Once upon a time, I was a college student at the University of Colorado Boulder. During the day, I got my studies done on campus, but the night—the night belonged to places like The Sink on The Hill.
Cheap beer, a fun atmosphere, and a late-night menu saturated with every type of fried food that you could imagine. House-made pretzels with “I’m really bad for you but you’re going to eat me anyway” beer cheese sauce, jumbo chicken wings tossed in your choice of spicy “Buff” sauce, and $5 pig-in-a-blankets. Yes, you can still find that beloved childhood dish paired with a mind-blowing build-your-own menu devoted to mac and cheese at the oldest bar in Boulder.
The Sink as we know it started its journey in 1900 when its current location was constructed as the Sigma Nu house. The name hails from 1923, when the Summers family purchased the building and opened “Summer’s Sunken Gardens.” Along with adding a bar, the Summers’ also constructed a large sunken fountain in the middle of the dining room that soon affectionately became known as The Sink.
Across 91 years of existence, The Sink has welcomed everyone from throngs of college kids, to true hippies in the 60s and 70s, to live music fans, Buffs fans, tourists, and lots of families through its doors. The venue has only changed hands six times in nearly a century.
In 1952, Beatnik artists, Mike Dormier and Llloyed Kavich, donning colorful imaginations and unique creativity, covered the walls of the place with zany and iconic college and CU-inspired artwork. Most recognizable is a caricature of a handsome and youthful Robert Redford, who was employed by The Sink in 1955 as a janitor while he attended CU on a baseball scholarship.
Does the name Chuck Morris ring a bell? Probably. He’s the CEO of AEG Live and I’ll give you one guess where he got his start booking bands. Yep, you guessed it—The Sink—which along with Tulagis on The Hill brought bands like The Astronauts and Tommy Bolin from Deep Purple to the area to perform.
Current owners, brothers Mark, Chris, and James Heinritz, have welcomed the craft beer movement, Anthony Bourdain, and Guy Fieri’s bleach blonde hair and catch phrases through the doors of The Sink. During an episode of Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” Fieri went wild for the Buddha Basil pizza pie, topped with whole roasted garlic, tofu, spinach, artichoke hearts, and beautiful strips of fresh basil. And who could forget the time that President Barack Obama signed the ceiling of the The Sink in 2012 (along with hundreds of others before him) and ordered up the Sinkza pizza, which has since been renamed to the POTUS Pie.
With such a long and colorful history, it’s easy to understand why tourists visiting Boulder add a visit to The Sink to their Boulder trip itinerary. Tourists coupled with masses of college students also make it easy to understand why a lot of folks in Boulder choose to avoid the place.
It’s been some time since I’ve been out of school, (we don’t need to get into numbers), and I’ll be the first to admit that The Sink hasn’t been my go-to for a beer and meal in a while. But after a recent visit to my past through the door of the place last week, I couldn’t remember why I’d been away for so long. Looking around, old memories of flipping coins for free beers with the bartenders, and having Sink Burger-eating contests with friends before Buffs football games came flooding back.
But as I looked around the bar at the happy hour crowd on a Wednesday afternoon, it wasn’t just college kids throwing back cheap shots of house vodka. It was older couples enjoying an early dinner. And friends catching up over a good meal and $3.50 pints of craft beer. It was a young kid in a suit, nervously searching for a professor he was meeting with. The Sink doesn’t just belong to college kids and tourists. Stop in for lunch or an early dinner most nights of the week, sign your name on the ceiling, and The Sink belongs to you.
For more info on the The Sink’s full menu and hours of operation, just click here.