Chrome Liquor Lounge Reinvents Bar, Image

In 2005, Zahi Elhaj (Zee) moved to State College and opened Are U Hungry?, a hitherto unknown sandwich joint that featured menu items endearingly named Fat Bitch and Fat Mom. Only four years after arriving in the United States from Lebanon, Zee and his business partner Alain Boujaoude transformed the unknown Calder Way operation into a State College food staple in a matter of weeks.

“That was fun,” he recalls. “We would work from 11 a.m. until 4 a.m., we didn’t sleep. We built that place from scratch.”

Now, nine years matured, Zee is working to transform another spot in State College’s nightlife scene: Chrome, which replaced the second Are U Hungry? location on Beaver Ave inside Brewsky’s Bottle Shop.

Zee opened Chrome in the final week of 2012’s fall semester. Nearly two years later, Chrome has undergone major renovations and serious concept and menu changes, and it’s ready for a new start.

This past summer, Zee and his team spent over $20,000 revamping the interior to be more sports friendly with a new big screen TV and added food on the menu.

Most saliently, Chrome has shed the hookah title, upped its bar, and now carries a sleeker name, Chrome Liquor Lounge.

“Mainly we’re a bar,” said Zee. “We want to address this place as a bar, but we offer hookahs as an extra thing. I think there has been a big misconception about Chrome being a hookah lounge. We are first and foremost a bar and we’re always working on improving our guests’ experience, that’s where all the changes come from.”

After a recent legislation issue with Chrome’s smoking permit, Zee chose to forego the traditional tobacco water pipes in exchange for electronic hookahs.

They look the same as regular hookahs, but are equipped with an “e-bowl” at the top that produces vapor, not smoke. The electronic bowl counts how many drags you’ve taken, and they come equipped with a remote control to adjust the heat level.

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Photo: Jonathan Hseih

“Just like e-cigs, they are tobacco free, and customers have the option of getting it nicotine free as well,” said Zee. “Customers love it, and it guarantees a cleaner environment. On top of the $65,000 ventilation system we have in here, you don’t notice it at all. Most customers are shocked on their first visit to Chrome. It’s usually not what they expected, but in a good way.”

But Zee is most happy with recent bar upgrades, which he says provide an experience for students at least on par with any other spot downtown.

“We just came up with the new big sized drinks, our version of the pitcher, the Bootlegger,” he said. The name was derived from an open contest on their facebook page– the winner received $500.

The owner assured that while the liquor selection is better than most, the prices are comparatively the same to other bars. He also lauded the craft mojitos — including a Strawberry Basil variety with all fresh ingredients — as well as candy martinis, “a hit with the ladies.”

“In my time here, Chrome has consistently been improving,” said Jess, a bartender. “It’s evolved so much since I’ve gotten here, but we’re always getting to where we want to be.”

Chrome also features a live DJ on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The lounge hosts DJs from Local Motion Entertainment, the same emcees who play at Indigo.

“Our music is definitely one of the main things that keep people coming back,” he said.

And as for his customer base, Zee shed the possibility that Chrome may be too upscale for a college crowd, despite its sophisticated interior and top shelf drinks.

“I wouldn’t say it’s too fancy for a college student to come in,” he said. “Our clientele is largely undergrad, graduate students, and young professionals. We have half price happy hour and half price food every day of the week.”

The bar is looking to hire bartenders and security staff.

The Chrome Liquor Lounge of today is a far cry from the initial Chrome Bar and Hookah Lounge. Check it out.

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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