Proposed Hookah Lounge Meets Ethnic Prejudice At SLVN Meeting

By Mike Fourcher | Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Owners of the proposed Shisha Cafe hookah and coffee lounge are requesting a special use permit to open at 1351 W. Belmont Ave., the former Paper Boy store, next door to Schuba's Tavern. Credit: Mike Fourcher

A proposal to open a new hookah and coffee lounge at a vacant storefront at 1351 W. Belmont Ave. met stiff opposition and some ethnic prejudice at last night’s South Lake View Neighbors (SLVN) meeting in the St. Alphonsus Catholic Church basement. The community group ultimately voted 32-20 against the lounge in a secret ballot, but not before some attendees equated the prospective owners with Iraqis and voiced fears of “a certain element” coming to the neighborhood.

The lounge, Shisha Café, to be sited next door to Schuba’s Tavern, would not serve alcohol but Chicago’s smoking ban requires hookah lounges to obtain a special use permit from the city. While SLVN’s vote has no direct impact on whether or not Shisha Café receives a permit from the city, Ald. Waguespack (32nd) has solicited community opinion before he makes his recommendation to the city.

Hookah smoking involves mixing tobacco and various flavor packets in a communal pipe, which is then smoked using individual arms of the pipe. The mixture usually consists of about 10 to 50% tobacco, according to hopeful business owner Nihad Avdic. Because Islam disapproves of drinking alcohol, hookah lounges have grown to replace bar culture in some Muslim societies. Despite this, Avdic says his research has found only about 10% of hookah smokers in the United States are Muslim.

Avdic, a native Chicagoan of Bosnian Muslim descent, and his co-owner Ali Eli, also a native Chicagoan with family in war-torn Syria, are both armed with MBAs and say they’ve been searching for the right location for seven months.

During the twenty minute question and answer session before about fifty neighbors, Avdic and Eli were asked about the nature of hookah, who they envision their customers to be and why they chose South Lakeview as a location. During the questioning, Avdic and Eli seemed to be unprepared for the number of questions and were quiet-spoken in their responses.

Then, one attendee piped up, “I’m seriously concerned for my kids. I just searched crime and hookah on my phone and I found quite a few stories about how bad these places can be.” At this, the crowd immediately came alive shouting alternately angry disapprovals and applause for the questioner. One person asked why a business that stays open late and attracts mainly Middle Easterners should be invited, when the patrons would just, “end up roaming around the neighborhood late at night.”

The meeting had seemed to quiet down when another attendee posited, “After we’ve killed a few hundred thousand over in Iraq, why should we care if a few Iraqis shoot up our neighborhood?”

Avdic and Eli remained motionless at the podium as SLVN president David Duggan stood up to try to gain control over the discussion. Next, he called on Bill Haderlein, SLVN recording secretary, for a comment. “I suggest we vote no, since [the hookah lounge] will bring a certain element to the neighborhood,” said Haderlein.

Duggan then sent the issue to a vote and moved the meeting to discuss a proposed electronic bulletin board on Lincoln Avenue as attendees filled out their paper ballots. Avdic and Eli took seats in the audience and quietly listened to the remaining ninety minutes of the meeting.

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  • Kevin Bruursema

    Wow. Stay classy, Lakeview residents.

    • Anonymous

      wow – get the facts before you trash a whole group.  You’ve just stereotyped the entire Lakeview neighborhood for a couple bad comments made by individuals.  And you think you have room to judge?  How about those that booed the ridiculous comments???  You’re as bad as the bigots themselves.

      • Anonymous

        I was there too and the writer of this article was spot on.  Yes, not all the comments were like the ones sited, but the comments that are reported here were insulting, racist and bigoted and I don’t care if only 3 out of 50 people made them. That is still 3 too many!  Our alderman was also offended by the comments.  The problem is that those that tend to show up to these meetings are the “old guard” and if there is a teachable moment here, it is that those of us that are educated and enlightened need to become part of the process.  Where I come from, Lakeview for 29 years, there should be no room for comments like these.  I personally called one of those mentioned in the article before I even saw this and asked why the group leaders didn’t reprimand the fellow who said “what’s a few more dead Iraqi’s on Belmont going to matter” and his answer is that America is a free country and he had a right to say what he said.  
        Sad is all I can say about the whole thing.  And by the way, I bet dollars to donuts that the Hookah guys will get there business approved.  In light of the stupidity I witnessed, they deserve it!

        • Anonymous

          Teachable moments tend to arise when the first amendment is utilized. However, the teachable moment is for people who are against free speech. The opportunity to disagree with the racists in public and make clear why they are wrong is the important opportunity. The opportunity to “reprimand” people for the content of their speech per se is neither “educated” nor “enlightened.” It is just totalitarianism in another guise.

        • Anonymous

          I agree.  And the people agreeing with the article are just like the 3.  Most of them are attributing the comments of 3 to the other 47.  Isn’t that the way racism and bigotry starts?  I was there.  I didn’t like what was said or agree with it – but according to Kevin above – I am no longer classy.  niiiiiiice .   Hypocrites!

  • Andrew Waldner

    In my experience, these kinds of bars are mostly filled with college students and hipsters.  This is disgusting, Lakeview Residents (Roscoe Village resident here), and you should be ashamed.  

    I hope they get to open the bar anyway, I’d love a Hookah bar somewhere around, I haven’t been in a long time.

    • Anonymous

      Andrew – please place some shame on yourself.  A HANDFUL of people spoke badly.  Most were concerned over LATE HOURS AND THEIR NEIGHBORS THAT WOULD HAVE TO PUT UP WITH AN ESTABLISHMENT OPEN UNTIL 2-3AM RATHER THAN AN UPSCALE CARD SHOP ACCROSS THE STREET.  I’m sure if it was any other type of bar it would have been voted down too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rvbrinkerhoff R Vance Brinkerhoff

    SLVN should be ashamed of the results of this meeting. I agree with Mr. Waldner that these places are typically filled with relaxed young people, but that doesn’t matter. The irrational fear of Middle Easterners based on a biased google search and media fear-mongering is not representative of Chicago. 

    Who would ever want a business in their neighborhood full of people not drinking alcohol? What a terrible idea…. How about another sports bar, SLVN? You’re pretty light on those.

    • Anonymous

      Your blaiming SLVN for the results as if the vote was entirely based on bias against a certain sect of people is as bad as those who ARE biased.  Most of the issues had to do with late hours – more noise – for residents across the street.  Not WHO was going to be making the noise.  Maybe you could show up at a meeting and see for yourself.  The writer of this found his angle and ran with it.  He blamed a few idiot’s comments on the group.  If unbiased reporting is his goal he failed miserably.

      • Anonymous


        I was very careful to point out that the inflammatory comments were not made by everyone – although they certainly were the loudest and most consistent. In the lead paragraph I attributed the comments to “some attendees”. Later I wrote that there were some disapproving reactions to the negative comments: “At this, the crowd immediately came alive shouting alternately angry disapprovals and applause for the questioner.”

        • Anonymous

          Yes, but you definitely wrote a piece that cast each side in an assigned role. The nice, soft-spoken boys with their MBAs and their families in war-torn regions who sit quietly for the meeting versus the racist mob. Come on now. Are you really pretending this was anything other than an opinion piece?

        • Anonymous

          I’m not sure I understand the “assigned roles” you speak of. People said what they said and the presenters did what they did. There is no more or less to the piece.

        • Anonymous

          That’s funny. I explained what I meant. Good to see that you are too wide-eyed an innocent to understand the tremendous slant this piece had.

        • Anonymous

          He knows exactly what his intention was.  He wanted shock value.  He wanted comments like “SLVN should be ashamed of these results” & “Wow – stay classy . . . ” .  I’m certain those people would NOT have had same attitude had they been there instead of reading his slanted piece. 

        • Anonymous

          I might buy that had you added “while the majority booed” to the opening paragraph  of your “article”.  But you set the tone like you inteded.  Please don’t act like you had any other agenda:
          The community group ultimately voted 32-20 against the lounge in a secret ballot, but not before some attendees equated the prospective owners with Iraqis and voiced fears of “a certain element” coming to the neighborhood.

          You do add – much deeper in your writing, that there were angry responses but couple that with “applause” – as I recall – one guy in the front row clapped. So no – you were not “careful” to point out anything – seems like this makes you feel you presented it fairly. But really – not the case at all.

  • Anonymous

    While this article does cover the negative responses at the meeting, it does not adequately reflect the comments and questions that were positive or neutral in tone. Believe me, when Northwestern wanted a variance to build a four-story medical building just down the street on Belmont, there was far greater reaction and negativity. That went through many rounds of voting and community input. I really felt like most people were curious about the Lounge and asked thoughtful questions. There were, however, three people who were very negative in their comments. And, I believe, more people are turned off by the late hours than the actual Lounge.

    Also, all votes at SLVN meetings are secret. There is nothing nefarious about the voting process as this article implies. This reporter has been at previous meetings and knows this fact.

    I actually don’t think there is a sports bar in the bounds of South Lakeview Neighbors. (Belmont to Diversey, the Ravenswood tracks to Racine). Perhaps, I just can’t picture one.

    • Anonymous

      The fact that there were negative comments was not newsworthy, it was the nature of the comments that was newsworthy. As for the secret ballot, it is a perfectly normal exercise of democracy that allows voters to express their true feelings. Which is what the 32-20 vote did.

      • Anonymous

        Wait. Did people actually boo some of those comments? Also, the comment about Iraqis “shooting up our neighborhood” seems as if it was intended to rebut the racists. Right? The implication seems to be that fair is fair, so if we shot up their country, we have nothing to complain about. Right? You were there. You reported it. Put it in context.

        Maybe if you just called these “blog posts” instead of “news” these issues would be less troubling.

        • Anonymous

          Hey Chicago D – you are exactly right!  He took the words and twisted them aroung so he could puff out his chest and act shocked – whcn most of us who were THERE were shocked at his BS.
          And love the idea about having Mikey here identify this as a blog post.  Clearly he has a looooong way to go to call him self part of the news worls.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/dane.kantner Dane Kantner

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think the popularity of Hookah lounges in Chicago has much to do with Muslim issues or religion, and it’s more a direct reflection of our smoking bans. It’s not illegal to smoke indoors if you’re a Hookah lounge (or any business who primarily sells tobacco products). Post IL-smoking-ban-indoor-everywhere-else, it’s an easy audience to pander to.  IMO someone who Googled on their phone during the meeting itself has little business even offering their comment if that’s all the research they’ve done.

  • Anonymous

    Hookah Lounge-Wikipedia  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hookah_lounge


    fucking dolts.

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