Derek Ray 7:41 p.m., March 13
Midnight, F Street, downtown. Inside Café Lulu (at 419 F, between 4th and 5th Avenues), that sweet smokey smell of Egyptian Pharaoh and mango-flavored hookah smoke. “Americans prefer flavors,” says Allen, the Iraqi guy who makes the mixtures and brings the glowing coals. Me, I’m preferring Lulu’s giant cup of coffee, with a chunk of organic milk chocolate on the side (and only about three bucks. Where else in the Gaslamp, at midnight?). Mmm. Muy sabroso. Victoria, Zaria and Ivana, all from Russia, make this feel like a real East European hangout. You look for the balalaika. It’s mostly groups of guys and gals fresh in from a night at some Gaslamp bar, by the looks of things. “We do get a lot of students, but they come in the morning,” says Victoria. “Best thing on the menu?” says Allen, when I ask. “The hookah. But to eat? The hummus.” Hookahs: $21, cheaper in happy hour. I like this place. So do others, I reckon: it’s been here 21 years, a lifetime for the Gaslamp.