DENVER — A proposed bill would force hookah lounges operating in the City and County of Denver to close at midnight.
The bill, proposed by Jolon Clark, councilmember for District 7, would require the lounges to close at midnight and remain closed until 7 a.m.
"Hookah lounges kind of fall in this place where tobacco licenses are not regulated in the same way [as bars], so there are no hours of operation limits," he said.
He brings up Habibi Hookah Cafe, located on Broadway and E. Colorado Avenue, as an example of bad operators taking advantage of the lack of restrictions.
"We had, you know, guns being fired. Wake up and there are bullet holes in people's homes, smashed up cars from people leaving," Clark said. "There were just huge issues, from midnight till 4-5 a.m."
Stephanie Dixon and her fiancé Campbell Mitchell live just down the block from the lounge. They've experienced firsthand the complaints other neighbors have filed with the city.
"We were woken up to several gunshots, what sounded like maybe right outside our window," Mitchell said. "We're, like, peeking out the blinds trying to figure it out. Scared our dog — he was losing it."
Between January and July of this year, there were more than 30 calls for service at Habibi, according to city documents. Those included multiple calls for shots fired, disturbances and noise complaints.
A spokesperson with the city attorney's office confirmed Tuesday the lounge "has ceased operation until it can receive the appropriate city licenses." Its owners are in agreement to vacate the premises by Nov. 1.
But concerns over safety at some hookah lounges across Denver are nothing new. In 2018, a shooting forced Marrakech Hookah Lounge on S. Colorado Boulevard and E. Iliff Avenue to close.
Clark believes his bill will help curtail some of the bad behavior that tends to occur in the early morning hours.
"Most of these lounges are also not, you know, downtown where some of the clubs are, so people are coming out into neighborhoods where the bars have been closed since midnight," he said.
Hrant Vartzbedian, executive director of the National Hookah Community Association, says he supports regulations but thinks a midnight closing time is unfair.
“We believe that lounges and bars should close at the same time, be it 12 a.m. or 2 a.m. Lounges should not be open after bars close and should not be discriminated against to close earlier either," he said.
But neighbors to these lounges would disagree.
"If there's, you know, these bad outcomes coming out of these hookah lounges being open 'til 4 a.m., I think it makes sense to limit to midnight," Dixon said.
The city's Safety, Housing, Education & Homelessness committee will take up the matter at its 10 a.m. meeting on Wednesday.
If committee members feel it's ready to head to city council, Clark says a final vote may not happen until the end of November.