Up in smoke? Hookah lounge shut over fire-code violations
Updated 6:51 pm, Thursday, January 19, 2012
One of the town's three hookah lounges was shut down by Fire Department officials this week for code violations, but other town officials say problems with the Casablanca Hookah Lounge don't stop there.
Since July of last year, police Sgt. Suzanne Lussier said officers have been dispatched to 32 calls at the smoking lounge, 86 Post Road, ranging from allegations of underage drinking -- which police investigated this week -- to harassment, noise complaints, larcenies, narcotics violations and breach of peace.
"From interviews of kids leaving there and from patrol officers doing motor vehicle stops, we determined that there is underage drinking going on there, and also the use of illegal narcotics," Lussier said. "This is a potentially dangerous environment, because it is completely unregulated."
The owner of the business, Jaled Mayki Gorra, 41, of 125 Grasmere Ave., was arrested Wednesday evening and charged with disorderly conduct after police said he returned to the lounge and broke in. The landlord had told police that Gorra was not supposed to be on the premises after the lounge was shut down.
Early Monday, officers had been dispatched to Casablanca after receiving a call claiming that several 15- and 16-year-old girls had been served alcohol there. There were no arrests at the time, but the case is still being investigated. But even if age was not a factor, the hookah lounge does not have a liquor license, officials said.
Officers asked the fire personnel to join the investigation, and they cited violation of the fire code regarding egress from the lounge, as well as electrical and storage problems, according to the report. The basement also was being used improperly as an apartment, officials said.
Fire officials said the lounge will remain closed until all violations are corrected.
Attempts at the state level last year to impose regulations on hookah lounges failed, and local health departments have no authority to regulate such smoking establishments unless they want to sell food. The lounges also are not issued liquor permits, so state laws banning smoking do not apply.
Patrons, however, are supposed to be at least 18 to enter a hookah lounge, and they are allowed to bring their own alcohol onto the premises.
Bottles of alcohol could be seen Wednesday on the front counter of Casablanca, which posted its hours of operation as from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and from 4 p.m. to midnight Sundays, according to its Facebook page.
Lussier said there also have been numerous complaints about suspected underage drinking and noise at Sky Hookah Lounge on Kings Highway, but only a few calls to Beans & Leaves Cigar and Hookah Lounge on Black Rock Turnpike.
"We've conducted a lot of investigations and made a lot of arrests and we continue to follow up," Lussier said of the smoking lounges. "We're going to do as much as we can and whatever we can do to ensure the safety of everyone involved."