Sweet molasses, this place stinks -- but luckily in a good way. The first thing that usually hits you when you walk in King Tut's is a rolling cloud of fruity, musky shisha tobacco.
Then you notice the décor, which is kitschy Egyptian. Tapestries of varying size (but almost all white, brown, and gold) hang on the walls, depicting camels, pyramids, and Egyptian gods and royalty like Horus, Nefertiti, and of course, King Tut (really, how many gold sarcophagus masks do you need?)
Furniture consists of several Moroccan-style couches with faded green cushions, full of butt dents from years of ASU students hanging out here. Some of the cushions bear the burns of weekend nights gone by.
The floor features some cool black, orange, and white Girih tiles. A couple large screen plasma TVs hang in opposite corners of the lounge, usually tuned to some kind of sports game. The night we visited, the TVs were showing the same muted football game while music by The Killers and The Postal Service played on the lounge stereo.
On weekends, King Tut -- which has a
full food menu
, including both Middle Eastern grub (falafel plates, hummis, stuffed grape leaves) and standard American fare (cheeseburgers, nachos) -- is packed with college kids from nearby ASU. It's not unusual to wait an hour for a seat on Friday and Saturday nights. But when we visited on a Monday night, there were only four people in the place -- all 20something guys in T-shirts and long shorts, wrapped up in the football game and their hookah.
The counter at King Tut, overseen by an effigy of the pharaoh.
The hookahs at King Tut are pretty standard Middle Eastern models, with hard glass bowls, metal stems, and flexible rubber hoses. But ours was delivered ready to hit -- no primer puffing required, topped with a melon fruit bowl and filled with a mix of Al-Fakhir honey and melon tobaccos. It was delicious -- fruity, sweet, and smooth, and it seemed to last forever. Prices were on par with other hookah lounges in Tempe: $10.99 for a regular hookah with a clay bowl, or $15.99 for a hookah with a fruit bowl (fruit bowls intensify the flavor of the shisha tobacco and offset the sometimes "thick" taste of the molasses).
Our server was attentive but not intrusive, only coming over every twenty minutes or so to check on our coals (which burned like a dream). King Tut offers free Wi-Fi, and the signal is great. It's easy to see why this place is a popular hangout for the college set on weekends -- and why it makes it a great kickback spot on slow weeknights.
King Tut Café and Hookah Lounge is located at 1125 E. Apache Boulevard in Tempe, and is open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Thursdays and Sundays, and 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Call 480-921-1670 for more information.
Niki has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and PHOENIX magazine, and is now a full-time freelancer.