Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Breathe it in

Early evening light creeps through the windows, dancing across plush black leather, wood, and brick, revealing the haze that fills the room. Jazz piano riffs break through the conversations swirling around you like the smoke that curls around the Edison bulbs hanging above your head. The cold cement bar feels good against your skin as you sit on a barstool staring at the hundreds of illuminated bottles on the shelves in front of you. You take a hit from your cigarette, the slight burn against the back of your throat reminding you that you are alive. You breathe deeply, taking in the atmosphere that surrounds you, and exhale.

If this sounds like a scene from an underground jazz bar in the days preceding the Ohio smoking ban, or a speakeasy in the days preceding the 21st amendment, you’re not that far off. Except there is no real smoke or cigarettes, the illuminated bottles behind the bar don’t contain alcohol, and it is very much above ground—and above board.

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

This is a scene from Crawford & Masters, the new Vapor Lounge located on High Street in the Garden District of the Short North For those unfamiliar with vaping, this all might sound somewhat foreign, so here’s a little background info on what exactly is going on at this shop, and others around the country.

Electronic cigarettes—a misnomer at this point, due to the fact that these devices come in all shapes and sizes, and often look nothing like a cigarette—are made up of a battery, an atomizer, and a refillable cartridge of liquid which travels down to the atomizer, where it is heated up and turned into vapor that is inhaled, mimicking the smoke of a cigarette. That liquid, a mix of propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, nicotine, and flavoring, is also what is being formulated, sold, and enjoyed at Crawford & Master’s through their house brands, and a few carefully selected outside suppliers.

While they also have a small selection of devices and accessories for sale, the focus here seems to be centered around creating a space to socialize, try different liquids, and relax, much like you would at your favorite happy hour spot, or late night haunt. The barstools and leather chairs invite you to sit down and join the conversation that seems to be constantly flowing between patrons, employees, and the owners themselves. According to Patrick Crawford, one of the owners, this was no mistake.

“We really love the personal experience that you get at a small bar and wanted to provide that for our customers,” he said. “There is nothing quite like sitting at a little place like [cocktail bar] Curio and interacting with your bartender…we wanted to provide that type of experience for our customers—especially for people who were new to vaping.”

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Flavors are spread across the bar, along with menus containing descriptions of each one. There are plastic covers so that you can try each flavor without also sampling the DNA of the last person to puff away on the provided e-cigarettes. The bartender is there to help you discover a new favorite, or steer you in the direction of something more familiar. The boutique brand they have created through the look and feel of the space is also reflected in the product itself. The flavors often pair the familiar such as blueberry, melon, and vanilla, with something a little more curious and exotic: fennel, bergamot, huckleberry, dry oat, and espresso all make appearances on the menu. They are nuanced and refined, often spending weeks or months in development. While they are keeping their recipes and methods close to the vest, Crawford shines a light, albeit a dim one, on their process.

“I will say that we are sourcing the highest quality ingredients from around the world,” he said. “We also are quite proud of our Reserve line which we painstakingly create using a variety of methods, from infusions with many locally sourced natural ingredients, to distilling our own extracts.”

Crawford & Masters is not the first of it’s kind (Alt-Smoke’s lounges/stores have been ever-present and Ringside Café has converted its basement into the Ratshkeller Vape Bar) nor will it be the last. The number of people switching to e-cigarettes continues to rise, and they have managed to create an elegant, and inviting space that feels right at home surrounded by the bars, restaurants, and upscale shops of the Short North. E-cigarettes, having only been available for less than 10 years, are still relatively new to most of the public, which means many people don’t know what to think.

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

“We spent a lot of time talking about a 32-year-old, fashion-conscious woman who worked down town or in the Short North and asked ourselves how she would feel walking into a vapor lounge,” Crawford said. “There are some unfair negative associations with vaping and we wanted to make sure that we did our best to work against type and create a space that would have a wider appeal.”

Indeed, Crawford & Masters strength lies in creating a space that feels completely familiar to anyone who has ever found themselves in a philosophical discussion with a complete stranger at midnight, or chatting up a bartender about the day you just had at the office. Please forgive the tired cliche, but this may just end up being your Cheers. Well…if Cheers had nicer furniture.

*I’m not sure this really even exists. Are we all cool with calling it the “Garden District”? Are we doing that now?

Crawford & Masters 1117 N High St. Hours: Sunday – Thursday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 1 a.m.