Middle East experience in Auburndale

Silk owner Jimmy Pakel enjoys one of the lounge's hookahs. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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The ancient practice of smoking hookah is believed to have begun in 16th-century India, from where it migrated to the Middle East, eventually exploding up and down the sidewalks of Astoria’s Steinway Street, and has now crossed great distances to take hold in Auburndale.

Farrukh Pakal said he and his wife, Kirn, decided to open the Silk Hookah Lounge, at 192-08 Northern Blvd., as an alternative to those popular on Steinway, which he said often get the hookah part right but not the lounge.

“Any lounge you walk into is more like a restaurant with tables and chairs,” said Farrukh Pakal, a Pakistani native. “People smoke hookah to relax. If you’re not sitting comfortably, you can’t relax.”

Hidden behind a wall of near black tinted windows, the interior of Silk is certainly atmospheric, with dark cherry wood walls and plenty of places to sit along a wall of sanguine, upholstered benches and a few plush couches — though not so much seating as to stack customers on top of one another.

The hookahs themselves are packed and served by an employee after customers order an extensive list of more than 60 varieties of natural herbs, which include standards like honey, peach and cherry for $10.99 or Silk special blends such as silk chocolate and Pan Masala — a potent flavor derived from the betel nut — for $13.99. Farrukh Pakal said Silk’s hookahs use coconut charcoals, which are less harsh than traditional ones.

Lest one should picture a room full of burning hookahs choked by a thick cloud, the herbal hookah smoke does not hang in the air the way cigarette smoke does, and Silk has a state-of-the-art “smoke eater” that can quickly clear the room if needed.

Farrukh Pakal said that in the Muslim world, where alcohol is verboten, hookah lounges are where people go to socialize, akin to sports bars where fans go to watch cricket and soccer matches. The owner, who lives in Fresh Meadows, said Auburndale seemed like an ideal fit for his business because of its proximity to the borough’s Indian and Pakistani populations.

Silk is open for 12 hours starting at 3 p.m., and Kirn Pakal said she imagines the lounge will be filled early in the afternoon with a college crowd taking advantage of the free Wi-Fi, and later by those looking for an alternative to the bar scene.

“Usually, the night is ‘this restaurant followed by this bar.’ Now it’s ‘this restaurant followed by this hookah lounge,’” she said.

City regulations require patrons of hookah bars be 18 or older, Kirn Pakal said.

Hookah herbs can range in intensity. Some, like mints, are strong, but most of the herbs on Silk’s menu are mellow, fruity flavors, and to make them even softer a customer can order a fresh-fruit hookah for $19.99, where the herb is actually smoked through a piece of fresh fruit.

The lounge also offers fresh juices and smoothies, teas and hot drinks and in the future will serve light bar food.

For more information, call 718-CAL-SILK.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 10:14 am, April 3, 2012
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