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Neighborhood Gives Birch Coffee Warm Welcome After Long Wait

By Emily Frost | May 1, 2013 7:04am

UPPER WEST SIDE — Moms with strollers, teachers from a neighboring school and local retirees ordered mid-morning pick-me-ups at the new Birch Coffee, which opened its doors for the first time Tuesday morning on Columbus Avenue.

The long-awaited cafe between West 96th and West 97th streets launched with just its specially roasted coffee and a selection of pastries from Balthazar, This Chick Bakes and Danny Macaroons.

But in a week, owners Paul Schlader and Jeremy Lyman will roll out breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch menus, orchestrated by Chef Jehangir Mehta, of Iron Chef fame. 

Simple white plates will hold the almost entirely vegetarian fare — from Humboldt Fog pizza to chipotle asparagus potato stem buns to caviar toast — and most of it will be easy to share, Lyman said. 

This week Birch Coffee will only be open until 6 p.m., but the following week the owners expect to have their liquor license in hand and will serve six beers on draught and 20 in bottles, along with two red wines and two white wines and stay open until 11 p.m., Lyman said.

"The focus is on beer," said Lyman, who said he spent the last 24 hours before the opening at the shop, working on finishing touches.

"We are big boot-strappers. We do what needs to get done," he said. "We cut wood and build shelves."

The shelves, empty for now, will hold a lending library, a cornerstone of Birch Coffee's other two locations, in the Flatiron District and the West Village. Neighbors are encouraged to bring in their favorite old books, both for adults and kids. 

The decor is illuminated by large, almost floor-to-ceiling windows, and a metal grid across the ceiling is covered in lights and antique looking exposed light bulbs. 

"It's modern and very clean. There's a classy element to it," Lyman said of the shop, which mixes bright and brassy copper surfaces with dark walnut tables and flooring. 

Though the duo have two other stores, the launch of the Upper West Side location is a big step forward. 

"My mom was here this morning and she was crying," Lyman said.

Michael Schwirtz, 32, a writer and lives nearby, thought Birch was "a long time coming...I've been peering in the window for months."

"[The neighborhood] is lacking in coffee shops," he added. "There seems to be a drought — there aren't even that many Starbucks."

A few people tapped quietly on their laptops, but Schlader and Lyman have said they don't want the shop to be taken over by computers. They've placed the outlets in a section toward the back. 

Still, Schwirtz, who said he works from home sometimes, said he saw it as "a place to escape" when he wanted to get out of the house. He lingered over an espresso at a table near the windows before heading out.

Real estate agent Ruth Shnay lives nearby and ducked in the doors cupping an iced Starbucks beverage, but said next time she'd try Birch Coffee instead.

"I think [Birch Coffee] is going to benefit the community," she said. "It's really nice. It will catapult the neighborhood."