Wilmington hookah bar defies smoking ban with "reality show"

Reported by Kristy Ondo bio|email
Posted by Scott Saxton email

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Lights!  Camera!  Hookah!

That's the refrain that you might hear at one local hookah bar in Wilmington.  However, this has less to do with Hollywood and more to do with smoking.

Little has changed at the Juggling Gypsy Cafe and Hookah bar in Wilmington since the start of the smoking ban in North Carolina Saturday.  Patrons continue to smoke.  However, this is not an act of civil disobedience.

Bar manager Denny Best says bar management has found what it believes to be a loophole in the new ban, allowing customers to continue to smoke tobacco through the water pipes.

"Here at the Juggling Gypsy, we've come up with kind of a unique opportunity to further ourselves using the smoking ban," Denny Best said.

The smoking ban did not exempt hookah bars, which meant many had to stop smoking or stop serving food/beverages.  At one time, Wilmington had about 20% of the hookah business in all of North Carolina.  However, buried at the very end of the smoking ban legislation is an exemption for actors on a live production set.  So, thanks to a web cam and a streaming web site, the Juggling Gypsy is now a stage, and all the patrons its players.

"Everybody who comes in here is an actor.  Everybody who comes in here kind of acts up anyways," Best said.  "All we ask is that people sign a video release form when they sign in, every time they come in.  And they're ready to roll.  As an actor."

Best says so far a few customers have raised eyebrows at the idea, but most are embracing it.  He does admit "The Juggling Gypsy's Smoking Show," as he calls it, follows the letter of the law, but probably not the spirit.

"I don't think they had any clue as to the opportunity they were creating for business... entrepreneurs," Best said.

Click here to watch the show

The Juggling Gypsy appears to be the only place in the state operating as a hookah bar/reality show.  Best says the Gypsy got the idea from a hookah bar in Minnesota.

As of Monday afternoon, the New Hanover County Health Department was looking into the hookah bar's situation.

Copyright 2010 WECT. All rights reserved.