Cafe Awtash is a calm and comfortable hookah bar that recently opened at the corner of College and Bathurst street. It's one of the few spots in the area where you can sit back at night and relax in sobriety. For now.
The hookah here is typically served with a nice Persian tea that is a personal blend of owner Hamed Afshar and his tight-knit management team. The combination of the two is so relaxing that it's difficult to make it out of the soft, pillowed chairs.
Each lounge space is a little bit different, and on a quiet night you can sink into the front area and watch College Street through an open terrace-like setting.
The mid and back section of Awtash (Iranian for "fire") is lined with comfortable booths to one side and pillowed wraparound booths to the other. At the back is a private area that seats about 30 people and would work well for large groups and events. Dark lighting disguises a surprisingly colourful environment with eclectic pictures on the walls and old-style brick layouts.
Though the cafe is great for evenings and late nights (it doesn't open until 5pm), it's currently missing what many visiting the area might be in search of: alcohol. I'm told management has applied for a liquor license but it's not their intention to make beer, wine and booze the centrepiece of their service. They don`t want to risk sacrificing the cafe's tranquility.
This tranquility is typified by a sort of acoustic, almost country-like mix of English and Persian music that at first seems out of place but ultimately blends fairly well. On some nights they play Persian movies on a projection screen in front of the bar.
Awtash has all the basic caffeinated cafe drinks (with a few specialty coffees), but a better bet are the fresh fruit juices and the tea. I order a delicious cantaloupe juice with a hint of chocolate sauce and it tastes great.
Smoking a hookah can sometimes cause the munchies so for food here Cafe Awtash offers a wide variety of Persian dishes with some Canadian inspiration. There are specialty pizzas ($10) and sandwiches with Persian-style bread ($5). Cheap appetizers consist of Middle Eastern dishes like Zaytoon (a variety of seasoned olives), hummus and other dips and mixtures that are perfect for sharing.
For a sugar fix, there are cakes, Italian ice creams and fresh date cookies. At some point, Afshar also plans on having a late morning brunch with omelettes and specialty coffees.