There’s an annual tradition where new graduates from the University of Colorado line up outside The Sink to ink their signature onto the ceiling. The students, still clad in cap and gown, are there to join the thousands that came before them to capstone their college years with this important inscription. It’s impossible to say exactly when this tradition began, but one thing is for certain: This year, The Sink turned 100.
Like many of its neighbors, the building that would eventually become The Sink was built in 1908 as a house for the Sigma Nu fraternity. In 1923, it was converted into a European-style restaurant by the name of Somer’s Sunken Gardens. It was quickly and affectionately dubbed The Sink due to the large sunken fountain that acted as the dining room’s centerpiece. In 1949, new owners John and Pauli Pudlik officially renamed the place to its current title. Over the course of the century, The Sink has had six different owners, and is currently run by brothers Mark and Chris Heinritz and managing partner Tell Jones.
Over the years, The Sink has built a reputation around legends, tall tales and often harder-to-believe, well-documented truths. “Stories are literally on its walls. It’s a palpable history that you feel,” says Mark. Robert Redford worked as a janitor there in 1955, and future CEO of AEG Live Chuck Morris got his start as general manager in 1968, when he would book acts for the upstairs room. Many of the tables are still inlaid with images of famous guests, with others being devoted to the locals who are the heart and soul of the place. One table is full of photos from Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert’s visit, another one devoted to the famed visit by former President Barack Obama in 2012. Guy Fieri also has a spot, with plenty of high-energy images from the filming of an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
With its low ceilings and psychedelic art by beat poet Llloyd Kavich (“with three Ls just for the L of it”), The Sink has cultivated an air of exuberance and debauchery. But since the addition of chef Chris Cunningham in 2015, Jones and the Heinritz brothers have been trying to shift the place’s culture to be more food-focused. “We’ve been trying to change the reputation since day one,” says Mark, who took ownership in 1992. “With the growth of the culinary scene, food is entertainment. And what’s more entertaining than The Sink?”
While standards like The Sink Burger, with house-made hickory barbecue sauce, remain a constant, Mark says the menu will usually see the addition of four to six new items per year. This year, to celebrate the arrival of Deion Sanders as coach of the CU Buffs football team, Cunningham added the Prime Time Burger Bowl, that sees a bed of spring mix topped with a grass-fed burger patty, melted American cheese, julienned red onion, avocado, seasoned cherry tomatoes, house pickles and cajun-seasoned French fries. The whole thing is then covered with a healthy drizzle of chipotle aioli. There’s also The Recruiter, which sees a standard burger topped with pimento cheese, fried green tomatoes, bacon and shredded lettuce.
Throughout the course of 2023, The Sink will be hosting a wide array of events celebrating the milestone. In February, it will revive its Friday Afternoon Clubs, originally created by Morris during his time there in the 1960s. The modern version will take place on the last Friday of each month and will feature drink specials, live music, guest hosts and a range of throwbacks commemorating the eatery’s rich history. At the Feb. 24 debut, the function will feature the tapping of 1924, a collaborative beer made with Avery Brewing that will only be available at The Sink and at Avery’s taproom. Other events will include the release of a mini-documentary by local film agency Pixel Mills Studio in the spring and the opening of the 100 Years of The Sink exhibit at the Museum of Boulder in September.
These days, on any given afternoon, the place will be filled with an odd mix of thirsty college students, families with children fascinated by the artwork, long-time regulars and burger enthusiasts. The air continues to be thick with decades of experience, which have indelibly left marks nearly as tangibly as the more intentional memorabilia. Over the years, The Sink has certainly taken on a life of its own, one Mark says he’s glad to be a part of but doesn’t feel ownership over. “I envision it a little like a snowball. The older you get, the more established you become,” Mark says. “Being a part of the legacy and the lineage is a place of honor.”
Boulder’s longest-serving eateries have dished everything from hot dogs to foie gras
In a town where new restaurants can come and go before we even have a chance to taste the food, a surprising roster of restaurants have thrived in Boulder for decades and survived wars, culinary fads, riots, recessions, generations of CU students and a pandemic.
Many are owned and operated by local folks and families.
Go ahead and wish a happy 35th birthday to Ras Kassa’s Ethiopian Restaurant, now in Lafayette, and formerly in Boulder and Eldorado Springs. It’s been 40 years since the original Walnut Cafe dished its first omelet and 30 years of soft shell crab at Chez Thuy. Two decades ago, Sherpa’s Adventure Restaurant and Bar began steaming momos.
Boulder’s honor roll of tough culinary veterans also features The Gondolier (1960), Greenbriar Inn (1967), Flagstaff House (1971), Mustard’s Last Stand (1978), Falafel King (1980), Lucile’s Creole Cafe (1980), Sushi Zanmai (1987) and Dot’s Diner (1988).
Perhaps the only eatery that has been open longer than The Sink’s century are the variously named restaurants that have served in the Hotel Boulderado. Another candidate: Chautauqua Dining Hall opened 125 years ago, but for most of that time was only serving seasonally.