Somer’s Sunken Gardens
It was amazing to finally get to go in after hours and see the remnants of a life that was so mysterious to me.
The Sink opened in 1923 as Somer’s Sunken Gardens, in the former Sigma Nu fraternity house. Named for the sunken fountain in the middle of the dining room — from which diners could apparently choose their own trout for dinner — it was nicknamed “The Sink.” After the Pudliks took over, they decided the nickname should be the official name instead. Then they made another very important change: Though Boulder was still “dry” at the time, 3.2 beer wasn’t considered to be alcohol. So the Pudliks began pouring brews — and the students came pouring in, too.
In 1956, they sold the business to Joe Beimford and Floyd Marks. In 1960, Herbie and Gilda Kauvar — Marks’ sister — took over the business, and kept the menu, which featured the now-famous Sink Burger and its signature hickory Sink Sauce.
What Rick Kauvar (EPOBio’75) remembers most about those early days when his parents took over the business was that the beer sales made it an 18-and-older establishment.
“I was eight, and I had to sit out in the car and watch all the college kids going in and out all those years,” he said. “It was amazing to finally get to go in after hours and see the remnants of a life that was so mysterious to me.”
Once they were old enough, Kauver and his brother Jim (Mktg’79) spent afternoons and evenings working there, which Jim said he’ll always remember as “an important part of our family’s history.”
Upon taking over the restaurant, Herbie and Gilda hired artist Llloyd Kavich (who also redid the walls in 1989) to redo some of the classic, circa-1950s artwork with an “age of Aquarius” theme. Most importantly, they continued fostering an atmosphere of community and a place for students to gather, with nonstop music blaring from the jukebox.
“Only happy songs were allowed,” said Fitzgerald.
In the mid-’70s, though, the bubble burst. The Hill, a hub of “flower power” counterculture activity in Boulder, began drawing people interested in living alternative lifestyles. New businesses opened up to cater to their needs and wants, offering things like vintage clothes, bell bottoms, leather vests and incense.
“It made it impossible for students to really keep enjoying The Sink the way they had for all those years,” said Rick. “My dad had to make a change or he would have lost it completely.”
Alongside the neighborhood changes, business began to decline as shoppers gravitated toward the new stores and new types of restaurants. As sales lagged at The Sink, Herbie switched tactics and opened Herbie’s Deli with faster counter service and sandwiches. He kept the Sink Burger on the menu, but covered up the iconic art with pine boards. He thought The Sink would be forever forgotten, but he was wrong. For years, Rick and Jim urged their dad to bring it back, and much to the delight of Sink Rats everywhere (including Fitzgerald), they finally did in 1989, uncovering the artwork and adding a full bar.
The Sink Today
When we bought it, he said to me, ‘You’d have to be a real idiot to screw this up.’
Though Heinritz admits they had “a lot to work with,” they’ve also made a few changes in the past 30 years.
“We kept the menu we inherited and let it morph over time, like adding ugly crust pizza, formulated in my own kitchen,” he said. They also introduced the now-famous Buddha Basil Pie — famous enough, in fact, to attract the likes of Guy Fieri from Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (2010), President Obama (2012) and Anthony Bourdain (2013), all of whom signed the classic “wall of fame.” There’s also Robert Redford (A&S ex’58; HonDocHum’87), The Sink’s most famous employee, who worked there as a janitor in 1955. He makes sure to visit whenever he’s in town and was even put to work once.
Though The Sink hasn’t changed much visually over the years, it has a decidedly different vibe today than in the ’70s. It used to come to life at 10 p.m. — now that’s closing time, and it’s not the same type of crowd.
“As Boulder evolved away from being a party school and liquor laws tightened, we started leaning into the culinary side of it, wanting to build a reputation built around food and community,” explained Heinritz.
Still, the restaurant’s connections to CU remain unbreakable. “We get students and faculty coming in before and after football games, during the Conference on World Affairs and other big events.” Heinritz said. “But we also see business people and young families. When I meet someone who has never been in, who thinks they’re too old, I say, ‘Just come in and give it a try,’ and they’re always surprised.”
As for the Heinritz brothers’ success in keeping The Sink’s legacy alive, Mark Heinritz gives some of the credit to Herbie.
“When we bought it, he said to me, ‘You’d have to be a real idiot to screw this up.’ That became our guiding light.”