Sinking into The Sink: Boulder and CU’s iconic dive restaurant

Nearly 100 years in, The Sink presents a gritty, valuable portal to another Boulder era

By Tatyana Sharpton Feb 14 2020

The Sink, Boulder’s oldest restaurant, located at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 13th Street on the Hill, throws a playful rawness immediately with its bright foyer, art-covered walls, and scribbled low ceiling. This vibe fits its iconic status as probably Boulder and CU’s most legendary food spot.

You (especially your CU self) might know it for its delicious Sink Burger and famous Buddha Basil pizza laden with tofu, garlic, spinach, fresh tomatoes, and fresh basil, or maybe you remember it from The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” We sat down with part-owner Mark Heinritz, who, with his two brothers Chris and James, purchased the iconic restaurant-bar in 1992 from the family that owned it since 1954.

The Sink’s bright foyer’s high ceilings give way to an underground living comic strip experience. Image: Tatyana Sharpton.

In the midst of Boulder’s increasingly moneyed, upscale character, The Sink presents a portal to another era with an early American diner spirit colored by a hippie creative rebelliousness thanks to art from Boulder beatnik artists Mike Dormier and Llloyd Kavich. Upon first glance, it appears the artists threw the insides of their brains onto the walls like colorful and clever spaghetti: a playful, quirky, dark-and-light comic strip.

The drawings’ recurring themes of the angel and the devil play into the Sink’s historical commentary on good and evil, and located on the Hill, within a drink’s throw of CU, the innocence of pre-college and the worldly experience that comes with ages and time, and the delirious freedom that comes with college. Other images include recurring characters and caricatures, all processing life moments and mental patterns in silly and raw illustrations.

As The Sink dives toward 100 years of continuous service, we explore what makes it click and the secrets behind its longevity.

Everybody’s kitchen

Originally opened at 1165 13th Street in 1923 as a European-style restaurant as Summer’s Sunken Gardens, a large sunken fountain in the middle of the dining room eventually prompted its patrons to lovingly nickname it “The Sink.” After CU alum John Pudlik purchased it from its original owners in 1940, he officially renamed it; he ran it for 14 years until it changed hands again.

A true reflection of Boulder’s changes and transitions, The Sink has remained alive for nearly a century thanks to the Boulder village. At one point, in response to The Hill’s changing scene, owner Herb Kauvar completely remodeled the space and renamed it “Herbie’s Deli,” with all of its mural art covered up by boards.

“There was a big cultural change happening on the Hill,” Mark says. “It was hugely a hippie culture with lots of people hanging out and not many people dining. Herb thought a deli would be better.”

In the late eighties, The Sink made a comeback with another remodel, and since then the owners have focused on baking its history into the experience it provides.

Moving into Boulder’s future

“The way we interact with the world is changing,” Mark says. “Food delivery, cell phones, internet, drinking laws have all changed things. The Hill is a microcosm of all of that. We’ve adapted a lot for connectivity. Even with social media; The Sink is very Instagrammable.”

The Sink makes its own proprietary barbecue sauce, which is used to sell retail but now only in-house. The company also owns microbrewery West Flanders Brewing Company on Pearl Street as a sister operation opened in 2013.

Header Image: Part-owner Mark Heinritz sitting in front of The Sink’s “Escape From Yourself” wall. Image: Tatyana Sharpton.