I just recently learned about the town of Rollinsville, despite it being a not-so-well-kept secret among Boulder and Denver day trippers. Nestled in the mountains about an hour northwest of Denver, or 35 minutes west of Boulder, the small town is a common stop for outdoor enthusiasts. A friend of mine has a family cabin there, and we stopped en route to Frozen Dead Guy Days in Nederland, which, if you don't know, is a true Colorado cultural experience. But before all that, it was off to Rollinsville on a Friday night, and a stop at the only bar in town, the storied Stage Stop.
The town of Rollinsville is little more than a wide spot in the road, with not much to it beyond the Stage Stop at 60 Main Street and a few other businesses, including a post office and a mechanic. The bar was originally a toll stop for stagecoaches from the Butterfield Stage Coach Company back in the day, and by that I mean 1868, when the building was constructed. Since Colorado didn't become a state until 1876, locals are speaking the truth when they say that the building is older than Colorado. Rollinsville was roaring in the 1920s, with three saloons, a dance hall and a pool hall. At that time, the Stage Stop building actually held a barber shop, and it has also been a grocery store and boardinghouse. A wildfire that tore through the area in 1950 destroyed most of the town, but the Stage Stop was one of the few original structures spared. The building became the Stage Stop Tavern in 1962 and has been a bar in some iteration ever since. The most recent change in ownership was when Heather Hatwan took over the place in 2013.
The old building has clearly been kept up and renovated over the years, but it still retains a Colorado pioneer charm. There are even massive wooden wheels hanging from the ceiling that were once part of a pulley system to haul silver out of mines in the nearby hills. So with all that history in the building's bones, I knew there had to be some ghost stories, one of my favorite things about historic Colorado bars. Our bartender told me all about the ghosts, explaining that the most well-known apparitions here are a young lady and a cowboy by the name of Tom. Once, a little girl was eating at the bar with her family and said she'd met a man named Tom wearing a cowboy hat. No one else was in the bar at the time, and no one had told her anything about the spirit of Tom.
Upstairs, along with a second bar, a stage, a dance floor and a wraparound patio, there seems to be frequent activity from the seemingly friendly spirits of the Stage Stop, some of whom may have even been captured on video. The bartender showed me footage she recorded on her phone from the bar security camera, which captured three bright orbs of light as they passed by the camera and out of sight. As a person who watches her fair share of ghost-hunting shows, I was pretty impressed by the quality of the video, which would fit right in with any professional ghost investigator's archives.
Apart from the ghosts, who didn't come out during our visit, there was plenty to see at the bar. The bright, inviting interior is filled with interesting artwork and signs, including one that says "Stage Stop, 1868, Meet Your Best Friend." With Rollinsville being so small, everyone in the place seemed to be meeting their best friends.
We were seated at one of the high-top tables covered in plastic tablecloths near the entrance of the main bar area, a brightly lit room with a few TVs and a beautiful old mahogany back bar that I learned came from Missouri by way of Leadville and Breckenridge. There were quite a few people chatting at the bar; Frozen Dead Guy Days is traditionally a busy time for the Stage Stop. The clientele was mostly made up of mountain people without the designer wardrobes so common in more expensive ski towns; they simply have no need to try to impress each other here. An apt sign above the bar reads, "Serving hicks, hippies, and bikers since 1868."
We got a round of beers from the varied selection, which included the usual suspects on draft, but with several craft-beer options as well. Food was in order too, and it came out quickly. I enjoyed a veggie "sammich," as it is listed on the menu — thoroughly messy, cheesy and tasty. All around, the sandwiches and fries hit the spot after our drive up the canyon. The menu includes burgers and pizza as well as more elaborate meals like pork chops and steaks. The food selection was more upscale than I expected and had more veggie options than average, with a little something for Boulder foodies and mountain cowboys alike. The place is even rented out as a wedding venue, serving fancier food for special events.
The friend who introduced us to the bar said that bands often play at the Stage Stop. There wasn't a show that night, but a band was slated for Saturday, the biggest night in Rollinsville for overflow coming from the festivities in Nederland. To keep the Frozen Dead Guy Days theme going, the bar even hosts a salmon toss, wherein contestants try to throw a whole fifteen-pound frozen salmon as far as possible. This year's winner threw the fish 47 feet for the prize of a Stage Stop gift certificate, according to the local newspaper, the Weekly Register-Call.
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All year ’round, even when the salmon aren't flying, music history is a big deal at the Stage Stop, mainly because of the famed Caribou Ranch recording studio, which drew musicians to the area from 1972 to 1985, when it was irreparably damaged by a fire. Bands like the Beach Boys, Chicago and Supertramp played Rollinsville in the ’70s, and more recently, the Dave Matthews Band, Yonder Mountain String Band and the String Cheese Incident have graced the Stage Stop's stage. Joe Walsh also played here and even worked behind the bar for a short time.
These days, bands that play at the Stage Stop can record their performances with recently added recording equipment. Occasional karaoke Thursdays mean you can relive history and belt out tunes from the Caribou Ranch's heyday. Other special nights include Service Industry Sunday, with 15 percent discounts for service-industry employees, and a daily happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m., with free pool, $1 off wells, wines and drafts, and 75-cent wings, among other food specials.
But it's not just during happy hour that tourists, locals, people from Boulder, Denver and farther afield stop in to check out the place and grab a bite to eat or a pint of beer. Food, drinks, ghosts, live music, salmon-tossing: it's all there for you at the Stage Stop. You might even meet your best friend.