Photo Essay: One last night of Shisha in Toronto

If you take a closer look when you walk into Buda Café in Toronto, you’ll see interesting wallpaper lining the interior. Sheets and sheets of napkins are thumbtacked to the orange wall, each inked with a sketch or phrase.

It started when one person doodled on their napkin and handed it off to staff to post on the wall, explains current owner Faraz Shafaghi. Pretty soon others wanted to add to the lonely image and eventually the whole wall was encased in cocktail napkins baring portraits, animal outlines, phrases, Buddha — after the café’s name — and, of course, hookahs.

The café, which has been around for about 10 years, is a way for people to get together, share food, chat and enjoy smoking shisha – a popular hobby among many Middle Eastern, East and North African and South Asian communities. Unfortunately, thanks to a recently passed ban, the napkin art will be the only trace of shisha left in the place.

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Inside Buda Café on one of the last nights shisha was legal inside the venue. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

“It seems like a harmless thing that certain cultural communities seem to enjoy.”

Recently, shisha smoking has come under fire over health concerns and has been banned in different cities around Canada. As of April 1, 2016, it has been banned in Toronto lounges and restaurants after a city council vote last November.

Denzil Minnan-Wong was one of just three councillors to oppose the ban. He says, to him, “It seems like a harmless thing that certain cultural communities seem to enjoy.”

At Buda, Shafaghi sells only herbal shisha, rather than tobacco, and his most frequent customers come for a visit maybe twice a week. “I know from speaking with patrons how heartbroken they are that their homegrown pastime is being outlawed in Canada,” he says.

There are more than 70 shisha lounges throughout Toronto, and some spots, like Cafe Awtash, have papered their windows and closed their doors ahead of the ban. As for Shafaghi, he has revamped Buda and expanded the menu.

Here are some photos from one of the last Saturday nights shisha would be legal at Buda.


 

Buda Café is a shisha lounge in Toronto that is now dealing with the effects of the city’s new ban on shisha establishments. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

Buda Café is a shisha lounge in Toronto that is now dealing with the effects of the city’s new ban on shisha establishments. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

A couple smokes shisha at Buda Café on one of the last weekends before it is banned in Toronto. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

A couple smokes shisha at Buda Café on one of the last weekends before it is banned in Toronto. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

A couple smokes shisha at Buda Café on one of the last weekends before it is banned in Toronto. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

A couple smokes shisha at Buda Café on one of the last weekends before it is banned in Toronto. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

Buda has more than 50 varieties of tea. That, along with a newly expanded menu in the works, will be their focus. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

Buda has more than 50 varieties of tea. That, along with a newly expanded menu in the works, will be their focus. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

A group of friends catch up with the game in the background. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

A group of friends catch up with the game in the background. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

Napkins filled with sketches and lettering, all made by customers, paper Buda’s walls. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

Napkins filled with sketches and lettering, all made by customers, paper Buda’s walls. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

Napkins filled with sketches and lettering, all made by customers, paper Buda’s walls. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

Napkins filled with sketches and lettering, all made by customers, paper Buda’s walls. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

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Napkins filled with sketches and lettering, all made by customers, paper Buda’s walls. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

Owner Faraz Shafaghi says Buda Café gets a number of regulars. Friends come in catch up and share shisha frequently. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

Owner Faraz Shafaghi says Buda Café gets a number of regulars. Friends come in catch up and share shisha frequently. // Photo © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine

Photos © Angelyn Francis & Urbanology Magazine