Are Denver hookah bars magnets for crime? Denver Councilor looks at regulation

DENVER -- On the street behind Marrakech Hookah near South Colorado Boulevard and East Iliff Avenue, John Cullerson says he's called police almost every Thursday night.

"It's just been a constant battle since 2012," said Cullerton, who said the lounge has been a magnet for fights, crowds and crime. "They can't drink in the hookah bar, so they drink in their cars on my street."

Surveillance video from 2014 shows a late-night crowd openly drinking and partying in his street. He told Denver7 he also has photos of dozens of liquor bottles left in his front yard.

He said the city even put in parking restrictions a few years ago to try to stop the crowds, but to no avail.

"I think they're looking for fun or looking for trouble," said Kendra Black, a Denver City Councilwoman, pointing to at least two shootings near hookah lounges in her district. "The problems usually start after bars close, when people go to hookah lounges that don't have a closing time."

Black is considering new regulations, such as setting a closing time.

"What I'd like to do is meet with the police, meet with the owners, meet with the neighbors to talk about possible solutions," said Black.

At The Golden Pyramid on Hampden Avenue, owners are already trying prevent issues, enforcing a strict dress code, posting warning signs in the parking lot to stop cruising and hiring off-duty officers for security.

"Of course I want to make a safe environment for everybody," said Ahmed Basheer, the owner of The Golden Pyramid Hookah Lounge, who does not want an early closing time. "It's basically where our income comes from, and I've been cracking down on it. Lately, we haven't had any problems."

At Marrakech, employees clean around the property on weekends, and the owners said they are open to the idea of new regulations.

"We never thought that it would draw this crowd of problems," said Erika Paulino, the wife of Marrakech's owner.

But she said that it is hard to control what young people who go there do after they leave.

"They don't listen to anybody. They don't listen to us, and they don't listen to their parents," she said.

We asked Denver Police for statistics they have gathered on crime near Hookah restaurants, but police said they did not have the information available in time for publication.

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