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Hookah, line and sinker

Originally published in the November 19, 2010 issue

While there is certainly no shortage of bars in the city of Peoria, it is not known for its bar scene. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop townies and Bradley students alike from venturing down Main Street or Farmington Road on a Thursday night, trying to find the right place to enjoy a nice drink.

Besides a mediocre bar scene, Peoria also isn’t famous for its cultural scene. But it seems like the city is realizing this and slowly working to rehabilitate its image, especially with what is marketed as the Farmington Road Entertainment District (which has been unfortunately nicknamed FRED – apparently the city struggles to name things, too).

While college staples like Cam’s, Crusen’s and Jimmy’s have long dominated the Farmington Road scene, a new establishment is looking to make its mark on the area – Karma Hookah Lounge, located just past Cam’s.

And though hookah may not be for everyone, if this lounge stays true to its roots, it will become a long-standing establishment on Farmington and a definite local favorite.

Before venturing to the opening of Karma, I didn’t know what to expect. Most of my hookah experiences came from my friends’ houses in high school, certainly not from an actual bar. Though I had heard stories about others’ experiences, I knew I needed to test it myself. The shoddy-looking advertisement for Karma didn’t help form my opinion, with its cheap graphics and girl wearing only a bathing suit.

So Friday night, I trekked down Farmington Road for the V.I.P. opening of Karma, ready to fully immerse myself into the experience but completely unsure of what to expect.

What I got was an amazing surprise.

From the outside, with the exception of the sign, nothing sets Karma apart from anything else down the strip. It’s a relatively bland building, one that used to be known as The Pub and Grub, but after walking up the wooden steps and into the lounge, everything transformed.

Comfy couches and treasure-like chests lined the walls, while chic glass tables and stools fill the space in the middle. A large stage backed by a projector screen provided entertainment, and belly dancers performed throughout the night. Though not super talented, the trio added a seemingly authentic layer to the atmosphere.

Karma doesn’t serve alcohol, but it has an expansive selection of other beverages and not just your standard fare. There’s a variety of different coffees, juices and teas (the orange blossom oolong was particularly delicious), and they even serve both Coke and Pepsi products, a surprising but welcomed change.

While full meals aren’t available, there is a good amount of appetizers available, including a solid hummus and some delectable-sounding desserts.

As for the hookah itself, Karma offers 75 different flavors of Shisha, ones you can mix and match, ranging from strawberry lemonade to white grape to Jack and Coke. Since the lounge can’t sell alcohol, it sells alcohol-flavored Shisha. Though I only sampled two flavors, the Blue Mist and Cupid’s Arrow, both provided a good amount of smooth, relaxing flavor.

All in all, if you’re looking for a good way to chill out after a stressful day or a relaxing ending to a crazy night, Karma is a new alternative to what’s out there.