Hookah Club at The Sultan Café

The Sultan Café is the ‘go to’ lunch spot for my co-workers and I. When I first started going there, a plethora of large opulent-looking hookahs held up one corner of the restaurant, crooning passerbys with their lonely song: “smoke me, smoke me, let’s be friends.” This was before the city of Portland made it illegal for a business to allow hookah smoking on its premise. Fortunately, there’s a loophole: a private members club. The Sultan Café Hoohak Membership card dons the slogan “Explore a buzz 700 years in the making.” This is one smoking club that means business (or pleasure, I should say). The hookah action happens between 6pm and 1am every Thursday-Saturday. If you would like to sign up for a membership, stop in and talk to Mike, or call him at (503) 227-6466. He’s a great guy with a knowledge of food and and a passion for good hookah!
Written by Dean Portland Octopus

Sultan Café ; Hookahs and Turkish coffee on cafe menu.

sultan cafe

Early mornings and evenings, you'll find neighborhood office and construction workers side by side sipping cardamom-spiked Turkish coffee while taking hits off hookahs. Though the coffee menu is pretty standard, smokers chose from a tobacco menu featuring 15 flavors. But you can also find seriously delicious home-style meals with strong Italian-Mediterranean leanings. Pink café tables in a clean, spare space help bring the menu into focus. There's a manageable selection of soups and salads, mazza and grilled paninis (four meat choices and a veggie combo of Kalamata olives, havarti, artichoke and pesto). Choose from seven salads including Chicken Caesar and a house-crafted tabouleh. A house lentil soup is served daily along with a soup du jour. Mazzas include hummus (five flavors including a sumptuous roasted red pepper), baba ghanoush, dolmas and labne. Each day, Sultan's offers a House Specialty, highlighting a favorite Syrian dish. Light pastries, including homemade baklava, are available for breakfast and coffee breaks. While the idea of dining in a smoked-choked room sounds incredibly unappealing, be advised that smokers must take their pipes outdoors during the busiest dining hours. -- Jo

Across the river, in the industrial pocket of Northwest, dusty construction workers trickle into the Sultan Cafe. In this sparsely decorated spot, you'll meet the neighborhood's new (coffee) bartender, Michael Makboul . He greets each customer by first name, serving cardamom-spiked Turkish coffee or plates of moist, onion-draped Syrian-style meatloaf, cracking jokes and talking politics. Then, at 5 pm, he breaks out the hookah pipes.

The Sultan's quirky building once housed a Freightliner trucking office and later, novelist Chuck Palahniuk's office. Makboul says the space-aged spot reminds him of his roots, hanging out in his dad's old deli near Portland State University.

Makboul is a longtime Portlander whose extended Palestinian family owns businesses all over town. He quit his job as the manager of Silver Dollar Saloon & Pizza and made an offer on the building the day he saw it. He trusted that his wife, Rasha , would understand.

Luckily, she did, and now she contributes her Syrian home cooking to the venture. Since the Sultan opened in mid-April, its hot-pink cafe tables have become a daily pit stop for hair stylists, party planners, ad men and--lest we forget--those neighborhood construction workers.

Later in the day, the air fills with the Lipsmacker-sweet clouds of cherry, melon and green-apple vapor as exercisers from the gym next door stop by for after-workout smoke breaks. "I guess there is a Turkish Empire feel to the place," Makboul says. "I think I just wanted to go back to my childhood."

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For more of an East-meets-West experience, go to the Sultan Cafe, 1500 N.W. 18th Ave., which serves Turkish coffee and baklava along with 20 flavors of imported tobacco. Three of the cafe's walls are windows; the fourth has amural of Jerusalem. Here you can play the ancient game of backgammon, or take advantage of the free wireless Internet, or both.
The Sultan's Palestinian-born proprietor, Maher Makboul, tells me about the culture of smoking “back home.” A more ornate pipe is a show of status. Different styles also indicate your national origin. And as for hookah smoking in Portland, he predicts, “It's going to be the next hip thing.”



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