Herb Kauvar helped define Boulder’s burgeoning music scene, was a friend and father figure to generations of University of Colorado Boulder students and owned venues that served as launch pads for internationally renowned musicians.
Kauvar, a longtime Boulder resident and former owner and manager of The Sink and Tulagi, died Oct. 24 at his home. He was 93.
Friends, family and former colleagues described Kauvar as a Boulder icon, responsible for steering The Sink through the turbulent 1960s, employing then-University of Colorado Boulder student Robert Redford as a janitor, and later revitalizing the bar at the urging of his sons, Rick and Jim, in the 1980s.
“Herb contributed to the college experience of a lot of students,” said Chic Williams, who worked for Kauvar in the 1960s. “I knew many students and people who worked there came back to visit Herb because he had done a lot for them. He’s pretty much an icon.”
Kauvar began managing The Sink at the urging of his relatives, Monroe and Floyd Marks. Once Floyd Marks became district attorney in Adams County and wasn’t allowed to have a liquor license in his name, Herb Kauvar took over ownership, according to Rick Kauvar.
The Sink and Tulagi were known for selling record-setting quantities of 3.2 beer in an otherwise-dry Boulder, and Herb Kauvar worked with then-manager Chuck Morris to bring in acts such as The Eagles, Bonnie Raitt, ZZ Top and Flash Cadillac and The Continental Kids. Morris would continue to shape Colorado’s music scene, eventually becoming president of AEG Presents Rocky Mountains.
Herb Kauvar established a check-cashing policy so anyone with a CU Boulder ID card could cash a check up to $5 at the bar, Williams said. And if they stuck around for a 25 cent bottle of 3.2 Coors, so much the better.
“He sort of flowed with the times,” Rick Kauvar said. “To actually run The Sink in the ’60s was sort of a balancing act, because it was a tumultuous time in the world with the Vietnam War and veterans starting to come back after being discharged.”
Rick Kauvar recalled a riot on University Hill in the early 1970s, when Vietnam veterans clashed with farmers from Longmont.
“You had the clashing of civilization in those years, and The Sink was right in the middle of that,” he said.
As a CU Boulder student, Colorado Music Experience Executive Director G. Brown went to see Randy Newman play at Tulagi and asked Herb Kauvar whether he could write press releases for the venue.
“He said I could write press releases, but he really needed a bartender,” Brown said, laughing.
Brown started serving pitchers of 3.2 beer and making popcorn and quickly found himself adopted into the Kauvar family.
“His integrity, his work ethic, all of those things had a huge influence on me,” Brown said.
Brown remembers that Herb Kauvar was perpetually parking in the loading zone in front of Tulagi, racking up hundreds of tickets.
“One afternoon he was outside on the curb in a shouting match with the parking meter guy and I turned to another guy working there and said, ‘Grab a chair.’ We ran out and asked Herb if he wanted the chairs in the trunk or back, and he said, ‘See? We’re loading!’”
Herb Kauvar had a huge heart, Brown said, and was known for being a light to his young patrons.
“Running nightclubs can be a tough business, but I never saw that dark side of it. He was always about caring for the students and the kids, giving them a safe place to hang out, enjoy music and have a glass,” Brown said. “He was just the best.”
The Sink went dormant, adopting the name Herbie’s Deli in the 1970s and 80s, until Rick and Jim Kauvar urged their father to bring back the beloved bar. Herb Kauvar was concerned no one would remember it, Rick Kauvar said. After restoring The Sink to its former glory, Rick and Jim Kauvar owned and managed it until 1992, when they sold it.
“Herb had such a huge impact on Boulder’s music scene, and between he and Chuck Morris they kind of unwittingly launched this force of music that helped define Boulder’s arts and music culture,” said current owner Mark Heinritz. “It’s such a unique part of Boulder. It’s the oldest restaurant, it’s got vibrancy, and being a part of the university experience brings a lot of energy. So many millions of memories live here, and it’s really quite an honor to be a part of it.”
A celebration of life will be scheduled at a later date, and Brown said he will debut a podcast he recorded with Herb Kauvar over the summer, chronicling Boulder’s music history in Kauvar’s own words.