Going strong as one of the most famous college hangouts in America, The Sink in Boulder has a story to tell—well, definitely more than one.
Sitting at The Sink is getting a real taste of Boulder, accepting and comfortable and energetic at its core. The funky, family-owned landmark is more than just a menu; it's a community hub for Hill frequents, a late-night hangout and makes a burger that you know will hit the spot every time. The iconic watering hole attracts students, fans, alums and Boulder residents alike and stands tall as the oldest restaurant in Boulder. As The Sink hits 100 years of business this year, Pixel Mill Studios filmed and produced a documentary that will bring the history of The Sink to life. All you have to do is read the writing on the walls.
Initially built as a Sigma Nu Fraternity house around 1900, The Sink was sold and opened as Summer’s Sunken Gardens in 1923. It featured a sunken fountain in the middle of the dining room, which quickly gave the establishment its nickname: “The Sink.” Under new ownership in 1949, the name became official, with the restaurant opening up in the basement of the original house. And from there began The Sink’s long journey into infamy. In regards to the idea of making a documentary, Mark Heinritz, owner of The Sink, wanted to pay homage to the way The Sink has stood the test of time and evolved with the city of Boulder.
“We wanted to capture the long and storied history of a place that has had such a big impact on the lives of so many people and survived so many societal changes,” says Mark.
The low ceilings and graffiti-covered walls create a welcoming, homey environment that invites you in and encourages you to stay. The walls are infamously scribbled with names of visitors, all the way from CU graduates to visiting celebrities (I’ll spare you the Obama visit story—I’m sure you’ve heard it) that want to make their mark. Much of the success of The Sink is undeniable because of its location in a heavily pedestrian district but also because of its physical nature.
“It’s just so unique,” says Mark. “Another one will never be built.”
But more than the spot, what makes a restaurant a success is its people. When I asked Mark how Boulder’s culture and its students have impacted the success of The Sink, I was answered with a simple: “It is the reason The Sink exists.”
“I think the movie will explain this in depth. Being 100 means that we have had generations of CU students. The legacy aspect is a driving force of the emotional attachment that so many people have to the Sink. There are families with four generations of members that have all hung out here when they were in school. It’s really cool to see.”
In many ways, The Sink is the perfect subject for a documentary film. It’s unique, it has a long history deeply rooted in its hometown and people from different places living different lives feel connected to it. Producer Bruce Borowsky of Boulder’s Pixel Mill Studios felt that this project was a great fit for just those reasons. The food is also pretty easy to rave about.
“I moved to Boulder in 1990, and it feels like the Sink hasn't changed a bit,” says Bruce. “We filmed interviews with the usual suspects, the owners, the staff, the customers, but where it got fun was hearing stories from regular people—couples that met there, couples that got engaged there—and here it is, decades later, and they had these wonderful stories to share with us.”
The plethora of stories that come with The Sink’s history brought the biggest challenge in the documentary-making process: how could you decide which stories to include and which to skip?
“We were hired to do a 10 to 15-minute video, so the final length of 30 minutes was a surprise to all of us—but there was just no way we could take out so many of the amazing stories that are in the finished film and do it justice,” says Bruce. “The owners of The Sink should be very proud of what they've helped to create; The Sink is truly a Boulder institution.”
Making this documentary also enabled the staff and people closest to the restaurant to learn more about The Sink’s long-standing run in Boulder.
“I knew quite a bit, but by getting the stories of people from different eras all together helped us fill in a lot of blanks,” says Mark. “I’m sure the movie could have gone on much longer but Bruce started pulling on a thread and ended up with a ball of yarn—he had to stop somewhere. But maybe we’ll get a Netflix series out of it,” Mark says with a smile. Anyone reading this have a Netflix connection?
As a CU grad myself, The Sink is ingrained in my college experience. Not just because I lived on the same street or because they have my favorite french fries in town but because of the relationships that were formed and friendships that flourished while sitting at that landmark. Congregating at the corner of 13th and Pennsylvania St., I always knew something fun was to follow. And it usually started with a really good burger.
The historical documentary premiered at Boulder Theatre on June 14. For more information, visit TheSink.com