HOOKAH PALACE...UP IN SMOKE
Soloman Wassef, a gentleman of Middle Eastern descent, wanted to bring something different, a little bit of his culture, to downtown Lakeland. A cafe that would feature belly dancing and allow flavoured tobaccos to be smoked from traditional water pipes along with beer, wine, and other beverages. He actually had a decent chance of having his plan officially approved by the full Lakeland City Commission.
But the idea turned out to be too controversial, so the idea is now by the wayside.
Since the idea for Wassef's "Hookah Palace" was announced a couple of months ago, it had received criticism on several fronts. Mayor Buddy Fletcher argued against the idea on the basis that it would the use of cancer-causing tobacco. Commissioner Glenn Higgins believed that the belly dancing would open the door for adult entertainment establishments in the downtown area. And fellow downtown businesses didn't like the idea not only because of the belly dancing and water pipes, but it would be an empty spot during the day since it would not open until 5:00 PM.
Over the past couple of weeks the issue of such an establishment has attracted more letters to the editor in the Lakeland Ledger than almost any other subject.
Mr. Wassef apparantly decided Thursday to shelve his plans for the "Hookah Palace", saying it had become too controversial. He now plans to open a simple restaurant later this year on the site featuring all you can eat salad, pasta, and soup.
I'm not a smoker, so I would not have been a visitor to the establishment. It is sad, though, to see such a clear case of cultrual ignorance be a major factor in a businessman putting away his idea, and it's the loss of something unique for downtown Lakeland. While I personally don't believe the "Hookah Palace" would have made it over the long term, Mr. Wassef should have been allowed the idea to succeed or fail on the merits of his business. Instead, it seems as though it will be just another restaurant in a downtown area filled with restaurant/bars, antique shops, and government offices.
And for those who are soooooo worried about belly dancing possibly being a percursor to downtown Lakeland being a carbon copy of the topless joint along Tampa's Dale Mabry Highway, I can't believe that some people are so cultrually ignorant. It has not only been taught through the city's Parks and Recreation department at the Kelly Recreational Complex for over two decades, but belly dancing is a form of expression that has been practiced for centuries. It is not a provocative exhibition like that practiced in the topless joints on Tampa's Dale Mabry Highway. Get a life, friends! I guess that some were also afraid that some of the flavoured tobacco smoked there would be some type of opiate, too.