Mansion House Hookah is not your typical Leesburg hangout. By day, the more than 200-year-old structure seems merely a charming attachment to the Holiday Inn Carradoc Hall hotel, another historic house among dozens of others in the area. But by night, dressed in pink and purple neon lights, the Mansion House becomes an alluring beacon off Rt. 7 west, drawing 20-somethings to its doors like moths to a flame.
Records vary as to when hookah culture began to spread outside India—today, hundreds of thousands of hookah bars exist all over the world. Inside, guests puff contentedly on colorful hoses extending from the base of the hookah apparatus, where a vase of water provides a filter to cool the smoke. Flavored tobacco, also known as shisha, is packed into a bowl at the top of the hookah and covered with perforated foil. The last step is to place a burning piece of charcoal atop the foil, allowing its heat to pass through and ignite the shisha below.
Jogi Jatt, proprietor of Leesburg’s Mansion House Hookah, has seen a huge explosion of hookah bars in the United States in just the last two years. “From my research, in the U.S. we had about 100,000 hookah bars open between 2010 to now. Before it was just a few hookah bars around the corner, but now it’s everywhere. Anywhere you go you can find one,” he said.
That increase in popularity helped fuel Jatt’s ambition to man the helm of his own hookah bar. “I’ve been smoking hookah for a long time myself, thinking about what I wanted out of a hookah bar. Now, it’s here,” he said. Mansion House provided many of the attributes he was looking for, especially its façade. “This place was open, and there’s a pretty cool history behind it. Also the name I wanted to use is ‘mansion house,’ and this place looks like a mansion,” Jatt said.
The India transplant had frequented many hookah bars in his home country and in the Mid-Atlantic area since his stateside arrival in 2004, but was disappointed to find most only offered soda and other non-alcoholic drinks, no food and very little atmosphere. He imagined a place where people could hang out, order a drink, hit the dance floor and generally have a great time while also enjoying a well-packed hookah.
“I’m very confident about the people who work here, about my team. They put a lot of effort into [setting up the hookah], and it’s one of the best I’ve ever smoked. It’s all in how they prep it—you can always just throw tobacco in there, but we put effort into it and care for it,” Jatt said.
Mansion House boasts 47 different flavored tobaccos, from Jatt’s preferred “stronger flavors” like double apple mint or lemon mint, to the popular fruity buzz offered by “blue mist.” All tobaccos are ordered directly from California-based Starbuzz, which specializes in shisha and hookah accessories.
After being seated, guests are provided with a menu detailing all the hookah, drink and food items on offer. “The host will sit them down, a server will take a drink order and ask what kind of flavored tobacco they want,” Jatt said. Ordering a loaded hookah costs $10.99, and cocktails range anywhere from $6-8 each. For those needing a bit of dancing fuel, next-door Silk Authentic Indian Cuisine—previously known as Angeethi Authentic Indian Cuisine—serves up traditional fare from samosas to tandoori.
A big part of Mansion House’s atmosphere is provided by a wide variety of DJs and artists hailing from across the Mid-Atlantic, who turn up each weekend to spin, sing or rap their hearts out. Genres including hip-hop, dubstep, funk, house and similar styles are well represented, and prove a major draw for the establishment’s clientele. Jatt makes room for local acts, too, hosting CD release parties, video shoots and even rap battles. “In the summertime we book a lot of local talent and bands in here. A local artist who’s trying to bring their CD in, they can come, do their [photo or video] shoot here, sing to the crowd and give a taste of what they’re about,” Jatt said.
To those who have never tried hookah, or those who think Mansion House is only for the younger set, Jatt has words of encouragement.
“People who haven’t been here before—it’s a different experience. I know a lot of folks don’t want to try it, or think it’s all a young crowd…I think they should try something new around the Leesburg area. They might like it.”