For decades, Boulder and its sister city, Dushanbe, have been engaged in a global friendship.
The most visible — and downright beautiful — symbol of that ongoing relationship is the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, the gorgeous, elaborately decorated building that stands on 13th Street between Canyon and Arapahoe.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse has a new community exhibit at the Museum of Boulder from now through June 18. The beloved eatery is also hosting a big anniversary celebration over May 19-21, so mark your calendars for the festivities now.
Using photographs, news clippings, crafts and more, the exhibit tells the story of the teahouse’s evolution over the years, as well as explores its significance as the only authentic Persian teahouse in all of North America.
The anniversary weekend, meanwhile, will include a marketplace of tea and Central Asian crafts; tea tastings and workshops, a Central Asian art exhibit and sale; a special Tajik-themed afternoon tea service; and a four-course, prix fixe Persian dinner with tea pairings on Saturday. (You’ll need to make a reservation if you want to participate in either the afternoon tea or the dinner.)
In case you need a little refresher on the teahouse’s sweet backstory, the sage dates back to 1983, when an enterprising group of Boulderites decided to see if they could forge ties with a city in the then-Soviet Union. Led by Mary Axe and Sophia Stoller, the group eventually made contact with Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and decided to forge a sister-cities relationship. (For reference, Dushanbe is the capital city of Tajikistan, located in the Hisar Valley of Central Asia in the shadow of a rugged mountain range. It’s surrounded by China to the east, Afghanistan to the south, Kyrgyzstan to the north and Uzbekistan to the west.)
Flash forward to 1987, when Dushanbe mayor Maksud Ikramov visited Boulder for the first time. To help solidify the sister-city ties, Ikramov decided to gift Boulder an elaborate teahouse with components hand-crafted by more than 40 artists from across Tajikistan. For three years from 1987 to 1990, artists and craftspeople worked diligently to create the hand-painted and hand-carved elements for the structures, including the ceiling, tables, stools, columns and exterior ceramic panels.
In 1988, Boulder architect Vern Seieroe visited Tajikistan to collaborate with the teahouse’s chief architect Lado Shanidze. Together, the two packed all of the building’s various pieces into some 200 shipping containers and sent them off the United States. In total, the boxes traveled by train, ship and, finally, tractor-trailer to make the long voyage to Colorado in 1990.
Once the pieces arrived, the Boulder community still had to figure out the logistics of building and operating the teahouse. so, it wasn’t until 1998 — 25 years ago this year – that the eatery finally opened to the public under the management of Sara and Lenny Martinelli.
Today, the Martinellis are still running the show, along with their Three Leaf Concepts partner Jerry Manning. Three Leaf Concepts, meanwhile, also now operates multiple other Boulder restaurants, plus a farm and catering business: Leaf Vegetarian Restaurant, the Chautauqua Dining Hall, Zucca Italian Ristorante and The Huckleberry.
Even if you don’t visit the exhibit or join in the celebratory anniversary weekend festivities, you can still marvel at the teahouse’s beauty by dining there for breakfast, lunch, dinner and teatime. The teahouse also hosts private events and has an online shop called The Boulder Tea Company.
You can also learn more and get involved with the Boulder-Dushanbe Sister Cities project.