First Vapor Bar Comes to St. Louis

First came the fragrant woods. A stray piece of driftwood, maybe covered with Ambergris, was tossed on the fire to keep warm and it had the added benefit of smelling nice. Somewhere along the line, pieces of the bark from trees like Cassia (cinnamon) were ground up and added to food to give it a little extra flavor. Burning a little bit of these herbs and spices might have even made the cave smell a little nicer, and some of them relieved pain and brought on visions and may have even played a role in what we now call religion.

There are some 26 primary ingredients that go into making Japanese incense, for example, and most of them can be ingested. There is a purity standard in the incense making business that states: “If you can’t eat it, don’t burn it.” Even resins like frankincense and myrrh can be consumed without any harm, but only if they are absolutely pure. Don’t ever try this with the incense sticks that are commercially available in the United States as most of these are sawdust and glue treated with chemicals and then sprayed with a little essential oil. The point is, either ingested or inhaled, it’s still going into your body either way.

Now there is a new trend that started in (where else?) California, and is making its way here into the Midwest: vapor bars. What is a vapor bar you might ask? It’s a place where people go and, well, vaporize. A vaporizer is a device that heats a substance, typically tobacco or herbs, to the point where the essential elements that the user is trying to extract are released without burning the substance and producing smoke. (Actually the Japanese came up with this around 1100 A.D. It’s called “empty burning” or “sky burning.” A piece of hot charcoal is buried in a small mountain of rice ash and the incense or resin is placed on top of it.)

There are essentially two types of vaporizers that are used in the bars; one that uses indirect heat where glass is heated and then air is drawn over it to heat the herbs, or direst heat, where a heated plate is used to release the elements. The herbs are placed directly on the plate. Advocates claim that vaporizing allows you to experience the pleasure of tobacco without the harmful effects of inhaling smoke, but the scientific results are still out on that one. One good thing; at least you don’t have to worry about second hand smoke.

Here is St. Louis, there is currently only one place you can go and experience a vapor bar: The Grateful Inn at 7336 Manchester, in Maplewood. The Grateful Inn is a restaurant/bar where the waitresses all wear tie-dye t-shirts and a Grateful Dead tribute band plays every Saturday night. It’s also the place where you can toss up a salad with hemp oil or order some seared tuna encrusted with hemp seed.

For a couple of bucks you can have the bartender heat up your favorite herb or spice, (the list includes flavored tobacco, peppermint, tarragon, tangerine, and lettuce opium), put the vapors in a plastic bag for you and then you can inhale to your heart’s content. Right now, the service is only available on Friday and Saturday nights. There are also some bars in California where you can vaporize and inhale you’re your favorite alcoholic drink, but I don’t think that they have made their way to the Midwest yet. Gives new meaning to “let’s get together and smoke a couple of beers after work.”

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