Boulder restaurant getting its share of celebrity patrons

Signatures from President Barack Obama and Food Network’s Guy Fieri are among those of many celebrities on display on the wall at The Sink restaurant in Boulder. Enlarge photo

Mark Leffingwell/The Daily Camera

Signatures from President Barack Obama and Food Network’s Guy Fieri are among those of many celebrities on display on the wall at The Sink restaurant in Boulder.

BOULDER (AP) – In the two decades that the Heinritz brothers have owned The Sink restaurant, the venerable eatery on Boulder’s University Hill has seen its share of high-profile patrons.

Former Sink employee-turned-actor Robert Redford stopped in on a couple of occasions.

Others who have dined underneath the snaking pipes and low ceilings and next to the twisted art include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, actor Dan Aykroyd, musician Dave Matthews and Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.

No visits were more beneficial to the Hill institution than stop-ins from “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and President Barack Obama.

The highly publicized appearances triggered boosts in traffic that helped propel a 25 percent increase in revenue and put the restaurant in the national limelight. Next spring, The Sink will play host to a VIP meet-and-greet for chefs and TV personalities Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert after their “Good vs. Evil” show at Macky Auditorium Concert Hall.

Bourdain’s and Ripert’s arrival will come in a year when The Sink will mark its 90th year in business – counting its early days as Summer’s Sunken Gardens and Herbie’s Deli – and the 21st year of ownership for the Heinritz brothers.

“We’ve stuck to our game plan of trying to bring great food to a college environment,” co-owner Mark Heinritz said. “It’s been really an honor to have people take notice.”

The Food Network show, now in reruns, and the Obama stop further broadened the demographic of people who already visit The Sink, Chris Heinritz said.

“They know The Sink and maybe haven’t thought about it in 20 years, so they hear it in the news cycle and think about the good times they had here,” he said.

To the Heinritzes, The Sink’s celebrity couldn’t be hitting at a better time.

Sales slumped in 2009 and 2010 because of the economic downturn. The pick-up also comes as city officials have floated the idea of instilling zoning and licensing regulations that could limit alcohol sales and late-night hours.

Heinritz and his brother, Chris, say they also hope The Sink’s good fortune could ripple out to the neighboring commercial district of the Hill area, which has long been a target for possible revitalization efforts and recently came under greater scrutiny by city officials looking to curb alcohol abuse.

“If the Hill can get the positive recognition The Sink has gotten, it would be a different place,” Mark Heinritz said.

In August, the Boulder City Council heard a presentation about possible land-use code changes that included suggestions from Boulder’s liquor board such as granting only new beer-and-wine licenses, instituting a 500-foot alcohol-free buffer around the University of Colorado and limiting late-night hours.

In addition to seeking research about the topic, the city also sought public comment through a stakeholder group and surveys, which were available until 5 p.m. Friday. City officials have received more than 2,000 responses, City Planner Karl Guiler said.

The public feedback and other research are expected to go before the City Council in the first quarter of 2013, he said.

“It’s a complicated issue, and it’s gonna be a balancing of issues no matter what happens,” he said. “We understand they have concerns. ... It’s something that’s always in the back of our mind as we move forward.”

Mark Heinritz, who serves on the stakeholder group associated with the proposed changes, said his hope is for the Boulder City Council to “reverse” its course and focus on prioritizing grass-roots efforts to revitalize the district and support actions such as providing incentives to new businesses.

“It’s just mindset; people can change their minds,” he said. “I’m hopeful that someday that’ll be true.”