The Sink, the iconic restaurant on University Hill in Boulder, was already steeped in lore by the time brothers Mark and Chris Heinritz bought it in 1992. They were 26 and 24 years old at the time, with no business experience.
“Looking back, it’s amazing we pulled it off,” Mark said, reflecting on The Sink’s 100 years in business.
The legacy that the brothers were charged with preserving goes all the way back to 1923. Before a restaurant opened at the corner of 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, the building was the Sigma Nu fraternity house. The restaurant is the basement of that original house, hence the famous low ceilings. Originally called Somer’s Sunken Gardens, it was nicknamed "The Sink" because of a sunken fountain in the middle of the dining room.
Owners John and Pauli Pudlik made the name official in 1949. The 1950s saw the beginning of the artwork on the walls (courtesy of artists Lloyd Kavich and Mike Dormier), as well as the most famous employee of all time, Robert Redford.
“He was asked to leave (the University of Colorado) and he was wondering what to do and got a job here as a janitor for a few months,” Chris said.
Mark was able to confirm the story with Redford in 1998. Redford has remained a fan of the restaurant and wore a shirt from The Sink on the opening media day for the Sundance Film Festival in 1999.
The brothers aren’t sure when it became a tradition for customers to sign the ceiling, specifically CU Boulder graduates.
“On graduation morning, we have a line down the block of kids waiting to sign it,” Chris said.
CU graduate Noelle Perrin had her college graduation party at The Sink and has brought her daughter Sydney there since she was a baby. Sydney is now a freshman at CU.
“Anytime any of our friends go to Boulder, we’ll say go to The Sink, sit four stools down and look for my signature,” Noelle said.
Curators at the Museum of Boulder started collecting stories and memorabilia from people like Perrin ahead of the restaurant’s 100th anniversary for a special exhibit. It walks patrons through 100 years, ending with the more recent history-making moments, like President Barack Obama’s visit in 2012. The president was looking for a photo op with students.
“We had about 20 minutes' notice. He came in and everybody who was in the restaurant got to stay. And he talked to every single person individually,” Mark said.
The Heinritz brothers will soon make history themselves, becoming the longest owners of The Sink. They’ve taken on a third partner and hope the restaurant will continue to thrive.
“It's not about us," Mark said. "Yeah, we learned how to operate a restaurant efficiently and do all the business stuff, but the fact that this means so much to so many people for over so many decades is the strength."
The Sink is hosting a 100th anniversary block party on Saturday, Sept. 2 from 2-8 p.m.