EVANSTON — A 71-year-old log building sits outside Evanston on the old service road going east. To many old-timers the place is an icon of fond memories. A first-time visitor might find it intriguing enough to want to learn more about its history and the gray-haired man behind the bar.
Built in 1947, it was called Shobe’s Country Club. Several years later, Shobe sold the business to a man named Joe Hill, who ran the club until 1950, when Elmer (Pete) Peters and his wife Nikki bought the building and renamed it Pete’s Roc n Rye.
For 18 years Pete’s was a popular gathering place for dancing and drinking. As a teenage bride, I had my first alcoholic drink at Pete’s on New Year’s Eve. Pete ignored the ages of his clientele unless they drank too much or caused a ruckus.
His wife, Nikki, was a friendly and lovely barmaid for her husband who stood behind the bar and mixed the drinks. The old jukeboxes on the bar allowed customers to play their favorite tunes, and the large open-floor space was great for swing dancing and in later years doing the twist.
Stan Taggart, who grew up in Weber Canyon near Morgan, Utah, inherited a beer bar when his stepfather passed away. At 19 years of age, Stan said that he had the time of his life running that bar.
“You never knew who was going to come in the door,” he said.
Stan also worked for 10 years in the missile business at the Hercules plant in Utah and became “burned out” on that kind of work. He started hanging out at Pete’s place on weekends and in 1968, when Pete wanted to retire, Stan bought the place.
Half of the log structure is Stan’s home, and when he and Althea were married, they raised four children there. Later he was married to Martha and they raised two more children in that home. Today he lives alone, heats only with wood and opens the bar on weekends … but only when he feels like it. Stan is the epitome of a reclusive intellectual.
Pete’s Roc n Rye has special memories for me since I worked as a barmaid for Stan during the summer of 1969. I was a single parent with four children. This job was in addition to a daytime job, as supporting my family wasn’t easy.
Stan’s wife, Althea, no longer needing to help in the bar, agreed to let me bring my children to stay with her in their house and play with their children. Formal child care was not available in that time period and finding one for night-time hours was impossible, so the Taggarts’ understanding meant a lot to me. I remain friends with both of them and their families to this day.
Oct. 31 will mark the 50th year that Pete’s Roc n Rye has been Stan’s place. Over those 50 years, the building has evolved into a museum of sorts. People who stop by and visit with Stan often leave feeling like they have visited a piece of the past. Stan’s place is filled with memorabilia given to him by ardent fans of what this old log building and the person behind the bar represent for them.
The juke boxes on the bar have been removed but the large one in the corner still plays with quarters from customers. The only changes to the structure of the building are when the entrance on the south end was moved to the middle of the building.
A well-built log structure like Pete’s can withstand the test of time, and it has. It could be on the National Historic Register someday. The artifacts and art that people have given to Stan that decorate every wall in the bar qualify Pete’s to be a Western museum. There are Charley Russell paintings, local artists’ works, famous people’s photographs, and the men’s and women’s bathroom walls are lined with photos taken by Richard Avedon.
Stan has also withstood the test of time. For 50 years, he has sat on the stool behind the bar, waiting for a customer to ask for a drink, and secretly hoping that not too many people will venture in to disturb his solitude.
Some may call him an ornery old codger, but to those who have the honor of calling him “friend,” Stan offers great insight and intellectual stimulation. In a fast-changing and troubled world, sometimes people need something that remains the same. Pete’s Roc n Rye and Stan Taggart are that constant for some.
Stan calls himself a lonely liberal in a predominantly conservative state, but he can find a common bond with almost anyone who sits at his bar. He is an avid reader, a lover of music, and a great listener, though his hearing suffers today. Stan will be 85 years old in February, older than the building he calls home. Yet this senior citizen runs over the hills behind Pete’s every morning at dawn, regardless of weather.
Stan’s natural father died of a heart attack at age 37, when Stan was barely 10 years old, which probably contributed to his being a runner and personally abstaining from alcohol.
When asked what his plans for retirement are he responded with Paul Simon’s words, “My name is Stan and I have no plans.”
After half a century, Stan Taggart and Pete’s Roc n Rye have the distinction of being part of one of the longest lasting icons of early Evanston. Somewhat physically hidden off the old service road, parallel to Interstate 80, most newcomers don’t even know the old log building is there. Trees and foliage camouflage the structure where it sits at the end of a short bumpy dirt road, near many industrial buildings, and in front of the road to the county jail.
For someone who is not a world traveler, and says that his world ends at the Evanston city limits, Stan is more knowledgeable about world affairs, history, books, music and life in general than most formally educated people.
If you stop in to Pete’s for a drink or just to check out the place and it is a quiet night you may be privileged to engage Stan in conversation and leave feeling refreshed and enlightened.