Off the Hook in Willy B.


“This won’t take more than an hour,” I assured my grouchy companion of our visit to Sultana (160 North 4th Street). “We’ll have two drinks, I’ll interview some people, take a few notes, and we’re outta here.” It was midnight. She grumbled something like phuck you itch and followed me inside. We were greeted at the door by a cloud of smoke that hugged us like an ex-lover, then lured deeper inside the cave-like bar-lounge-restaurant by the aroma of smoked fruit emanating from a small army of hookahs scattered all over the joint. The likes of apples, honeydew, and pineapples are placed on the shisha pipes, then covered with foil, and coals are burned on top—a dash of vanilla or chocolate enhances the buzz.

The spot is billed as a hip lesbian bar, but it’s more like a free-for-all with its melting-pot-proud, mixed crowd gyrating to salsa, touching each other, laughing out loud, and blazin’ in unison. Talk about interactive: One minute, girls were grinding each other on top of the bar, the next minute, they were simulating sex with their boyfriends (we hoped). It was a vibe straight out of pre-neutered New York: ecstasy without poppin’ “E,” and the rhythm of the night was puff . . . puff, pass . . . touch. The dimly lit lanterns that bounced seductive shadows off the deep-red walls and aquatic-blue ceiling added to the Kama Sutra experience.

Coco, a retired, legendary butch go-go dancer who co-owns the place, treated patrons like familia. She worked the room like the Energizer bunny, doling out her potent—and damn good—mojitos ($9), mingling, and setting up the belly dancer for a bachelor-party crew seated on leather floor cushions under a makeshift Bedouin tent with rich red and gold fabrics draped over tall tree limbs. Her Egyptian business partner, Ayman—a former homeland- security officer clearly comfy in the harem-
esque surroundings—walked around and chatted with the ladies as he puffed on his own personal hookah, which he dragged behind him most of the night. Around two o’clock, Sage, the resident belly dancer, put the moves on the red-faced bachelor, who began excitedly throwing all his money at her. When she dropped to the floor for a split while balancing a sword on her head, the Benjamins flew from everywhere.

Just like a movie, the scenes at Sultana change pretty quickly: By four o’clock—yeah, I said four—when most of the visiting revelers stumbled out, the regulars were just getting started. It was like a take from the flick Coyote Ugly, but instead of “last call for alcohol,” it was “first call for body shots,” and Coco was handing them out. One after the other, ladies climbed on the bar as the former erotic dancer licked shots of Limoncello ($7) and Hennessy Bombs ($9) off their bodies. Spirits were flying everywhere. “Is it always like this?” my companion inquired. “Every night!” replied a regular.

Oh, I forgot about the food. Ayman is also the resident chef, and his secret recipes are to die for. We had the chicken kebab served with linguine and a Mediterranean salad ($11). That, too, was off the hook.