In 1982, Boulderites Mary Hey and Sophia Stoller decided to do something positive to defrost the icy relations between the Soviet Union and the U.S. The pair formed a group to educate themselves about Soviet culture, and began lobbying USSR officials to establish a sister city. Unable to penetrate the Soviet bureaucracy, the group independently selected Dushanbe (now the capital of Tajikistan) as Boulder’s “sister,” and doggedly pursued officials there, sending messages via local scientists who had permission to conduct research behind the Iron Curtain.
This persistence paid off when the mayor of Dushanbe visited Boulder in 1987. During his visit, Mayor Maksud Ikramov declared that his city would present the people of Boulder with a handcrafted choyhona—a traditional Tajik teahouse—in a gesture of friendship.
Following years of debate about where to erect the gift (and how to fund its construction), the teahouse finally opened as a full-service restaurant in downtown Boulder in 1998. The only Persian-style teahouse in the Western Hemisphere, the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse is a stunning display of Tajik art and culture. More than 40 artisans hailing from cities around Tajikistan created the decorative elements of the teahouse, including designs that feature gardens and water, as is consistent with traditional Persian architecture.
Upon entering the Dushanbe Teahouse, visitors first notice a central, bubbling fish pool surrounded by hammered-copper sculptures of “The Seven Beauties,” the maiden subjects of a famous 12th-century Persian poem. Your eyes are then drawn upward to the vividly painted ceiling, a stunning plot of colorful flowers, twisting vines, vibrant birds, and bold geometric designs spanning the wooden beams and recessed panels. Supporting the ceiling is a stand of hand-embossed cedar pillars, carved from trees picked by master Tajik woodcarvers from Russia’s Lake Baikal region.
Along the sides, a series of intricate white plaster panels form elaborate frames for mirrored walls—an eye-catching backdrop to the polished tea canisters displayed behind the wide oak bar. Traditional Tajik furniture, including topchans—platforms with low tables surrounded by cushions—grace the interior along with conventional tables and chairs. Near the entrance, a glass case displays several Tajik items, including a samovar (a water boiler used to heat tea water), a traditional wedding dress and crown, and a ceremonial robe.
The teahouse is a wonderful place to gather with friends and family to celebrate the holidays. Take a break from shopping and enjoy a steaming hot toddy or a pot of premium tea, or linger over a three-tiered tower of sweet and savory treats during a Holiday Afternoon Tea, offered from November 24 through January 4.
Visit: Located at 1770 13th Street, The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse is open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. 303-442-4993
Terri Cook is a freelance writer and geologist based in Boulder, Colo. Follow her explorations across the state and around the globe @ColoTravelGal.