We decide to pull off the highway in Rollinsville, hoping to grab a sandwich and something to drink. We are not sure about the tiny town at first. There’s an antique shop and a place called the Stage Stop. “Serving hicks, hippies and bikers since 1868,” says the sign atop the door. There are paintings on plywood on the walls and hardly anyone in the place.
We dare to go in to check out the lunch menu and are pleasantly surprised. Pulled pork and chicken salad sandwiches. Home made potato chips. Garden salads. We order and wonder about the place; ask the young waiter what it’s all about. Soon enough the owner shows up.
His name is Patrick Schuchard and for years, he taught art at the University of Washington in St. Louis. When he’d had enough, he and his wife, Carol Crouppen Schuchard, moved out here — this was where his father used to bring the family for vacations when he was growing up.
They live in a nearby town called Eldora but have a studio here. And the Stage Stop.
The building was originally the Toll Gate Barn for the Butterfield Stage Coach Company that ferried people across the continental divide through the Rollins Pass. Schuchard loved the civil war-era wooden building with its rough hewn post and beam timbers. He bought it, restored it and turned it into a cafe, bar and dance hall where artists like Judy Collins, Three Dog Night, Dave Matthews Band and others have graced the stage. This part of Colorado was hippie central once, Schuchard tells us.
Les the bartender stands before the old bar and tells us how the place was haunted. He has heard ghosts whispering.
Schuchard says two women once walked in and told him that many years ago their great uncle had hung himself in the basement of the building. Not a comforting feeling. But then again, the place was also a butcher shop in one of its many incarnations.
He shows us around the place, tells us of his dreams and ambitions for this unlikely establishment. He points to the oldest building in town, gives us history. Stephen Stills still has a house around here, Schuchard says.
He convinced a chef from a Boulder restaurant to come out here to cook. He wanted sophistication.
“We’re not trying to o nostalgia here.” he says. “I could have made it a very Western place. But I’m trying to make a peculiar brand of beauty.”
We are fascinated with the art on the walls and inquire about Schuchard’s work. Soon enough, we are inside the studio filled with his and his wife’s art. All of it seems surreal in this town, tucked away in the Rocky Mountains. I am glad we stopped.