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Then began seven years of furious argument among the citizenry while the cost of erecting the teahouse rose relentlessly year by year — from roughly $250,000 to $800,000. From the left came the cry that the money would be better used to help Boulder's poor; organizers of a sister-city project in Nicaragua felt it should be spent to bring potable water to Jalapa. The Cold Warriors fired away from the right: Bob Brown of Soldier of Fortune — a publication for mercenaries — told Westword: "It's a bunch of warm-fuzzy bullshit, but...this wonderful little city was home to a giant Soviet radar station.... I toyed with the idea of getting architectural plans for this thing and renovating it into a shelter for battered women...instead of a place where the fucking yuppies can drink tea." His associate editor, Tom Bates, falsely claimed that Dushanbe was a staging area for Soviet bombers departing for Afghanistan, and at a Boulder City Council meeting, a resident expressed her fear that Moscow would install listening devices in the teahouse to spy on Rocky Flats.
Boulder Action for Soviet Jewry wanted the Dushanbe Sister City organizers to cease their activities and concentrate instead on helping Jews leave Tajikistan, because the fall of the Soviet Union meant there were sure to be pogroms against Jews by Muslims.
1770 13th St.
Boulder, CO 80302
In short, critics used whatever ammunition came to hand: The money should go toward tax relief for homeowners or to eliminate a three-dollar fee paid by bicyclists. After student riots rocked the Hill, the Boulder Weekly complained that the teahouse would be "within Molotov cocktail throwing distance of the Hill" (that thrower would have one hell of an arm!) and asked if a SWAT team would be in place for protection.
Many protests were incoherent or just plain xenophobic, a bitch list of everything that annoyed everyone about Boulder, from transients to prairie dogs. The teahouse should be fitted with "voice-activated machines that vend quarters at the sound of begging and all the muscatel you can drink" and used to lure homeless people away from the downtown area, according to a would-be humorous column in the Daily Camera. Weekly readers suggested it be used as firewood or a Fourth of July bonfire, or for target practice. A letter to the editor from the What Price Tea Committee suggested that the price of a cup of tea would have to include all the costs of "keeping all its cute little painty pieces painted as well as all the little un-painty pieces unpainted and a sizeable slush fund for attorneys' fees when Mrs. Got-Rocks spills her hot tea in her lap."
Seldom has a gift been received with so little grace.
Once the current 13th Street site was selected, there was a chorus of concern that it was in the floodplain. And when contamination was eventually discovered on the site, the funding sources that the organizers had managed to muster simply vanished.
Through it all, the teahouse sat in Boulder's sewage-treatment plant in a dozen twenty-foot containers, protected by a couple of skilled feline mousers.
Axe, Seieroe and other supporters worked tirelessly, but they were at their wits' end by the time they met with then-city manager Tim Honey. Says Seieroe: "We'd put thousands of hours into this, but we told him we couldn't go on. 'What do we do now?' we asked. 'Send it back? Sell it?'" Honey was sympathetic, and despite continued and vociferous opposition from some city council members — particularly then-deputy mayor Spence Havlick and Lisa Morzel, who has been re-elected and is currently Boulder's deputy mayor — he and Linda Jourgensen figured out a funding mechanism.
A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts brought four craftspeople from Tajikistan to help set up the teahouse. When the pieces were liberated from their cartons, Seieroe was delighted to find them almost completely undamaged and Shanidze's measurements accurate to a fraction of an inch. The visiting craftsmen gave workshops; a local Iranian carpenter provided work and translation services, along with pilaf and a samovar of tea when the visitors broke Ramadan; passersby stopped as the work was going on to examine the tiles and panels. And by the time the teahouse opened for business in 1988, the carping had melted away like a late-spring snow, and the building was described in all the local papers as a "jewel."
Seieroe smiles ruefully. "I spent years trying to explain what this gift was, how beautiful it was," he says. "I described it as Persian with an Islamic overcoat, a melding of cultures and of traditional and modern. I never succeeded — until people saw it."
But the headaches were just beginning for the Martinellis, who had submitted the winning proposal for running the teahouse for the city. They were the founders of the Naropa Cafe; Sara had just finished a degree in graphic design; they had two children and a new baby. That first year, she says, "it felt like we were on a runaway horse and holding on for dear life."
Work was still going on inside the teahouse as the Martinellis prepared for opening day — which happened to fall on both graduation and Mother's Day weekend — and they were forced to train their staff in the parking lot. The farmers' market was in full swing on the street outside that morning, dignitaries were on hand, and a line of potential customers snaked down the block. "I kept telling myself, if we get through this weekend, we're going to make it," Sara remembers. They did make it, though there were a few glitches, and she still cringes at the memory of an almost-raw piece of salmon served to a patron.
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