The Red Lounge is one of ward one’s most popular hookah bars as it attracts the majority of the ward’s nightlife due to its relative location to liquor dispensaries and bars. Located at 14th Street in Washington D.C., the Red Lounge has been in operation for 14 years and has seen a significant rise in the popularity of hookah within the last three years according to the lounge’s owner Amad Oubah.
“Because of the rising popularity of hookah my business has grown tremendously, especially since we are one of the only Hookah Bars that provide quality hookah,” Oubah said.
Also known as water pipe, shisha and narghile, smoking hookah includes the action of inhaling flavored tobacco through a long flexible tube that draws the smoke out of a bowl often decorative in design.
Kenny Young, a familiar patron of the Red Lounge said, “It’s a pretty cool spot for music and local artists on the weekends”.
Brendan Allen is a frequent patron of the bar and has described it as, “a chill hotspot with some of the best customer service in the area”
Like most of the hookah bars in the area,The Red Lounge sees the majority of its business on the weekend between Friday and Saturday. Oubah describes the crowd as “largely young African Americans who come for the music”.
Upon arrival to the Red Lounge on a typical friday evening the overwhelming presence of youth, alcohol, music, smoke, and the color red immediately consumes your peripheral and central vision.
However, the Red Lounge wasn’t always a local hip-hop hangout spot. It was originally established as the International Grill by Amad Oubah and his wife in 2001. Like most of the other ward one resturants like Dukems, The Apple Lounge, Madjet Restaurant and Bar and Selam Restaurant, the Red Lounge is Ethiopian owned.
“We weren’t just looking for the American Dream, but we added to the community around us as well, before the grill was the lounge. We barely had enough for the rent, but we still gave back to the community by making food for the local homeless shelters and even feeding those who would come to our shop looking to rob us,” Oubah said.
Oubah recalled a story when he and his wife fed a desperate man in need and went on to befriend him only to discover years later that upon his first arrival he intended to rob the store for money to help his sick daughter.
“We treated him so kindly that he changed his mind and would ward off any other person intending to rob the store,” he said.
Eventually the Oubahs worked their way up to the second level of the building eventually owning the entire complex and it also was then that they rearranged the menu and became a lounge, as they are known today.
“Even though we changed the name, people still know us as the International Grill because of what we mean to this community, we still hear people calling us mom and pop because the generations that we helped as kids have grown into respectable adults and I’d like to believe that was because of what me and my wife did,” he said.
While the International Grill has been replaced by a hookah bar, the values they’ve instilled in the community remain the same. Multiple individuals stopped by just to say hello during the two and a half hour interview process alone. With every passing individual the Oubahs knew their name and could recall an interesting story to go along with them.