Just six weeks after closing, downtown Boulder’s Ash’Kara restaurant reopened last weekend as a sports bar dubbed The Sophomore, launching just as bars whooped following the Colorado-Nebraska football game.
“That was fun timing to open a sports bar when CU is doing what CU is doing,” triumphing 36 to 14. “All of town was full,” said lead partner Josh Dinar, who co-owned Ash’Kara as well.
The Sophomore name translates roughly from Greek as “wise fool” and is a “nod to a second effort, it’s a more collegiate feel, plus I just liked the ring of it,” he said.
In its new incarnation, The Sophomore targets what Dinar sees as a hole in Boulder’s entertainment scene since the Lazy Dog, also on the Pearl Street Mall, closed in 2019. “Boulder has been missing a straight-up sports bar where you can relax and enjoy a game. It’s very different than the Lazy Dog, but it fills that void,” he said.
At Ash’Kara, Dinar focused on gourmet Middle Eastern cuisine. Now the West Pearl location has a livelier vibe aimed at a younger crowd and lower price-point, centered on sliders, burgers, craft cocktails and beer.
“We are definitely more accessible to a younger crowd,” Dinar said. “We want The Sophomore to be a comfortable place to gather and nibble as you go. There will be a rowdier, louder side on game days, but it will be quieter and more for families and after-work drinks” otherwise.
Dinar said The Sophomore was able to open so quickly because changes were mostly cosmetic, though extensive. “It’s amazing what you can do with some lipstick,” he remarked.
The biggest expense was a new sound system, but changes also incorporated painting, different lighting, new furnishings and 10 giant televisions.
The result is an “upscale tavern feel” that highlights CU with black and gold accents, Dinar said. The Sophomore has gold booths, and an entry with a “subtle feel” that patrons are walking through the Thunder Chute onto Folsom Field. It will soon have a wall with photos of local athletes as well.
In the basement is what Dinar calls a Whiskey Bacon Cave, with a low ceiling and a living room feel, offering brown spirits paired with pork — “two great tastes that taste great together.”
Dinar hopes his new concept will prove more popular long-term than Ash’Kara, which closed after two years partially due to the business impacts of Covid-19, troubles hiring and keeping staff, soaring costs of ingredients and industry-wide rising prices.
In its final months, however, there was also an unsuccessful attempt to unionize workers, and a complaint was filed with the National Labor Relations Board alleging unfair labor practices under federal law. The NLRB website lists the case related to the union petition as closed.
The case related to the labor law violation remains open. That complaint was filed by Ash K’ara workers who alleged they had their hours cut and were locked out of the restaurant’s scheduling software program after they started talking about forming a union. According to the NRLB website, the board has not reached a decision on the case. Depending on the outcome, it could require Ash’Kara to compensate workers for lost wages.
Some had questioned earlier whether these allegations played a role in the decision to close Ash K’ara. Co-owner Daniel Asher told Boulder Reporting Lab previously “there were definitely some challenges” regarding the scheduling technology but couldn’t comment on the complaint.
“We were very saddened by these allegations and having a breakdown in communication that led our front-of-house to go that route to resolution,” Asher said then.
The Sophomore, like Ash’Kara, is run under Dinar’s Working Title Food management group, which also operates Boulder’s River & Woods restaurant, Golden’s Tributary Food Hall, Ash’Kara in Denver and Barrio 75 in Ketchum, Idaho.
The partners this time are different, however. Dinar’s key partners in The Sophomore are his wife, Kate, who handles design, marketing and human relations, and Jeff Suskin of Denver’s Dining Out magazine. Asher is not involved.
Launching a new concept in the same location, though, is a new day for Dinar. “We are really excited to bring this to Boulder and we are excited about the energy here,” he said.