FLORENCE, S.C. – Shortly after introducing himself one evening last week, Absolem Hookah Lounge owner Terrence Trower pointed to a tattoo on his arm of the logo of NBA’s New York Knicks.
He says he can’t do anything half way, even as a fan of the perpetually struggling Knicks.
Trower, a Brooklyn native, wasn’t going half way when he opened the lounge approximately 18 months ago across West Evans Street from the former K-Mart that closed in early October 2017.
The lounge is Trower’s second business in Florence. He also owns a cell phone repair shop in the mall, he said.
Trower added he had come to Florence as a student at Francis Marion University, from which he has two degrees in psychology.
Hookah – the word derives from a Hindustani word – is an instrument for vaporizing and smoking flavored tobacco. The vapors are passed through a water basin before they are inhaled by the smoker. There are two theories about where it originated: modern Uttar Pradesh in northern India or in the Persian Empire.
When partaking, one takes a long, smooth, deep breath and then exhales the smoke like when smoking a cigar.
Gradually, the practice of hookah has expanded since the 1960s in the United States. It is particularly popular among immigrants from the Levant.
Trower said he was optimistic that the hookah culture would soon catch on in South Carolina like it has in New York, Atlanta and other larger areas.
Though the Palmetto State usually is slow to embrace change, he said, when it does, customers dive right in.
By opening the lounge, Trower said he hopes to be on the ground floor of that embrace.
The name of the lounge – Absolem – refers to a hookah-smoking caterpillar introduced in chapter four of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” The character also appears in the 1951 Disney animated version of “Alice in Wonderland” and the 2010 Tim Burton film. The character is not particularly helpful to Alice but does turn into a butterfly in the end of both films. The 2010 version is voiced by Alan Rickman, better known to Harry Potter fans as Professor Severus Snape.
The credit for the name of the lounge goes to Trower’s ex-fiancé, who offered the idea of opening an Alice in Wonderland-themed hookah lounge.
Indeed, a painting faces those entering the lounge of a scene from “Alice in Wonderland.” In addition, giant playing cards lying against the walls. The playing cards guard the Queen of Hearts in the story.
He said he’s happy with the location mostly because there are rumors that additional businesses might be coming to the area, increasing the traffic to the lounge.
The crowd going to the lounge, he added, was a small but devoted group of hookah fans.
He said 80 percent of any business’s revenues come from 20 percent of its customers. He had, he said, found that 20 percent.
While he was working to build that 20 percent, there were some amusing and frustrating moments.
First, the amusing.
Once someone came in, looking around and asked what was being smoked in the hookah pot, apparently suspecting it to be an illegal narcotic like marijuana.
Trower said the hookah pots just held flavored tobacco.
Wednesday evening, Trower was smoking mint-flavored tobacco during the conversation.
The lounge also offers mango, pineapple, rose, strawberry, vanilla, Artic blueberry and several mixes on its regular menu. The premium menu offers blueberry muffin, chai, mimosa, red gummi bear, apple jacks, cinnabon, white grape, white gummi bear and peaches and cream.
Then, the frustrating.
At one point, the lounge attracted a crowd that Trower felt didn’t fit the artsy-vibe he was trying to create. He mentioned Soule Café as an example of the atmosphere he was trying to create.
Though it hurt his bottom line a bit, Trower pushed the rougher crowd out.
He said he wanted the lounge to be a place one could go before or after visiting a club – Trower said Florence has seven – or a bar in Florence. He added that he wanted the lounge to be a place where women could feel safe and a place where people could relax in an artsy environment before or after their nighttime adventures.
The lounge also offers a stage for open-mic nights, Trower added.
He also said the lounge and several other venues have worked out a band schedule to have some form of live entertainment at venues in Florence every night of the week.