YACOLT — When the oldest bar in Amboy closed last year, locals found the rural north county area quickly running out of places to kick back and grab some dinner and drinks.
Nick’s Bar & Grill shut down just before Christmas, two months after its owner, Jimmy Hill, lost his battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. The place had stayed in operation since 1951, and its closure left residents with only two remaining nearby hangouts: Timbers Saloon in Amboy, and the Red Fir, a tavern in Yacolt that opened in 1963.
Now the Red Fir’s owner, Dave Ayers, says he hopes to sell the business this year.
Ayers, 55, plans to retire, and he’s looking forward to spending lots of time fishing with his grandchildren in the coming years.
“I never even had a dream of owning a bar in my life,” he said. “But some things just happen. It has been a good thing.”
Several people have shown interest in buying the Red Fir, but not all of them want to continue running the place as a tavern, Ayers said. Some want to convert it into a full restaurant instead.
Michelle Millar, the real estate broker working on the sale, said she expects the tavern will sell in the next few months.
Jeff Strong, the owner of North County Hardware in Amboy, has witnessed several bars leaving town over the past few decades. He remembers a point before Mount St. Helens erupted when locals could choose from four bars in Amboy, two in Yacolt and the Fargher Lake Inn.
“When the mountain blew, everything kind of dried up around here,” he said. “It took out a lot of business.”
As the businesses closed their doors, some residents in the area began taking the longer trip out of town to socialize, and many others have just stopped going out altogether, Strong said.
“A lot of people, from what I’m hearing, are just choosing not to go,” he said. “I’ve talked to a lot of people who have just stayed home.”
Strong sees some local bars poised to make a comeback, though. He recently purchased Nick’s, hoping to reopen the business as soon as next month.
In the meantime, he’ll need to tidy up the building and do some minor maintenance work, but he plans to preserve its character. Through the years, Nick’s came to be a popular gathering place for locals and motorcyclists passing through town who wanted to make a pit stop.
“It’s important to me that it stay Nick’s,” he said. “It needs some love, but it needs to stay the same.”
The Fargher Lake Inn may reopen again soon, as well, Strong said. The business closed a few years ago, but a new owner recently took over the building and has been remodeling, with plans to lease the place.
Another closed bar, the Tall Man’s Saloon in Yacolt, also recently sold to a new owner, Mayor Jeff Carothers said. The business could reopen within a year, Carothers said.
The Red Fir recently saw a boost in business as many of the regular customers from Nick’s moved there, Ayers said. But it’s hard to say what would happen with the tavern as the local competition increases in the next couple years.
Ayers bought the Red Fir from its original owner, Betty Peterson, about eight years ago. He simply walked into the bar one night after a graveyard shift as a millwright, and Peterson surprised him with an offer.
“She asked me if I wanted to buy the bar, and she handed me a contract with my name on it,” he said. “That’s how I ended up owning the bar.”
Today, Peterson, 83, still joins a group of regulars at the Red Fir for breakfast every morning. They’ve watched the tavern undergo significant changes over the years, she said.
When Peterson ran the bar, she regularly hosted country-western bands, and only served beer and wine. Ayers expanded the drink menu with hard liquor, installed a pizza oven and partitioned off a portion of the seating area for family dining.
Now, it’s the only place to get fresh pizza in Yacolt, Ayers said. And several times a week every summer, dozens of customers file into the tavern to watch billiards tournaments.
Ayers suspects the Red Fir will remain a tavern, and Peterson hopes the next owner will make an effort to preserve the place.
“I’d like to see somebody get it that has interest in it and run it like I did, like Dave does,” she said.