Courtesy of The Sink

Celebrating 100 Years of The Sink

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In the beginning, God created meat and cheese…

 

And on the eighth day, man created the Sink Burger

 

And he saw that it was good.

 

—The Sinkstine Chapel (a Sistine Chapel-inspired painting on the ceiling of The Sink)

 

This restaurant on The Hill is like nowhere else in Boulder—nowhere else on Earth, really.

 

Only here can you eat a pizza named for former President Obama (after he ordered it here) and then have your server hand you a Sharpie, encouraging you to draw on the ceiling.

 

Or look at colorful caricatures covering the walls, including one of actor Robert Redford, who used to work here as a custodian, while trying the Ugly Crust Pizza you saw on The Travel Channel.

 

There are so many things that make The Sink a quirky, one-of-a-kind destination in Boulder. But it’s the restaurant’s “sense of place” that co-owner Mark Heinritz thinks is the most important.

 

You see, The Sink is the oldest restaurant in Boulder. This year, it’s celebrating its big 100th birthday.

 

“It’s that character in any town that people visit when they want to know what that town’s all about,” Heinritz says. “It’s that sense of place, that sense of origin, especially in a place like Colorado that grows so fast.”

 

Courtesy of Branded Beet

 

Indeed, a few things have changed since the restaurant first opened in 1923: the official name, the menu. The building was originally a frat house, until it was transformed into a European-style restaurant, Somer’s Sunken Gardens. The nickname—The Sink, after a sunken fountain in the middle of the dining hall—eventually became official.

 

After a while, that European fare turned into a deli, but when the restaurant began serving beer, casual burgers and pizza become a better fit. When Heinritz and his brothers took over in 1992, they encouraged more food innovation. That’s what led to the likes of Sink Sauce (house-made hickory BBQ), Ugly Crust Pizza (just what it sounds like: the crust is tasty but it ain’t pretty) and the Buddha Basil Pizza (a pesto-based pizza with tofu and spinach).

 

But so much more at The Sink has remained true to its roots, even in an ever-evolving city like Boulder.

 

Although it’s changed ownership many times, the restaurant has always been family-owned.

 

Courtesy of Branded Beet

 

It still boasts colorful art all over the walls, painted in the late 1950s by beatnik artists Mike Dormier and Llloyd Kavich (“spelled with 3 Ls, just for the ‘L’ of it”). The artwork includes an angel and devil that have become synonymous with the restaurant. They symbolize being sent off to college and being transformed by university life, respectively.

 

In the 1960s, CU students began signing their names on the ceiling when they graduated and, decades later, you can still see a line of new graduates winding down the street, awaiting their rite of passage. As you can imagine, it’s also been the site of many fateful romantic meetings.

 

“We hear constant stories like, ‘I met my wife here 50 years ago,’ or, ‘I have 14 grandkids, and we all meet here for dinner,’” Heinritz says.

 

One couple met at The Sink in 2007 over a PBR tallboy, were married in 2015 and celebrated their “babymoon” (right before having their first child) with a trip to Boulder to eat at The Sink.

 

Another couple met when they were both servers at the restaurant. One night, the guy silenced the entire restaurant, hopped on the bar, got down on one knee and asked his girlfriend if he could have another beer. They are still together.

 

Heinrich considers himself a “curator” of memories more than an owner.

 

Even if people move away, when they return to Boulder, they know there will always be something they recognize, Heinritz says.

 

Courtesy of Branded Beet

 

“The emotional attachment is what’s most unique about The Sink,” Heinritz says. “It doesn’t really belong to the Heinritz brothers and Tell Jones. It belongs to everyone in Boulder. We just have the honor of keeping it going.”

 

For some, it’s a family tradition—where their grandparents ate and then their parents went, says spokeswoman Rachael Caraluzzi.

 

“It holds some comfort. The energy brought into that space is really genuine, and it becomes the place that people go to,” she says.

 

The Sink has plenty of claims to fame, too. In addition to President Obama’s visit and Robert Redford’s employment when he was a CU student, The Sink has also fed Food Network’s Guy Fieri; chefs Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert; Heisman Trophy-winner Rashaad Salaam; CIA agent Tony Mendez; actors Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr.; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; basketball player Deadhead and sportscaster Bill Walton; TV host Casey Webb; and more.

 

Courtesy of Branded Beet

The Birthday Party of the Century

 

Needless to say, a joint like The Sink knows how to celebrate, and it’s doing it big for its 100th birthday.

 

It’s gearing up to release a documentary on its history this year at the Boulder Theater—get tickets online for the premier on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. If you miss the showing, you will be able to view the movie at the Museum of Boulder in the fall, as part of the museum’s exhibit on the history of The Sink.

 

The restaurant is also planning a big Labor Day block party.

 

The last Friday of every month, at least through the fall, will also be a Friday Afternoon Club (FAC) from 3-5 p.m. featuring different happy hour specials and prizes. This is a nod back to The Sink’s FAC tradition in the 1970s.

 

Try the special 1923 American pale ale that Avery Brewing made just for The Sink’s birthday—only available at the restaurant or the brewery. Note: If you do have a few pints and need to make a pitstop in the restroom, beware of the fake restroom door painted on the wall that looks a lot like the real door, especially if you’ve had some ale and the lights are dim.

 

Courtesy of Branded Beet

 

The Sink Through the Years

 

1908 – The building, at the corner of 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, is built to house the Sigma Nu fraternity.

 

1923 – The Somer and Simon families buy the building and turn it into a European-style restaurant called Somer’s Sunken Gardens, named after a sunken fountain in the middle of the dining room. It is nicknamed The Sink.

 

1938 – The LeBaron family buys The Sunken Gardens after Leo Somer dies in a swimming accident in Baseline Reservoir.

 

1945 – The May family buys the restaurant after the LeBarons move to Idaho.

 

1949 – The Pudlik family buys the restaurant, officially renames it The Sink and begins selling beer there.

 

1955 – Robert Redford (yes, the actor) works at the restaurant as a janitor.

 

1956 – The Pudliks sell the restaurant to Joe Beimford and Floyd Marks. Marks sells his share to Beimford. Then Beimford sells it all back to Marks.

 

1958 – Marks gives the restaurant to his sister and brother-in-law, who introduce the Sinkburger and Sink Hickory Sauce.

 

1959 – Beatnik artists Mike Dormier and Llloyd Kavich (“spelled with 3 Ls, just for the ‘L’ of it”) paint the caricatures on the walls, including the angel and devil, symbolizing being sent off to college and being transformed by university life, respectively.

 

1960s – The Sink is host to live music and shows. University of Colorado students begin the tradition of signing the ceiling when they graduate.

 

1963 – A kitchen fire leads to a change in the roof’s architecture.

 

1968 – Chuck Morris starts as general manager and begins booking bigger performers, including the Eagles and Bonnie Raitt.

 

1974 – The Sink becomes Herbie’s Deli and the art is covered with wood.

 

1989 – The Sink returns to its original aesthetic: the boards are removed from the walls, more art is added and The Sink is back, this time with a full bar.

 

1992 – The Heinritz brothers buy The Sink and introduce Ugly Crust Pizza and the Buddha Basil Pie.

 

1993 – The Sink begins serving microbrews.

 

1995 – The Sink gets a major facelift, including adding 18 draft lines. The “Sinkstine Chapel” painting is added.

 

1998 – Dan Aykroyd visits and spins music on the jukebox. The next morning, Redford pops in.

 

2006 – The restaurant begins running entirely on wind power and takes other green steps.

 

2010 – Guy Fieri films an episode of the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives” at The Sink.  Fieri tries the Texas Onion Straw Burger, the Buddha Basil Pie and the Cowboy Reuben (and of course, leaves his mark).

 

2012 – President Obama visits and orders a Sinkza Pizza, which is renamed the POTUS Pie.

 

2013 – Chefs Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripart hold an event at the restaurant and order the Texas Onion Straw Burger, Portabella Burger and Kansas City Barbecue Short Ribs.

 

2014 – Various celebrities visit the restaurant, including Heisman Trophy-winner Rashaad Salaam; CIA agent Tony Mendez; actors Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr.; and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

 

2016 – Basketball player Deadhead and sportscaster Bill Walton visit.

 

2018 – The Travel Channel films “Food Paradise” and features the Ugly Crust Pizza.

 

2022 – The “Man v. Food Tour” stops at The Sink and TV host Casey Webb tries a Sinkburger, Buff Mac and Ugly Crust Pizza.

 

2023 – The Sink turns 100.

 

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