Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Nov. 30, 2022

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Maestro shakes his last Manhattan in Camas

Birch Street Uptown Lounge has been sold, but its classy 1920s vibe remains

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Kevin Taylor banked on an influx of well-educated, high-income earners driving activity in downtown Camas when he opened Birch Street Uptown Lounge in 2010.
Kevin Taylor banked on an influx of well-educated, high-income earners driving activity in downtown Camas when he opened Birch Street Uptown Lounge in 2010. (Photos courtesy of Kevin Taylor) Photo Gallery

Cocktail aficionado Kevin Taylor recently sold Birch Street Uptown Lounge to the bar’s manager, Joe Corbett. Taylor opened his dimly lit, rose-strewn cocktail palace in 2010, pouring his love of cocktails into a place not known for late-night festivities — downtown Camas.

At that time, Taylor was a battalion chief for the Longview Fire Department. He worked 24-hour shifts there and used vacation time and days off to helm his cocktail bar. Although Camas wasn’t known for sophisticated late-night activity, Taylor thought that the influx of well-educated, high-income earners would draw people. He chose a historic property to give the place a vibe that fit his vision. It took months of stripping out the 1960s updates to get it back to its late-1920s look.

Taylor’s brother, who owned several cocktail bars, advised him to create a bar he would want to visit so he would feel good about going to work there. A dive bar or a sports bar didn’t appeal to Taylor. He wanted to create a sophisticated environment to serve classic cocktails.

Compiling the leather-bound menu took countless hours. Taylor searched through old sources like “The Savoy Cocktail Book” from 1930 because there’s a lot of false information on the internet. Events like Prohibition and the importing of vodka that began in the 1940s influenced these complex libations. He chose to use historic recipes along with fresh-squeezed juices instead of premade mixes.

“The great American cocktail comes from Prohibition,” Taylor said. “The quality of booze was bad, so they created these recipes to hide this. These drinks are much better now because we have good booze.”

Taylor’s drink of choice is the old Old-Fashioned that dates from 1871 and is made with rye, not the 1960s version made with bourbon.

It wasn’t just the drinks that drew people into this attractively lit night spot for the past decade.

“You sell an experience and a safe environment. People have to feel welcome. Birch Street always hit that well,” Taylor said. “It’s not just about the taste of the drink. It’s the lighting, the roses, the music. That experience draws every generation in.”

Over the years, the bar witnessed first dates and marriage proposals. Sometimes staff knew about these special events; other times they looked out and noticed someone on their knee at Table 4 proposing.

Taylor planned on retiring when he turned 62, but then COVID-19 hit, causing closures, reducing capacity and cutting into revenue. He decided to wait until the pandemic was over to think about selling, but it took much longer than he anticipated for normal business to return.

When business resumed, he listed the bar for sale and told his employees. Corbett, who left Roche Harbor in the San Juan Islands to work at Birch Street just before the pandemic, ending up buying the bar. He comes in with 40 years in the business.

After his retirement announcement, Taylor snuck in on a Saturday night with his brother.

“There’s a magic to this atmosphere. I really felt it the week before I retired,” he said.

Nonetheless, Taylor is looking forward to spending time with his three young grandchildren and doing something he never had time to do before — travel. He’ll visit Mazatlan for two weeks and tour Europe next spring. He looks forward to a break as well as plenty of great cocktails.

Rachel Pinsky:

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