“Everyone has a story to tell about The Sink,” said Boulder filmmaker Bruce Borowsky in an interview with the Daily Camera.
If only those graffiti-tagged walls could talk.
The front of the house at the iconic corner spot on University Hill is adorned with big-name autographs, vibrantly loud cartoon art and low ceilings that make for a unique experience.
There’s no place quite like Boulder’s oldest restaurant that opened up shop on University Hill in 1923. This year it’s celebrating 100 years of service in Boulder. The Boulder community, past and present, has been the glue that has held those colorful walls together (along with its ceiling mural “Sinkstine Chapel,” created by late local muralist Llloyd Kavich).
For Sophie Angleton, who was on a college tour checking out the University of Colorado Boulder with her parents, she first thought The Sink was a community bathroom.
“I overheard someone on campus talking about ‘going to The Sink later,’” Angleton said. “I thought maybe they were just talking about going to wash their hands, but then when their friends said they wanted to go, too, with enthusiasm, I thought it must be a really large, exciting, communal washroom. I thought to myself, ‘How weird is this place?’”
It wasn’t until the next day, while walking around Boulder’s University Hill with her parents, that Angleton realized that The Sink was a restaurant.
It was then that a love affair began.
Angleton, who has been a vegetarian her entire life, said she had a hard time feeling satiated during her freshman year at CU Boulder due to its slim choices in the campus dining halls.
“When I first had one of The Sink’s veggie burgers with sweet potato fries, I remember it was the first time I had been full in what felt like months,” Angleton said. “I felt like a new person. I’ll never forget that day.”
Over the course of her college career at CU Boulder — including living across the street from The Sink for a year — Angleton went on to have dozens more veggie burgers, met several college paramours at the spot, lost a few winter jackets during Flip Night (calling the coin’s correct side in the air, earning her 25-cent drinks) and got over her fear of snakes when she held a baby python for the first time when a man brought his pet into the bar.
“It was always really hard to study when I lived across from The Sink,” Angleton said. “There was always so much going on. I would always get distracted by all of the people coming and going, and find myself just gazing out the window, longing for a pint.”
“I think that’s why my grades slipped that one semester,” Angleton said, laughing.
Angleton isn’t alone in her admiration for the iconic Boulder establishment. In fact, The Sink is so legendary, so beloved, that local filmmakers have created a film memorializing it.
In honor of The Sink’s centennial anniversary, Boulder-based production company Pixel Mill Studios and Savor Productions (which puts on First Bite and First Sip events) teamed up with the establishment’s owners to create a documentary film that takes a dive into the restaurant’s colorful and substantial history. A history that’s been etched into the community’s memories and graffitied directly on the restaurant’s walls.
Pixel Mill Studios, composed of producer Bruce Borowsky and editor Mike Scalisi, spent several hours interviewing customers, employees and admirers of The Sink. They even attempted to get an interview with Academy Award-winning actor Robert Redford, who famously worked at the restaurant as a janitor while attending CU Boulder in 1955. Redford was sadly unavailable, though it’s been said that he’s popped into The Sink randomly on occasion in the past. (Maybe he’ll come to the movie premiere? Boulder can hope.)
But without the testimony of The Sink’s most famous employee, Borowsky said the film is still packed with plenty of stories from other colorful characters. The film will premiere at Boulder Theater on Wednesday.
“Through this, we’ve met so many people that have so many great stories to tell about The Sink — whether they met there, got engaged there, or had this crazy night with friends there — it’s such a community institution. Everyone has a story to tell about The Sink,” Borowsky said.
In 1923, entrepreneur Leo Somers purchased the building and opened a European-style restaurant named Somer’s Sunken Gardens. “The Sink” was given to the restaurant by patrons, referring to the restaurant’s sunken fountain in the middle of the dining room. The rest, as they say, is history.
The restaurant continued to pass from owner to owner, changing hands nearly five times until 1992, when current owners Mike and Chris Heinritz purchased the restaurant, who now co-own the establishment with their buddy Tell Jones. A detailed timeline and history of the restaurant can be found at thesink.com.
Since the Heinritz brothers have owned and operated the sink, several big things have happened: Guy Fieri visited the restaurant in 2010 and featured the Texas Onion Straw Burger, the Buddha Basil Pie and the Cowboy Reuben on an episode of “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.” In 2013, late Chef Anthony Bourdain hosted a meet-and-greet at The Sink after visiting Boulder on his national “Good vs. Evil” tour. In 2014, CU Buffs’ Heisman Trophy winner, local late legend Rashaan Salaam, stopped by The Sink before a CU Buffs basketball game. Later that year, actors Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. gave away tickets to their movie “Let’s Be Cops” during Flip Night. Also in 2014, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited the Hill spot for lunch.
Local legends adorn The Sink’s walls, too, like its former manager, Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee and former big boss at AEG Presents Rocky Mountains, Chuck Morris, who got his start at The Sink booking local bands.
However, the visit of all visits happened in 2012 — at least for co-owner Chris Heinritz — when former President Barack Obama famously made a surprise visit to the restaurant ahead of a talk at the University of Colorado Boulder.
“It was just the coolest thing to meet the President of the United States in my restaurant — and just to see the whole apparatus that travels with the president,” Chris Heinritz said, recalling the incident. “That was really fun.”
“Sometimes you wonder, what does it take for someone to be president? And then we saw his charisma, and his ability to work the room and connect with people, and we were like, ‘oh yeah, he’s got it,’” Chris Heinritz said.
Obama famously ordered a Sinkza pizza — pepperoni, Italian sausage, green peppers, red onion, black olives and mozzarella over classic tomato sauce — which the restaurant fondly renamed the “POTUS” pie after the visit.
And though the food alone at the restaurant is enough to attract presidential customers, what really makes The Sink a unique place in the Boulder community is its “vibe,” according to longtime Sink employee Chris Bohlen.
Bohlen, who worked from the Sink from 1990 to 2001, remembers The Sink as the quintessential local watering hole — where anyone and everyone from all over town would come to keep warm under its low graffitied ceilings to weather those cold winter Colorado nights.
“There was always something so magical in Boulder when it snowed, because people didn’t want to brush off their cars, so everyone walked to The Sink,” Bohlen said. “And you’re huddled together on a cold night, there’s a couple hundred people in there, and your jackets are all just thrown in a pile. I don’t remember that magic happening anywhere else when I was in Boulder. It really is the corner bar.”
(Perhaps how Angleton lost her jackets while visiting The Sink?)
That magic right there, according to Chris Heinritz, is one of the reasons that The Sink has been able to stay open for a century, when so many other Boulder establishments have come and gone.
“You get hit by The Sink and how funky and how cool it is, and how unique it is,” Chris Heinritz said. “And the location and the energy of the place is very memorable as soon as you walk in the door. People remember that.”
And though the Hill is due to go through some major structural changes — the controversial Hill Hotel is currently under construction and slated to open in July, a move that some locals think could alter the character of the unique business district. Although Heinritz is optimistic that The Sink will remain where it is, steadfast in its corner spot between 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
“With the new hotel and the conference center coming on board, the character of the Hill is going to change quite a bit — and hopefully for the better,” Heinritz said. “More so than ever before, The Sink’s place as a historical landmark for the Hill and for the university is going to be important. We’re excited to be an anchor for the Hill for the future, as we have been for a long time.”
To hear more tales of The Sink magic, learn more about the restaurant’s rich history, and help wish a happy 100th birthday to Boulder’s favorite “corner bar,” catch “The Sink 100th Anniversary” movie, which premieres at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder. For tickets, visit z2ent.com/events/detail/the-sink.
The Sink has been a Boulder institution, sitting on University Hill for 100 years. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Even the women’s restroom at The Sink in Boulder is vibrant with color and flair. The Sink hit a milestone of operating on the Hill for 100 years. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
The Sink in Boulder is celebrating turning 100 years old in 2023. It’s Boulder’s oldest restaurant. (Cliff Grassmick — Staff Photographer)
The Sink bar and restaurant on The Hill in Boulder is pictured on May 26. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
The Galentines perform during the Friday Afternoon Club (FAC) on May 26, 2023. The Sink is celebrating 100 years in 2023. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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