah blah. Thats at every hookah bar, deal with it. You are very quick to judge when you dont even smoke hookah. O by the way, C’Ville is Centreville, in Northern VA, not whatever your referring too, because this is a decent hookah bar when compared to those of Northern VA (such as Aladin, Oasis, Alf LayLa Wah Layla, Sphinx, Lebanon Zamon, o man the list goes on.) So if you dont like hookah dont go finnegan. And Benjamin, how were you bullied, dont be so sheltered. And junkpearl, grow up.

    Please do all of us a favor, and dont write a “review” of something you dont like. Talk about being biased at least research things before you post crap called “news.”

    If you really enjoy hooka, then go and enjoy the music, atmosphere and other company of students. If you dont like hookah then dont go. Dont be quick to judge a brand new small business if you dont know what it takes to create one, because obviously not any of you who posted do.

  4. Gxeremio says:

    If “real” hookah lovers are so easy to please, maybe I should set up a hookah bar. I think I have a few posters lying around, and we’ve had lots of teas given to us as gifts.
    I am surprised that authentic Middle Easterners are so keen on the “company of students”, Scarface, and sitting on stools. The Kurds, Kuwaitis, Pakistanis, Lebanese, and Egyptians I know have never shown much affinity for those things.
    I say keep the reviews coming, especially when they’re not just rosy. Starting a small business in undoubtedly tough but what makes them succeed is their value to customers, not lack of constructive criticism.
    C’Ville is Charlottesville here and in the surrounding area. Hence the newspaper C-Ville Weekly and the Charlottesville community site http://cville.org, among other “C’ville” related websites.

  5. finnegan says:

    That’s cool, man. Like I said before, I’m not really a hookah smoker. IMO, the novelty of smoking a hookah wears off within 20 minutes. But seriously, do “real” hookah bars serve Lipton in a styrofoam cup? I just don’t like the place. I wrote an honest review. A review is an opinion. I take back and apologize for nothing.

    Don’t take a review as a personal attack. Writers here have written negative reviews before, and those businesses seem to do just fine. For the record, I wish you all the best. I’m sure you’ll do just fine with all the under-21 college students in town. Who knows: if I were under 21, I might be there right now.

  6. isis says:

    hello everyone my name is Kareem and my brother (phearoh) and i own isis cafe. one of our regular’s told us what was posted about ISIS Cafe’.
    we had a band playing on Mon. There was a party of 12 and all they wanted is 1 hookah to share (12 people)
    so we had to tell them that 1 hookah is not enough for 12. and every real hookah smoker will know what i’m talking about and also we chose that our place to be middiam size so it can be cosi!! so they were taking alot of room….. remember the band area, We had some customers smokin hookas and drinking standing by the door.
    lets just move on, Our name is ISIS Cafe not isis bar, and also we do not serve alcohol because 1- it’s drama 2-causes troubles 3- it’s against all the mid east cultures.
    And i’m from northen virginia and i know not only the hookah cafe’s prince, oasis and alaedean i also now the owners my self….if you see’em tell’em kareem the egyptian. this how we imagine our cafe. also my brother Phearoh is enrolled in american academy of dramatic arts in CA and he’s lived the past 8 years in manhatten NY so it came the idea of puting the manhatten poster and also presenting america by having one of the biggest city you know!!! and please guys do not talk about running besiness unless you have one.
    so i thank benjamin, junkpearl and the post writer very much and they’re more then welcome to visit us again so is everyone eles, and i also have special thanks to therealhookasmoker for his/her comment, i think he/she knows what hookah cafe is.
    thanks to all readers, please come and see us, you’ll have fun!!!!

  7. Morena Maestra says:

    It is amazing how some people tend to spend their time on criticizing others instead of doing sth useful… I myself visited the place on the opening and a few times after and I think they’re doing good so far. I noticed they enriched their menu and the other day they had a band playing. Obviously Isis cafe is gonna work out cause the place was packed!!!It’s not weird to me they have a policy of min. charge if customers don’t order drinks-that’s not the quad of JMU where you can hang out for free as long as you want. Are you just taking space and burning time there???Besides sharing one hookah for $8 (WOW!) with all your buddies is ridiculous and logically wouldn’t work for any business… I myself have been to Oasis and saw thw same thing: 2.50 min.charge.

  8. Morena Maestra says:

    The thing is that in this town there’s not much going on anyway so let’s not act negatively but welcome the idea of something fresh. If one needs to go to a bar and get wasted, you are free to do so but don’t put a label of the place as college underaged students’ spot cause it’s for everybody who enjoys hookah and Middle Eastern music. My friends and me had a really good time there. I wish you good luck, guys! Harrisonburg definitely needed something like that!

  9. ali2bfd says:

    What stuck out the most to me about Finnegan’s review was that it was crowded, uncomfortable and the Cheap Lipton’s tea is very expensive there. Why didn’t the owner care to comment on that? Thanks for the complete review Finnegan!

  10. David says:

    The beautiful thing about a blog review of a business is that other people (Unlike traditional reviews done without peer review) can chime in on the subject. Don’t bash the writer, just disagree in a reasonable manner. If your can’t make a point (like we’re sorry that you came on the day that our dishwasher broke so we had to give you stryafoam, and our Tea rep didn’t show up so we had to go to foodlion that day) then please avoid attempting to make your point. It is without merit for one to argue without reason or couterpoint.

  11. danno says:

    Isis – Thanks for your response to everybody’s posts. Most all of us really do hope for the best, so do try to take the opinions constructively. I’m sure it’s no fun seeing this stuff getting broadcast over the internet, but if you can give a good impression to some of these folks then these internet outlets will likewise be to your benefit.

  12. maryloohoo says:

    I’m going to open a new place too! It’s called “Lipton Cafe,” and I only charge 2 dollars a cup, honey! (What a bargain) No styrafoam at my place, just good ol’ American hard plastic! It’s washable! I even have a wide assortment of sweeteners at no charge!!! Sugar, Equal, Sweet N’ Low and even Splenda!! If you want refills, I think I can re-use that tea bag! you can have all the hot water you want, honey!

  13. Adam Sharp says:

    I’m impressed by two things:

    1) hburgnews is so famous after not that long of a lifespan that the owners and regular patrons heard about the review and posted comments clarifying things in less than 24 hours

    2) the owners and regular patrons heard about the review and posted comments clarifying things in less than 24 hours – seriously, that’s great PR and while the comments were a bit too defensive, a great second step would be to invite the reviewer back for another visit – maybe a free cup of tea to sweeten the offer.

  14. RealHookahSmoker says:

    Hey i dont know what to tell you about the tea issue, other than tea products (fancy middle eastern teas are expensive and for a company that just started off, who TEA is not the main part of the business (obviously the hookah is) mayb they were trying to just get by for the first month or so.

    Go live in northern VA and youll learn what Cville is. thats beside the point.

    Anyway my reason for posting was that, i dont feel you can criticize something you dont personally experience. If your an avid tea drinker, then by all means talk about the tea, but dont talk about the decorations or hookah or culture, if your not middle eastern, or smoke hookah. Those that do have an appreciation for it, something most people who posted probably dont understand. Yes im middle eastern, so thats why i express this.

    To be honest, i dont know why im even writing this. Most have made up their mind, and by word of mouth believe what they hear instead of trying it out for themselves…..

  15. finnegan says:

    To be honest, i dont know why im even writing this.

    Don’t know why you bother? Comments probably account for almost half the content on this blog. If people didn’t want to discuss or disagree, what would be the point?

    BTW, Google “cville” or “C’ville” and see what the top 10 entries are. I lived in Centreville for two years, and I can assure you, C’ville means Charlottesville.

  16. Gxeremio says:

    Just a quick response to some of the recent posters – thanks for posting your comments. I will probably end up trying out Isis just because, as Morena and Real say, it’s something new and different in Hburg (and please, no posters from PA telling us that’s HarrISburg, not Harrisonburg). ;-)
    I might just modify my expectations, and that could actually work out in favor of the place.
    Again, thanks for putting up your comments and responses and I hope you visit the site often. Heck, you could even put up your own reviews!

  17. adham says:

    I think you’re being very silly with all your comments , i went to check out isis cafe my self after reading all these comments and it’s a very nice place to hang out Obviously you seem like a country boy who’s never been in the city .
    as matter fact i have been there for couple times i think they’re doing very nice bussines and talking about their pricing and customer service it’s very good comparing to the ones in n.virgina .
    like you said you are not a hookah smoker so don’t talk about hookah….
    and if you don’t like the place it’s only your problem .( sorry for nothing)

  18. Kai says:

    Ok, so is anyone bored? Let’s count the ad homonym attacks, strawman arguments, and just plain negativity in the comments above. There’s about, well, many. This isn’t crossfire, people. Thanks to those of you – including finnegan – for advocating for civil, respectful discourse between people who disagree.

  19. jane_j says:

    I visited the Isis Cafe for the first time tonight, and my overall impression is that if you’re already part of the hookah smoking subculture, then you’ll fit right in and enjoy what they have to offer.

  20. jane_j says:

    To finish up the last comment…

    If you’re not familiar with the almighty hookah bar, however, then you may feel like an unwelcome outsider the way I did. It seems like this place caters very well to their regular patrons, but did little to welcome casual visitors such as myself. After walking in and getting a table, I felt like I was met with blank stares when my friend and I didn’t know exactly which flavor to order, or what food and drinks were good (we asked about recommendations for both). The menu seemed a little overpriced to me, considering the quality (compare a $4 smoothie at Isis to a $4 smoothie at the Dodger). The staff seemed enthusiastic and friendly enough (other than the comment that we didn’t “do it right”), and I definitely think there’s room for a place like this in Harrisonburg, it’s just too bad I felt so alienated overall. If my business isn’t good enough for the local hookah smoking population, then I’ll just go somewhere else. No hard feelings, but no rave reviews either.

  21. chucknorris says:

    it’s a good review finnegan. also, you are an incredibly patient moderator. I wish some people hadn’t taken the review so personally. $2.85 really is too much to pay for lipton in styrofoam. it’s right to point that out. and thankfully someone explained that it was a temporary situation (and why). what types of tea are they planning to serve when things are running normally?
    instead of just calling finnegan and other writers dumb, could a real hookah smoker maybe post some educational links to images of middle-eastern hookah bars or articles about them? since it has been asserted that Isis is authentic, how about some tangible comparative data? RealHookahSmoker, have you been to the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar in charlottesville? maybe you could write a review of their hookah lounge area.
    I’m having a little difficulty buying the idea that uncomfortable stools are a deliberate choice to maintain authenticity if the walls are decorated with ‘scarface’. of course, Bruce Lee is universal. why aren’t there any Chuck Norris posters on the walls? unlike Bruce, I survived the 70s. I’m still delivering kicks with a style that Bruce could never match.

  22. adham says:

    By the way finnegan I was talking to you last time .

  23. danno says:

    Chuck – I wish I got to see an ultrasound of you before you were born. I heard that’s the first time that you ever rocked on a Gibson Explorer.

  24. finnegan says:

    Well, it appears that some bands that were booked to play at Isis tonight were kicked out after playing their first few songs (and a $5 cover, at that).

    From worthless:

    We played that f**kin hookah bar in town today. Well, sort of. Matt didn’t show up. Buck Gooter set our s**t up and then Flying Werewolves played for 5 minutes then the dude that owns the place came up to us and told us to stop playing and get out and he proceeded to blast his arabic disco music over the room. We packed up and left and laughed at how both basements and hookah bars and arcades in this town are elite places for music that want to have nothing to do with us.

    The folks who run this place are shooting themselves in the foot.

  25. adham says:

    hey finnegan you still don’t know what are you talking about ,that band is the stupidest band i have ever heard in my life ,i was there last night with bunch of my friends trying to have a good time, then this band started to play i don’t wanna even call it play, it was the most annoying sound ever , the owner came to me and said, Do you like this misic…my friends and i laught and said we don’t wanna pay attention ,then after few distortions he reached the band and ask them to stop.
    it was only us in the place of course no body will follow this band it’s worthless.

  26. Barnabas says:

    I have to back finnegan up on this one, not becuase of that band but because of the owner. If an owner books a band and then shuts them down because he doesn’t like the music that gets spread throughout the music community. So maybe the band sucked, the owner should have figured that out before he booked them. Now good bands or acts that would have played Isis may reconsider.
    I would have to say that finnegan does indeed know what he’s talking about.

  27. danno says:

    Wow, that is horrible publicity..

  28. kebab says:

    wawawueeeeeeeee NICEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

  29. ALADIN says:


  30. ali says:

    Iowuld love to have hooka in harrisonbusrg and Iwould love to get the Isis phone number

  31. Josh says:


    Isis is no longer open. You may want to try Firetop Bar and Grill on Evelyn Byrd avenue (540-801-8884).

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