2009 hasn’t been the best year for smokers in Utah.  Summarily banished from every public place, smokers just aren’t feeling the love.  Cheer up, fellow inhalers of all things widely disapproved of—someone still loves you.

Chris Killillay and father-son team Jim and Santino Novasio from Aztec Super Highway want you smokers to know that they don’t fuck around, and they have always had your back.  Aztec’s new location on 89W 3300S is the biggest and most sleaze-free smoke shop in the Salt Lake Valley.  So you can’t smoke in bars anymore … big deal.  Maybe it’s time to expand your smoking horizons … do you hookah? Despite anti-tobacco legislation, Salt Lake has seen enormous growth in hookah culture over the past five years. Hookah fans know that nothing beats a nice bowl of shisha with friends. It’s relaxing, it’s social and you can practice your smoke rings.  Plus, hookah has always been a perfect little loophole for all the half-assed cigarette quitters looking to maintain their relationship with sweet lady tobacco.

Whether you smoke hookah every day or you’ve never dug your hands into the gooey depths of a bag of shisha, loading a smooth, long-lasting hookah bowl can be a bit of a challenge.  Aztec’s resident hookah expert Santino Novasio is here to spread the love with some pro tips for all the Salt Lake hookah lovers and future enthusiasts.

Choose a Rig: “I judge my hookah on how good the airflow is,” says Santino.  One-hose rigs are best for an easy drag.  Two hoses will suffice, but of Aztec’s 100+ hookahs, none are three- or four-hose rigs, though many can be expanded.  All-glass hookahs tend to increase airflow and regulate heat, if you can foot the bill.

Clean It: The best smoke comes from the cleanest rig­­—rinse after each use, soak the reservoir in lemon juice and water, or, if it’s filthy, vodka.

: Aztec has over 200 varieties of shisha.  Flavor is all about personal preference, but certain brands such as Tonic, Epic and Starbuzz are washed shisha—the vast majority of the nicotine has been removed.  Unwashed brands such as Nakhla and Tangiers would give the Marlboro Man a head buzz.  So measure your nicotine tolerance and choose accordingly.

Pack the Perfect Bowl: Stirring the shisha mixes the glycerin or molasses and all those tasty flavors back in. “Get your fucking hands in there, get sticky,” says Santino.  Pack the bowl firmly, “If it’s touching the foil, it doesn’t matter––that’s a common myth I hear.”  To create airflow in your firmly packed bowl, “Take your poker and put it all the way through [the shisha] and into the holes in the bowl,” says Santino.  Make lots of holes.  “After you’re done, blow through [the bottom], making sure all the holes are clear.”  If you’re getting a burnt shit flavor, “It’s often a problem with under-packing the bowl,” says Santino, “When you use too little tobacco you get cold air circulating in there.”  You burn less tobacco, and more nicotine, and that’s when bowls start to taste bad.

Charcoal: Santino recommends Golden Canary charcoal from Japan and Coconut Coals as a second best choice.  “Those little quick-light pieces of shit, those things are garbage,” he says.  Also, using a little less charcoal is often an easy fix for bad tasting bowls.  If you’re still having trouble with smoke that burns your throat and has a dry chemical taste, try switching up your coal brand.  Better coals burn slower and give off less carbon monoxide.

Water: Like a true connoisseur, Santino looks to make the smoke as flavorful as possible.  This means warmer water and less of it––covering an inch and a half of the down stem.  If you’re feeling adventurous, throw a green tea bag in there for added yums.

The new Aztec Highway store really is a geargasm of hookah technology.  Check out the all-glass funnel bowls next time you stop by, definitely on my wish list for next paycheck.  If hookah’s not your bag, never fear.  Smokers ought to stick together in these tough times.  Santino’s father and Aztec Highway co-owner, Jim Novasio, has a fully stocked and cured walk-in Spanish cedar humidor all ready for the cigar lovers.  If there’s any room left in your lungs, Aztec has a huge selection of hand-blown local and name-brand glass for every smoker and every budget––not to mention floor-to-ceiling apparel from Seedless, SRH,    Sub Noize, Kottonmouth Kings and more.