Hannah Walhout

There is a restaurant serving up a dose of Harry Potter (complete with cocktail cauldrons) in post-Soviet Central Asia.

July 18, 2017

The first time we walked past Café Pottermania on Shakhrisabz Street in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, we marveled, as many Western tourists would almost certianly do, at what seemed like yet another post-Soviet oddity. This place, we thought, would go into our travel journals with the inflight safety video on Uzbekistan Air that included real footage of drunken airplane brawls and the crumbling department store featuring a display of animatronic characters from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Smiling, we kept walking. 

The second time we walked past Café Pottermania on Shakhrisabz Street in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, we stopped to take a look at its carefully designed sign—incorporating the animal emblems of the four Hogwarts houses. We peered down the stairs to the entryway (the building’s main level is occupied by a pharmacy) and heard the faint strains of John Williams' theme from the Harry Potter films. Humming, we kept walking.

Hannah Walhout

The third time we walked past Café Pottermania on Shakhrisabz street in Tashkent, Uzbekistan on our last night in the city, we felt compelled to go inside. 

U.S. cultural depictions of the post-Soviet world often portray gray skies, gray food—a region the West assumes is trapped behind a gray filter. So you might not think that a sprawling, Cold War-era urban center would be home to such a thoroughly researched and lovingly curated shrine to the world's most popular children’s book. But in the basement of an otherwise gray building, there is Café Pottermania. And it’s one of the most delightful places in Tashkent.

Wizard-inspired foods and beverages (Chocolate frogs? Check. Polyjuice potion? They've got it.) are whimsically laid out in a Honeydukes-style display or prepared by a potions master behind an apothecary bar. Each detail is perfectly in place: intricately folded menus, inspired by Marauder’s Maps featuring sections like “Food the Students of Hogwarts Would Eat” (rough translation provided by our kind waitress—this is where we found the butterbeer). Large signs above the toilets that declare: “This way to the Ministry of Magic,” with an arrow pointing down. 

Hannah Walhout

After a few minutes of chatting with our waitress, a mischievous look spread across her face: “Do you want to see something magic?” She rushed to the back room, emerging several minutes later with a bright green cocktail in a serpent-emblazoned goblet that bubbled and steamed with dry ice. After we paid, her colleague—arms already laden with wands and heavy velvet robes—asked if we wanted to dress up. 

Maybe it shouldn't be surprising that the combination of globalization and a compelling boy wizard narrative make Harry Potter ubiquitous, even in the Asian Steppe—but in a city dominated by Soviet-era national museums and grand mosaiced madrassas, Café Pottermania feels like a unique space. 

There, we connected with our hosts over magical stories and mimed wand movements—our stereotypes of Soviet dining smashed by good old-fashioned nerds. Oh, and butterbeer.