Sunteți pe pagina 1din 19

Kieran Bonner

A Fry-up and an Espresso:

Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
In November, 2004, the famed Bewleys Oriental Cafs of Dublin shut their
operations on Grafton and Westmoreland Streets. The news generated an
intense response in the national media regarding the loss of an icon that dened
the city, the loss of a storied place that marked many epochal changes in Dublin
and Ireland, and the loss of what, for many Dubliners, was a home away from
home. Dubliners are in shock, reported David McKittrick in The Independent.
McKittrick continued,
The demise of the cafs has produced waves of nostalgia for a business which
stretches back more than a century, and waves of regret that affluence and eco-
nomic advance should mean the loss of such venerable institutions. . . . The
irony, he goes on to say, is that the cafs, famous for their tea and coffee, should
go under amid an international boom in the demand for coffee.
In the background of all of these perceived losses was a larger concern regarding
the dramatic changes Ireland had undergone in recent years. Many newspaper
reports, including McKittricks, began with the tag line, Its the end of an era.
As an indicator of the hold these cafs had on Dubliners, Dublin city coun-
cilor Charlie Ardagh called on the State to rescue the Bewley cafs as bona de
historical institutions that are part of Dublins soul.
In announcing the deci-
sion, even Bewleys owner Patrick Campbell said, Its like part of Dublin
new hibernia review / iris ireannach nua, 11:3 (autumn / fmhar, 2007), 927
1. David McKittrick, A Little Bit of Dublin Dies as Cafs Used by Joyce and Behan Close, Inde-
pendent, 10 November 2004, p. 28. I wish to thank several people who helped in the genesis of this
article: the Social Science and Research Council of Canada for funding research visits; Danine Far-
quharson, who invited me to give a keynote address on this topic at the Canadian Association for
Irish Studies; my students Irene Lambraki and Jacquie Sturm, whose own work on Bewleys helped
in the development of this paper; Carolyn Dirks, of St. Jeromes University Library who researched
much of the newspaper material and provided editorial aid; and my wife, Margaret OShea Bonner,
who came up with the title, patiently listened, and was an able interlocutor as I struggled with the
various and sometimes conicting voices in this debate.
2. Nicola Anderson, Customers Bid Their Farewells to 110 Years of Caf Society, Irish Indepen-
dent, 30 October 2004.
In this, he echoed the description of the coffee shops then found on the
web site of the Campbell Bewley Group (the corporation that owned the shops):
The Irish poet Brendan Kennelly once described Bewleys Caf in Grafton Street
as the heart and the hearth of Dublin. Dublin, he said, would not be Dublin
without Bewleys. These sentiments have been echoed by generations of Irish
people since Joshua Bewley rst introduced tea to the Irish public in 1835. Bew-
leys is a name synonymous in the history of Dublin and more recently of Ireland
as a whole. Bewleys itself has a rich history of growth and survival which has
proved it to be one of the last bastions of tradition in a changing Ireland.
In having to close one of the last bastions of tradition, the Campbell Bewley
Group admitted that a changing Ireland actually brought about the demise of
this particular bastion; in a sense, the group had to eat its own words. And
Dubliners were no longer going to be able to eat any of Bewleys famous cakes
or barmbracks.
The Grafton Street premises have since reopened, much to the relief and cel-
ebration of many. But a question remains: What does the name Bewleys mean
now? And what does it mean to say that it has been saved? A letter to the Irish
Times offered this stern evaluation:
The idea that Bewleys has been saved (Magazine, August 27th) is quite mis-
leading. Jay Bourke and his associates have, thankfully, preserved the internal
physical architecture that housed Bewleys Caf of Grafton Street. However the
large caf itself, which was the essence of what Bewleys was about, is complete-
ly gone. It has been replaced by two restaurants and a tiny area for coffee-only
customers. Bewleys is no more, it has not been saved.
The concerns expressed over Bewleys closure, and its reopeningconcerns
that were often framed as an ethical collision over the question of the identity
of Dublin, the meaning of the loss of a city icon, and the meaning of the culture
of Dublin itselflend themselves well to the reexive method of radical inter-
pretive inquiry.
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
3. McKittrick, A Little Bit of Dublin Dies.
4. This material was deleted from the web site in 2005.
5. Peter Brown, Letters, Irish Times, 30 August 2005.
6. The reexive method can be described as a dialectical examination of interpretations (e.g.,
regarding the closure of Bewleys), an examination that also seeks to comprehend the way it com-
prehends its subject matter. For applications of this method to Dublin, see: Kieran Bonner, A Col-
laborative Essay on the Story of Dublin: The Vitality of an Old Place in New Times, Canadian Jour-
nal of Irish Studies 30, 2 (Fall, 2004), 10; Kieran Bonner, A Great Place to Raise Kids: Interpretation,
Science and the Urban-Rural Debate (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1999), especially
pp. 310, 7182, 14250, 197200.
One way to make sense of the closure of Bewleys and of associated changes to
Dublin is to draw on the work such globalization theorists as David Harvey,
Saskia Sassen, and Manuel Castells regarding the new political economy of the
city. For Harvey, the circulation of capital restlessly and perpetually seeking
new ways to garner prots can explain this development.
The Campbell Bew-
ley Group was actually making prots; it was the individual cafs that were los-
ing money. Since 1996, despite an investment of a12 million, the famed shops
accumulated losses of more than a4 million. They lost money because of the
astronomical rise in rents in Dublins center, the changing and quicker pace of
consumption patterns accompanying the new affluence, and the arrival of
multinational rivals like Starbucks.
This news led Jerome Reilly to say,
Grafton Street could just as well be in London, New York or Milanthe same
shops and the same commercial imperatives of the new designer culture. . . .
Some might argue the sky-high rents now being charged for Grafton Street is
heartening evidence of the strength of the Irish economy. But the loss of Bewleys
and other intrinsically Irish businesses to be replaced by impersonal global
brands will be felt like the death of an old friend.
From this perspective, the culture of Dublin is only an epiphenomenon: the
real force is economics, understood as separate from culture. The globalized
Grafton Street only makes that force more apparent. This view sees Dublin as
not so much a discrete entity as a spatial concentration of the products of
advanced capitalism. The cosmopolitanization of Dublin, in turn, does not
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
7. David Harvey, The Condition of PostModernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), p. 107. He later
observes that As spatial barriers diminish, we become much more sensitized to what the worlds
spaces contain. Flexible accumulation typically exploits a wide range of seemingly contingent geo-
graphical circumstances, and reconstitutes them as structured internal elements of its own encom-
passing logic. . . . The need for accurate information and speedy communication has emphasized
the role of the so-calledworld cities in the nancial and corporate system. . . . [As a consequence]
the whole worlds cuisine is now assembled in one place in almost exactly the same way that the
worlds geographical complexity is nightly reduced to a series of images on a static television
screen.The general implication is that through the experience of everything from food, to culi-
nary habits, music, television, entertainment, and cinema, it is now possible to experience the
worlds geography vicariously, as a simulacrum. Harvey, pp. 294300.
8. Costs soared with Grafton Street named as the fth most expensive shopping street in the
world behind Fifth Avenue in New York, Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, Londons Oxford Street and
the Champs Elyses. With annual rents of 3,300 Euro per square metre, Irish concerns have increas-
ingly been replaced by UK and international ones. McKittrick, A Little Bit of Dublin Dies. See
also Angela Frewin, Bewleys Bow out of Dublin after Losses, Caterer & Hotelkeeper 193, 4348
(2004), 10.
9. Jerome Reilly, BewleysPart of What We Were, Irish Independent, 31 October 2004.
denote the development of an urbane complexity and richness, but rather, a
homogeneous world of consumer capitalism shaped by commercial impera-
tives of the new designer culture.
Mervyn Horgan sees the same forces, but understands them as making pos-
sible a positive development, helping Dublin escape a narrow parochialism.
Dublin he says approvingly, has been to the fore in embracing a European
identity, visitors express surprise at its worldliness and enchantment with its
cosmopolitan feel.
Dublin is less a combination of local and international
forces forcing a unique blend and now more completely and generically cos-
The Bewleys story has much to tell us about global ows, yet it also leaves
us wondering if such an analysis fully responds to the complexities involved in
the contemporary culture of Dublin. In some analyses, economics alone can
explain the changes in urban life: in Transnational Urbanism, Michael Smith
observes that the people inhabiting the city are not historical agents but sub-
jects who are pushed, squeezed, penetrated and conditioned by capital accu-
mulation and manufactured desire.
Dubliners, in this sense, are not people
who are making choices in a complex situation. Rather, the choices of Dublin-
ers and the culture that these choices in global cities reveal have been rendered
An alternative to such reductiveness is the Culture of Cities approach that
is being fostered at several Canadian universities. This approach aspires to treat
[the culture of the city] as a distinction that exercises in varying ways a vital
force in the lives of people.
Blum sees the city and its culture as a mobile phe-
nomenon that both constrains and fertilizes a dense and richly layered land-
scape of interpretation and action concerning the meaning and value of col-
lective practices.
The landscape of interpretation surrounding the news of
the closure of Bewleys provides questioners an opportunity to tap into the cre-
ativity of social practices in accord with our focus on culture and its link to the
particular and unique character of the city.
Bewleys serves as a case study
enabling us to address the ephemera of city life that, in Alan Blums words,
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
10. Mervyn Horgan, Anti-Urbanism as a Way of Life: Disdain for Dublin in the Nationalist Imag-
inary, Canadian Journal of Irish Studies 30, 2 (Fall, 2004), 44. See Bonner, A Collaborative Essay on
the Story of Dublin, 1516 for a more dialectical analysis of Horgans thesis.
11. Michael P. Smith, Transnational Urbanism: Locating Globalization (Malden, MA: Blackwell,
2000), p. 27.
12. Alan Blum, The Imaginative Structure of the City (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press,
2003), p. 14. For more information on the Culture of Cities project, including publications, see .
13. Blum, p. 294.
14. Blum, p. 22.
give rise to resolute interpretations and actions that upon serious questioning dis-
close traces of collective anxiety over indeterminacy and its uncanny persistence
as a problem to be solved, the problem of how to be resolute in the face of the
irresolute. . . . The imaginative structure of the city [then], makes reference . . . to
the collective anxiety aroused by the power and mutual and reciprocal relevance
of place to life and the impossible need to calculate answers to such questions.
Blum goes on to observe that Dublin is undergoing
the intensication of urban change [that] creates the continuous need to resolve
the ambiguity of distinctions between the new and the old, the near and the far,
space and place, urbanization and urbanity, fragmentation and participation. . . .
The city is the place where (and it is a place because) the end of collective life is
taken up as a question releasing experimentation and resistance, conict and
The Culture of Cities project takes the approach of examining the interpreta-
tions that circulate, both formally and informally, about such events as
Bewleys closure, reviewing them not as arguments to rebut but as a conver-
sation of speakers, views and standpoints made to constitute a discourse. . . .
Arguments, policies and interpretations over slight indications reveal impor-
tant matters to the discerning eye of inquiry but only if taken up as invitations
for questioning.
That is to say, the urry of interpretations over the closing of Bewleys is
reconstituted in a dialectical conversation to bring to the surface the particular
ambiguity that is the culture of Dublin. Articulating the ambiguity of the cul-
ture of Dublin may also demonstrate the power of dialectical analysis to access
the particularbut particularly indeterminatenature of culture in general,
and of the culture of Dublin specically.
Blums examination of a restaurant review in the Irish Times titled Where
the Mixed Grill is King exemplied the approach of the project. This review
humorously observed the change in Dublins eating establishments:
Wander into almost any caf in Dublin and you could be forgiven for thinking
you have been transported to Italy, France or the US. Gone are the days when you
couldnt nd a cup of decent coffee or a salad, which didnt include coleslaw.
Fancy a cappuccino and ciabatta? An espresso and panini? Or an Americano and
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
15. Blum. p. 12.
16. Blum, pp. 29498.
17. Blum, p. 15.
18. Dialectical inquiry seeks to expose tensions and contradictions in the object being understood
in order to make possible a reversal of consciousness that leads to a resolution, a resolution that is
not formal or legalistic but is, rather, an experience that changes the knower and the object of
knowledgeor to put it another way, where the grasp of reality is enlarged.
an organic wrap? Easy . . . [but] before becoming European we were Irishand
there are times when all the lollo rosso and balsamic vinegar in the world wont
cheer us up. We need the food of our childhood. The sad news is, its only just
possible to nd a caf that hasnt been gentried, cappuccino-ed or complete-
ly reconstructed.
Blum concludes, Dublin is ghting for its life, ghting to sustain sites of
biographic fertility both for its movers and shakers who come and go and for its
loyal sedentary population for whom this movement is an abstract spectacle.
Indeed, the emotional and mental well being of all Dubliners is at stake, for
those who need and desire to make Dublin into a place that is both modern and
traditional, both extraordinary and ordinary.
This ght for its life, latent in
the restaurant review, became a full public spectacle with the news of the clos-
ing of Bewleys.
In other words, it seems you cant have your fry-up and an espresso too.
Bewleys closed in a country transformed by an economic boom. Though the
fabled Celtic Tiger has boosted the Irish economy as a whole, there is a prevail-
ing viewthat Dublin is its engine. This transformation in Irelands sociocultural
situation has been extensively described elsewhere, but, to give a few indications
twenty years ago Ireland was a country where unemployment was 17 percent;
ination was at 15 percent; some forty-four thousand people were leaving Ire-
land every year; the national debt was dangerously high and its repayment was
consuming a large amount of the tax dollars of those lucky enough to nd
Flash forward to 2005, Ireland created 56,000 new jobs, and its unem-
ployment rate was 4.3 percent, the lowest in the European Union. Ironically, Ire-
land now depends on immigration, mainly from Eastern Europe.
Real income
per person in Ireland is the fourth highest in the world20 percent higher than
in Britain. The particularly contemporary nature of this growth is shown in the
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
19. Sarah Marriott, Where the Mixed Grill is King, Irish Times, 4 March 2000, p. 73.
20. Blum, pp. 12533.
21. See, for instance, Bonner, A Collaborative Essay 11.
22. Some parts of the economy, such as health, catering and agriculture, could not survive at their
present frenetic activity without immigration, mainly from Eastern Europe, which is running at
50,000. One sign of this dependence on immigrant labor is that one Dublin paper now prints a Pol-
ish supplement. Another sign is the Ryan Air ights to Kaunas, Krakow and Lodz. . . . (Brian
Feeney, The Emerald Isle Strikes Gold, The Tablet 260, no. 8630 (2006): 18.) Anecdotal evidence
abounds: during my visit to Dublin in December 2005, a Polish person once asked my uncle who
lives in Dublin once where he could get the bus to Warsaw. My uncle thought this was a joke until
he discovered that there is a bus that leaves from Dublin, goes on to London, and then to Warsaw
every week.
choices of high-tech companies like Intel, Apple, Oracle, and Google, which
have all located their European headquarters in Ireland. In the case of Google
it was a direct choice between London and Dublin. Dublin won. A quarter of
Europes computers are made in Ireland.
Ireland, therefore, as one of the most
successful economies in the world, has invited the world (immigrants, world-
class technology, and also pharmaceutical companies) into its midst. The Lone-
ly Planet travel guide remarks on Dublins new multiculturalism:
Walk into any caf and youre as likely to hear an Aussie, American-Chinese,
Spanish, or Italian accent, as you are the distinctive drawl of a Dubliner. Dublin-
ers still cant believe it but theyre happy the choice of food and coffee has
Dublin is becoming a cosmopolitan city. The story of Bewleys is, thus, also
the story of Dublins struggle with cosmopolitanism and all that this includes in
terms of the end of an era and the gains of the present. In becoming more cos-
mopolitan, the city has become less familiar to its longtime residents. The clos-
ing of Bewleys generated a ood of interpretations in the press, in the talk on
the street,and in academic discourse. These interpretations are attempts to pro-
vide a resolute answer to an impossible needthe need to calculate answers to
the question of what all this change means.
But if the Lonely Planet is correct that Dubliners are happy that the choice
of food and coffee has improved, then why the uproar over the closure of Bew-
leys? Hugh Oram, writing in the Irish Times, noted the cafs imbrication into
the citys distinctive history:
Bewleys cafs are imbued with rich layers of nostalgia and the scents of coffee
and sticky buns. For the past 164 years they have been an integral part of Dublin
life, but no longer. At one time or another, many literary and artistic gures fre-
quented Bewleys, from James Joyce to Patrick Kavanagh to Mary Lavin. Many
theatrical people such as Cyril Cusack and Noel Purcell were taken with the
extravagant old-fashioned decor of Bewleys. Purcell was renowned for singing
the Dublin Saunter, composed by Leo Maguire, which encapsulated the spirit of
both old Dublin and Bewleys. Many historical events in Dublin over the past
century and a half have had a connection with Bewleys. Just over 30 years ago,
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
23. Feeney, p. 18. Thomas L. Friedmans inuential The World is Flat observes, One of the best
examples of a country that has made a huge leap forward is Ireland.Today, nine of the worlds top
ten pharmaceutical companies have operations in Ireland, as do sixteen of the top twenty medical
companies and seven of the top ten software rms. In 2004, Ireland got more foreign direct invest-
ment fromAmerica than China got from America, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twen-
ty-First Century (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), pp. 40607.
24. Martin Hughes and Fionn Davenport, The Lonely Planet Dublin (Melbourne: Lonely Planet,
2005), p. 6.
the Irishwomens Liberation movement was born in Bewleys of Westmoreland
Street. . . . The three city centre cafs, on Grafton Street, Westmoreland Street and
South Great Georges Street, remained largely unchanged for many years, com-
plete with coal res, smoking rooms for Dublin businessmen and the tradition-
ally black-dressed waitresses.
Part of the story of Bewleys was precisely the fact that it survived various
crises and challenges, linking us to earlier times while continuing to satisfy
present-day Dubliners. Bewleys was not a museum, the focus of which is the
way it formally connects to the past, and it was not merely a caf addressing pre-
sent consumer desires and needs. It was both at the same time.
As Blum says,
the aura of impermanence suggests that the city is always on the verge of los-
ing itself and, so, can always be approached as if poised for an ethical collision
over the question of who and what it is, that is, by the question of its identity.
Clearly, Dublin embraces change. As it does so, it puts at risk its own insti-
tutions, the kind of places that dene it as Dublin. In 1981, Oram wrote that
Bewleys is as much part of Dublin life as Guinness and coddle, chisellers and
the Gasometer.
The Gasometer is gone, chisellers and coddle disappearing,
and Guinness is now owned by the French multinational Diageo. Such changes
inevitably raise the issue of Dublins identity. Is Dublin progressing, getting
better and so only losing what cannot keep up with the change? Is the loss of
Bewleys like the loss of something that no longer ts, because the city has
moved on?
The Campbell Bewley Group Web site had proclaimed Dublins taste for
continuity to be as a sign of the strength of a people. Does the distinctiveness
of Dublin lie in its parochial institutionswhat Blum calls the purity of insu-
larity, which in the end proved weak before powerful globalizing forces?
some, what cosmopolitanism means is that what was developed locallylike
the Bewleys fry-upis unable to stand against powerful foreign interests and
cosmopolitan tastes.
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
25. Hugh Oram, No More the Nostalgic Aroma of Coffee or the Touch of Sticky Buns, Irish Times,
30 October 2004, p. 3.
26. In this sense, the outcry over the cafs demise resembles the outcries in Canada over the loss
of hockey temples like the fabled Forum in Montreals case and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. See
Kieran Bonner and Lisa Gunderson, Montreal and Toronto: Unique Cities in a Global Vortex, 2007
(Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, forthcoming).
27. Blum, p. 235.
28. Hugh Oram, Bewleys (Dublin: Albertine Kennedy Publishing, 1981), p. 7.
29. Blum, p. 119.
Yet, the loss of this place that felt like an old friend was not an unambiguously
sad story. To many Dubliners it is a celebratory storyone that marks the end
of the era of depressed provincialism and backwater status.
Oddly, if Bewleys is a bastion of Irish tradition, it is a relatively recent devel-
opment and a paradoxical one. To quote Oram again,
The Bewley family were prominent Quakers who came to Ireland in 1700. . . . The
rst Bewleys was set up in Sycamore Alley just off Dame Street by Joshua Bew-
ley in 1840. It started off as a shop selling coffee . . . [and] eventually it did evolve
into the caf and shop premises at nearby South Great Georges Street. . . . One
of Joshuas sons, Ernest, was a much more go-ahead businessman than his father
and it was he who developed Westmoreland Street caf which opened in 1900.
Ernest had intended to open a bicycle shop there but his business partner proved
unreliable so he opted for a caf instead. He opened in Grafton Street in 1927.
Like the majority of Quakers living in England at the time, the Bewley fam-
ily had refused to take the oath of allegiance to the British crown. As a result,
Quakers were banned from such professions as law and medicine, so many
turned to business. The Bewley family was among the business-oriented Quak-
ers who left England because of its religious restrictions and emigrated to Ire-
land in the early eighteenth century. Ireland, which offered religious freedom
through the Toleration Act, at that time ironically seemed a good destination for
this English dissenting Protestant denomination.
Thus, we have a bastion of Irish tradition that had its beginning only in the
nineteenth century, was initiated and run by a family from a small Protestant
sect who came to Ireland for reasons of religious freedom, and whose founder
established a caf rather than a bicycle shop only because a business partner was
unreliable. Far from representing the purity of insularity, this part of the soul
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
30. Oram, No More the Nostalgic Aroma of Coffee.
31. Originally settling in Edenderry, County Offaly, the Bewley family moved to Dublin in the late
eighteenth century. In Dublin several Quakers ran breweries until the Famine, when the Religious
Society of Friends became highly involved in the temperance movement. See Maurice J. Wigham,
The Irish Quakers: A Short History of the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland (Dublin: Historical
Committee of the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland, 1992), p. 90. Because coffee and tea were
seen as a suitable alternative to alcohol, many Quaker merchants emerged throughout the city to
provide these drinks. This appears to have been a popular endeavor for the Bewleys of nineteenth-
century Dublin: at least seven Bewleys tea merchants existed in close proximity during this time.
Over the years, the other tea shops that had been founded in the mid-nineteenth century gradual-
ly closed down for one reason or another. Bewleys itself came close to bankruptcy several times, and
when Ernest Bewley died suddenly in 1932, the bank holding Bewleys debt began foreclosure. The
bank was persuaded to give one of Ernests sons, Victor, then just twenty, a chance to keep Bewleys
going, which with the help of family, he did. (Oram, Bewleys, p. 56).
of Dublin explicitly arose out of a foreign inuence, not out of immunity to
such inuences.
Perhaps Bewleys symbolized a cosmopolitanism anomalous in Dublin, by
showing that a provincial, Catholic, nationally focused citythe afterthought
of Europe,as Joyce called itcan also make a place for international inuences.
In this light, might the meaning of Bewleys be that it embodied a few drops of
cosmopolitanism in a sea of provincialism? Oram noted that, One of the fea-
tures of the bakery before the Great War was that nearly all the staff was of for-
eign origin. All the confectioners were German or Swiss and the bread foreman
was a Russian Pole. . . . Today [1981], that cosmopolitan exuberance has largely
It seems that the return of Dublins cosmopolitan exuberance now brought
about the demise of a caf that ironically was known for its cosmopolitanism.
But is this the best answer we have to our impossible questionthat Bewleys
paradoxically symbolized cosmopolitanism in an otherwise insular society?
That as a harbinger of internationalism, it was fated to be surpassed?
To understand how the particular artice that was Bewleys should come to
be seen as emblematic of the city of which it is part, we need to look at the rela-
tion between Ireland and its capital Dublin. Bewleys is both an insertion into,
and a development of, the ethical collisions that shaped Dublins history and
culture. Dublin itself is the product of outside inuences, dating back to the
original Viking settlement, and of course, the later English presence.
Henry VIII broke with Rome, the city and country further divided along reli-
gious lines. Yvonne Whelan says of the city in the early eighteenth century that,
From his offices in Dublin Castle, the chief secretary supervised the adminis-
tration of a country that was politically and culturally deeply divided and a city
whose population [180,000] . . . was largely Protestant and English speaking,
ethnically different from the rest of the country.
Over time, Dublin gradual-
ly became a place of conicting desires and emotions that could be said to
revel in paradox.
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
32. Oram, Bewleys, p. 38.
33. The story of Dublins development as a city begins with the arrival of the Vikings in a.d. 841.
. . . From the Danish fort created by the Vikings in the ninth century, the city was subsequently
shaped by the Anglo-Normans to become a Garrison of the Saxon and from 1171 on the city
became a citadel and key base of Englands uctuating power in Ireland. Yvonne Whelan, Re-
inventing Modern Dublin: Streetscapes, Iconography and the Politics of Identity (Dublin: University
College Dublin Press, 2003), pp. 56.
34. Whelan, p. 6.
35. Richard Morgan Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Norman: Uni-
versity of Oklahoma Press, 1962), p. 6.
Bewleys own history mirrors Dublins story of paradox and outside inu-
ences. From the late 1800s to the beginning of the nineteenth century, Dublins
elite were almost entirely Protestant. At the end of the nineteenth and beginning
of the twentieth centuries, Ernest Bewley, founder of the caf in Grafton Street,
took time off every morning to sample the rms own coffee in company with
the heads of the other great Protestant companies in the city, such as Easons the
stationers. All Bewleys customers were from the social elite; there was none of
the easy-going classlessness that so characterises Bewleys of the late twentieth
In the words of Louis MacNeice, Dublin appropriated all the alien
brought, whether as fort of the Dane, Garrison of the Saxon, or Augustan
capital of a Gaelic nation.
Bewleys developed into an institution that exemplifed a conicted Dublin
identity; these modest cafs can be seen to represent the contradictory nature of
what Irishness and Dublin had come to stand for. Dublin has always struggled
with conicting desires.
However, simply putting Dublin in opposition to
rural Ireland as a paradoxical capital in a relatively homogeneous country falls
short of the full image. Perhaps Dublin is the paradoxical capital of a paradox-
ical countryand, in the sense that it is a country struggling with conicted
identities and desires, the numerous interpretations surrounding the closing of
Bewleys truly does show Dublin to be a microcosm of Irish society.
The contradictions embedded in the Bewleys story do not stop with the
legal, national, and religious examples.
In a country known for its tea drink-
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
36. Oram, Bewleys, p. 41. Oram notes that, The almost entirely Protestant business and social elite
of Dublin enjoyed the same kind of life as the Bewley family. It was really privileged elite; for
instance, in 1911, 70 percent of all bank jobs were held by Protestants. Bewleys, p. 40.
37. Louis MacNeice, Dublin, Collected Poems 19251948 (London: Faber and Faber, 1948), pp.
38. The travel writer Jan Morris argues that cities with conicted identities are peculiarly attractive;
she feels drawn to any place that is passionate about the struggle with its own character: I like to
be in a country going through some sort of torment. I feel closer to places like that.Jan Morris, Her
Farthest Journey, Toronto Star, 25 November 1990; see also Kieran Bonner, Reexive Theorizing
while Travelling through Montreal and Toronto: The Global Cities Discourse, New Urbanism, and
the Travel Writing of Jan Morris, in Urban Enigmas: Montreal, Toronto and the Problem Compar-
ing Cities, ed. Johanne Sloane (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2006).
39. Kieran Bonner, Rolling with the Waves: An Interview with Peter J. Finnegan, Canadian Jour-
nal of Irish Studies 30, 2 (Fall, 2004), 62.
40. Ireland and Dublin are collectives where both unity and division are enshrined in law. For
example, the Irish Constitution of 1937, although written in English, asserts Irish as the countrys
rst official language and thus reects the paradoxical nature of the country. In the event of a
misinterpretation, the Irish version should prevail over the English. However, the legitimacy of the
Irish version is undermined because it in itself is a translation. Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 624. In a 2000 study, Patrick Hanan noted how the
constitution works to separate, rather than unify, the country. While attempting to portray a uni-
ing, pubs, and Guinness stout, the institution of Bewleys is known for coffee.
Guinness is a national emblem as well as a drink of choice.
Following the
Famine, many Quakers who had previously run breweries turned to other
ventures, such as coffee and tea. Yet, the Bewleys coffeehouses were not just a
Bewleys invention. They were connected with the rise of the bourgeoisie and
the development of the European city in the seventeenth and eighteenth cen-
turies. As Richard Sennett describes this development,
The coffeehouse was a meeting place common to both London and Paris in the
late 17th and weary 18th centuries. . . . They were prime information centres in
both cities at this time. . . . As information centres, the coffeehouses naturally
were places in which speech ourished . . . and the talk was governed by a cardi-
nal rule: in order for information to be as full as possible, distinctions of rank
were temporarily suspended.
In this sense Bewleys was, to use a term introduced by the urban sociologist
Ray Oldenburg, Dublins paradigmatic third place. A third place is a realm
of satisfaction and social cohesion beyond the portals of home and work, an
informal public realma public space that differs from a regulated work
environment insofar as it is informal, but also differs from the privacy of home.
In effect, a third place provides a home away from home. Oldenburg notes
that third places are local meeting places that can unite a neighborhood. They
are particularly well suited to serve as Ports of Entry for visitors and as places
where newcomers may be introduced. He notes that third places also serve as
sorting areas, enabling people to nd others with similar interests and to nd
people whose interests arent similar but are interesting nonetheless.
Furthermore, third places also provide those whom Jane Jacobs called pub-
lic characters. These are people who know everybody in the neighbourhood and
who care about the neighbourhood. They bring the generations together, cre-
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
ed Ireland, the Constitution emphasizes as being Irish those who are Catholic and nationalist,
thus alienating the Protestant and Unionist North, thereby reaffirming the them and us dichot-
omy that has existed in the country for years. Patrick Hanan, Legal Texts as Cultural Docu-
ments: Interpreting the Irish Constitution in Writing in the Irish Republic: Literature, Culture,
Politics 19491999, ed. Ray Ryan (New York: St. Martins Press, 2000), p. 159. However, the document
also refers to the Irish as a unied people. Terence Brown, Ireland: A Social and Cultural History,
19222002 (London: Harper Perennial, 2004), p. 397.
41. See Brenda Murphy, Pure Genius: Guinness Consumption and Irish Identity, New Hibernia
Review 7, 4 (Winter, 2003), 5062.
42. Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man: On the Psychology of Capitalism (New York: Vintage
Books, 1978), p. 81.
43. Ray Oldenburg, The Great Good Place: Cafs, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors,
General Stores, Bars, Hangouts and How They Get You Through The Day (NewYork: Marlowe, 1999),
pp. 79.
ate an environment of reciprocity and most of all, they are places of fun.
Importantly, the sustaining activity is conversation which is variously pas-
sionate and light-hearted, serious and witty, informative and silly. And in the
course of it, acquaintances become personalities and personalities become true
charactersunique in the world and each adding richness to our lives.
Yet in
Ireland, the default meeting place is not the coffeehouse but the local pub, and
Bewleysan embodiment of Quaker sobrietyis intertwined with the sym-
biotic relationship its customers have with the pubs, and the need to sober
Once again, Bewleys displays its paradoxical character.
This third place ethos of the coffeehouse gave Dublin one of the few places
where members of all social strata could convene on even ground. Bewleys cafs
seem to embody the idealism that pervades the Irish paradox, the possibility of
a stimulating yet sober environment, where high and low, rich and poor, theists
and non-theists, native Irish and West Britons, the rural and the urban, the
home and the away from home, could meet enjoyably on common ground. The
Bewley family developed the ethos of their cafs in the context of a ruralized city
and their own Quaker beliefs that all men are equal and that therefore no-one
should be singled out for especial praise or mention.
By early in the twenti-
eth century, Bewleys coffee shops had lost their original elitist reputation; until
its nal days, Bewleys was one of the few genuinely classless meeting grounds
in Dublin where many of those in public notice [could be] seen . . . shoulder
to shoulder with the armies of the unknown.
In this sense, the closing of Bewleys could be understood to signal the
demise of a naive idealisma sense that the different forces that make up what
it means to be Dublin in Ireland could at the very least coexist, if not share a
common and enjoyable third place. And perhaps an institution like Bewleys
could achieve this better than the pub, because it embraced both the abstainers
and those recovering from overindulgence seeking sustenance in the classic
Irish mixed grill.
Bewleys mixed people, classes, and religions in a city that made provincial-
ism a virtue. On the hundredth anniversary of Ulysses, Declan Kiberd quoted
James Joyce as saying that Dublin was the last of the intimate cities, and goes
on to explain what that meant: one with a villagey feel wherever you went in it
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
44. Oldenburg, pp. xvxxvii. He notes that In Ireland, where everybody deemed to have good
sense frequents the pubs, pubs quite naturally are often used as informal offices. p. xxvi.
45. Bewleys has long served a useful sobering up function for journalists. A few jars in the Palace
or Pearl Bars, then they made a retreat to Bewleys for the quieting effects of a bowl of hot, tasty
soup. Oram, Bewleys, p. 78.
46. Oram, Bewleys, p. 17.
47. Oram, Bewleys, p. 17.
. . . an unplanned ruralized but civic city.
Despite its status as a capital city,
Dublin had many of the elements of a small town: its gossip, its characters, its
homogeneity (a largely Irish Catholic population), its street life, and its many
third placesBewleys being the exemplar. It is in this sense that Dublin would
not be Dublin without Bewleys. It is precisely the intimate, unplanned, rural-
ized city that Dublin once was that the current cosmopolitanism challenges.
Another factor, connected to cosmopolitanism, contributed to the closing of
Bewleys in 2004. It had gone from being known as the place to go for coffee in
Dublin to having a reputation for poor coffee. As the Irish Independent put it,
Once we started getting proper Italian coffee in this country, we began to see
howpoorly the Bewleys blend compared. It was never strong enough, the milk
was too hot and it was percolated rather than expressed through one of those
wondrous machines. Bewleys died because
Nobody actually went into Bewleys anymore. (If they did, it would not be clos-
ing.) But they liked the idea of it. They liked to know it was there. Turn left at
Bewleys, they might say. Or Meet you outside Bewleys. But go inside? No,
theyd rather the little Italian place in the Powerscourt Centre.
It was the unfamiliar idea of Bewleys not being therethe reminder that the
Irish idealism it seemed to embody might also be in demisethat helps make
sense of the nationwide dismay directed specifically at Dubliners at the
announcement of its closure. Dubliners had ceased to see Bewleys as an
attractive destination; foot traffic declined precisely when affluence augured
for success.
The uproar over its closure itself is interesting, given the way Dubliners
voted with their euros and their feet. Time and ground rents move on. As for
the cappuccino classes, they moved on ages ago.
Dublin had become more
cosmopolitan, and Dubliners now had many choices for coffee, tea, and food.
Describing the coffee shops last day, Nicola Anderson reported that
The Celtic Tiger hastened the decline of the great Dublin institution as younger
customers ed its shabby and dimly lit interiors for newer, ashier alternatives.
Some customers . . . [on the last day of business] felt that the great institution
had, indeed, lost its way in recent years. Too many foreign staff had led to a
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
48. Declan Kiberd, Bloom in Bourgeois Bohemia: A Moment of Perpetual Possibility for Joyce
and For Dublin, Times Literary Supplement, 4 June 2004, pp. 1415.
49. D. Robbins, Let Bewleys Rest in Peace, Irish Independent, 27 November 2004.
50. Robbins, Let Bewleys Rest in Peace.
change in the atmosphere, said one. A lack of interesting food choices and chips
with everything was the bugbear of another.
The closing of Bewleys because of rising material affluence exposed the
naivet behind the romantic and irrational aspect of this Irish idealismthat
unity has merely to be asserted. The contradictions embedded in such convic-
tions are circumvented, rather than engaged, by either the adoption of conti-
nental European tastes, such as becoming a cappuccino class, nor by unreal-
istic assertions of idealism, such as simply liking the idea of Bewleys being
Bewleys did not so much remain traditional as end up with the worst of
both worlds: a foreign staff that changed its atmosphere, while still traditional
in its lack of food choices. Yet, Dubliners were unwilling to accept Bewleys
demise, and fought for the survival of a place that embodied a paradoxical
local story. By the following spring,
More than 25,000 signatures were gathered as part of the Save Bewleys Cafs
campaign led by Dublins Lord Mayor, Michael Conaghan. Welcoming the news,
the Lord Mayor said the new premises would look, feel and smell like Bewleys
with some exciting new elements added. . . . These include a caf and patisserie
on the ground oor serving breakfast [including porridge] from 8 am, a sh
restaurant called Mackerel on the rst oor and a restaurant-service Caf Bar
Deli serving Mediterranean food. In addition Bewleys Caf Theatre [eventual-
ly to include jazz and cabaret performances in the evening] is to be re-established
on the top oor.
The outcry of Dubliners led to the reopening of the Grafton Street caf under
new management. Here, we can now respond to Blums Cassandra-like warn-
ing about Dublin ghting to sustain sites of biographic fertility both for its
movers and shakers . . . and for its loyal population.
Dubliners fought, and
appeared to win, the ght to save Bewleys. The desire of Irish idealism to have
a Dublin that is, in Blums words, both modern and traditional, both extraor-
dinary and ordinary is now starting to look like a mission accomplished. The
new Bewleys caf claimed the look, feel, and smell of the old Bewleys with the
exciting new elements of a deli serving Mediterranean food, a sh restaurant,
and jazz and cabaret. This suggests that Dublin can preserve the traditional,
such as porridge for breakfast, and the modern, such as Mediterranean food, in
a place that provides some measure of self-denition for both its customers and
its surrounding city.
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
51. Anderson, Customers Bid Farewells to 110 Years of Caf Society.
52. Raise Your Coffee Cup to a New-Look Bewleys, Irish Independent, April 27, 2005.
53. Blum, p. 133.
Yet, the skepticism of the letter writer to the Irish Times mentioned above
that Bewleys was no more, and had not been savedpersists. In what sense
does Dublin have the old Bewleys back? Is the new Bewleys, or for that matter
the new Dublin, just a facade that has lost its essence? Is this new iteration the
saved Bewleys, a new Bewleys, both or neither? The same questions can be
asked about Dublin itself.
The issue of taste, and changing tastes, holds special pertinence in this dis-
cussion. Jay Bourke, the entrepreneur responsible for Bewleys return, was asked
why in the middle of the biggest caf boom the country has seen, when coffee
is taking over from tea as the national pick-me-up, the original Bewleys failed.
He replied,
It was very successful until the late 1990s. We forget that. In the mid 1990s it was
very, very successful indeed. And tastes just changed. Offering the sausage and
beans and so on just wasnt working anymore, and all of [a] sudden we became
more aware of our bodies and health and so on.
As Dubliners became more cosmopolitan, as its citizens developed a taste for
espresso rather than percolated coffee, as they became more aware of their
bodies and their health, the food of their poorer and more provincial past just
wasnt working anymore.
Simple food like sausage and beans do not work in the context of expand-
ed tastes. The sensuous differentiation of taste, says Hans-Georg Gadamer,
is in fact not merely an instinct, but strikes the balance between sensory instinct
and intellectual freedom. The sense of taste is able to gain the distance of choice
and judgment in relation to that which is the most urgent necessity of life. . . . Its
criteria are no longer birth and rank but simply the shared nature of its judg-
ments or, rather, its capacity to rise above the narrowness of interests and private
predilections to the title of judgment.
Taste is not fashion: fashion resides in an empirical generalness, and com-
pares and sees things from the general point of view. Taste, on the contrary, is
distinguished by the fact that it is able to adapt itself to the direction of taste rep-
resented by fashion or, contrariwise, is able to adapt what is demanded by fash-
ion to its own good taste.
We may thus ask if the new Bewleys expresses
Dublins fashionable cosmopolitanismor does it adapt to what is demanded
by fashion to its own good taste?
Consider the Irish Times review of the sh restaurant Mackerel in the new
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
54. Renaissance Man, Irish Times, 27 August 2005, p. 16.
55. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (London: Sheed and Ward, 1975), pp. 3334.
56. Gadamer, p. 35.
Our dinner kicked off with ceviche of lemon sole, a dish in which the sh is
cooked by being marinated in citrus juice. It was lovelyfirm and subtly
avouredbut perhaps just a hint too sweet. Then there was carpaccio of tuna,
thinly sliced, again uncooked and encrusted with pepper on the outside edge.
This stuff melted on the tongue. . . . We carried on with Eden smokies: undyed
smoked haddock with cream, scallions and cherry tomatoes. This is an assertive
little dish: salty, smoky, earthy and just my kind of thing. . . . Next came splen-
didly traditional desserts: a creamy lemon jelly mousse, poured into a 1950s sun-
dae glass and let set, and an intensely rich and silky Valrhona chocolate pot.
Excellent Bewleys espressomuch, much better than expectedconcluded this
delicious, fun but slightly mad meal.
Here, the new Bewleys reects a cosmopolitan Dublin almost as precisely as the
old Bewleys reected the ruralized, intimate Dublin. Note also the comment on
the espresso, much, much better than expected, as if to reveal a fear or anxi-
ety that the old Bewleys reputation for poor coffee might subvert and betray an
inadvertent parochial lack of taste in its new appearance.
The old Bewleys is surely dead. As if to conrm the cafs status as an icon
of the new Dublin, Carl Mortished remarks in The Times of London that
Bewleys in Dublin is a good place to begin to understand European migration.
The caf was once a Dublin landmark, a cozy place staffed by red-faced and
matronly tea ladies, serving office workers eating fry-ups, and under-employed
students eking out their cups of coffee. Its menu of comfort food and a decent
brew nally gave up the ghost two years ago. After a brief closure and a public
outcry, two leisure entrepreneurs relaunched it. The Dublin tea ladies have long
gone, replaced by foreign voices, a redecorated interior with a restaurant upstairs
and a lunchtime theatre to attract a smarter clientele.
In the mid-1990s, Herbert Gans described an ideal type, which he called the
cosmopolites, who lived in the East Village in New York:
The cosmopolites include students, artists, writers, musicians and entertainers,
as well as other intellectuals and professionals. They live in the city in order to
be near the special cultural facilities that can be located only near the center of
the city. . . . [They] are detached from neighbourhood life. The cosmopolites
possess a distinct subculture which causes them to be uninterested in all but the
most supercial contacts with their neighbours.
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
57. Tom Doorley, Fish for Compliments, Irish Times, 25 June 2005, p. 28.
58. Carl Mortished, Dublin Caf Offers Taste of Things to Come: European Brieng, Times, 3 May
2006, p. 47.
59. Herbert Gans, Urbanism and Suburbanism as Ways of Life: A Reevaluation of Denitions, in
Metropolis: Centre and Symbol of our Times, ed. P. Kasnitz (London: Macmillan, 1995), p. 175.
The new Dubliners are starting to appear to be like these East Village cos-
mopolites, with only the shallowest connection to the citys past. Blum warns
that a city open to all foreign inuences could be like a person who cannot say
no, who does not know where to draw boundaries.
Dublin is now profoundly concerned with matters of discrimination and
taste. It not only engages with, but also chooses from, the international ows to
which it is exposed. And this issue of taste, the issue of what ts with the whole,
what enhances versus what subtracts or subverts from the whole that is Dublin,
is a deeply political issue. The issue of taste shaped the story of Bewleys both its
closing and its reopening.
Dubliners successfully fought to sustain a site that was rich with historic
associations, and in saving Bewleys, created something quite new. In most
world-class cities, sites for obtaining an espresso and sites for obtaining such
dclass fare as a fry-up are strictly differentiated, both aesthetically and eco-
nomically. Whatever one may think about the Starbucks phenomenon, the
Starbucks experiencedespite its diverse application in different citiesis
xed. The idea of going to such a place for a mixed grill is a comic absurdity. In
terms of the image of the new aestheticized franchise coffee shops like Star-
bucks, now found throughout the globalized world, the very idea of a fry-up
violates both class and aesthetic appeal.
So the saved Bewleysthe preservation of this third place in cosmopolitan
Dublinin the words of Gadamer, adapts itself to the direction of taste rep-
resented by [the] fashion of aesthetic and economic differentiation. Except
last October, the London Sunday Times reported the following:
Bewleys on Grafton Street is putting fry-ups back on the menu. From tomorrow,
customers will be offered a hearty Irish breakfast comprising bacon, eggs,
pudding, sausages, tomatoes and potato farls. Jay Bourke, the new owner, says:
The Bewleys fry-up is back by popular demand. Irish people have made their
feelings clear. Its time to bring home the bacon. Hes changed his tune.
So it looks like Dubliners have both the look, feel and smellof the old Bew-
leys and a suave restaurant with jazz and cabaret performances in the evening.
Dublin can display its proud new cosmopolitanism while retaining the old,
displaying the consumerist desire to have it all. In this sense, Dublins old ide-
alism ourishes now as cosmopolitan consumer idealism, where the tensions
and negations in the idealism remain submerged. That is, the reasonable desire
embedded in all idealisma reason that moderates romanticism and faces,
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
60. Blum, p. 118.
61. Sue Denham, Bewleys Bourke Finds Proof Is in the Pudding, Sunday Times, 9 October 2005,
p. 21.
rather than negates, the potential contradictionsis not developed. In trying to,
as the proverb runs, have ones cake and eat it too, the new Dublin embodied
in Bewleys engages neither with the virtue of parochialism nor with the tran-
sitory character of consumerism.
And despite what we know about how bad it is for your health, despite the
Europeanization of Dublin, there remains something particular about Dublin-
ers insistence on the fry-up. Hannah Arendt observes,
Taste and its ever-alert judgment of things of the world sets its own limits to an
indiscriminate immoderate love of the merely beautiful; into the realm of fab-
rication and of quality it introduces the personal factor that gives it a humanis-
tic meaning. . . . Taste is the political capacity that truly humanizes the beautiful
and creates a culture.
One can hardly say that the idea of a fry-up and a cappuccino is beautiful,
(though some would claim that a cappuccino is a beautiful drink).
Perhaps Dubliners are moderating an indiscriminate love of the merely
beautiful and, as such, humanizing the aesthetic and economic differentiation
that love of the merely beautiful creates. In doing so, they are sustainingeven
under conditions of globalizationa culture that is still recognizably theirs, a
culture that resides in the interstices of the apparent homogenizing inuence of
globalization. This is yet another possible resolute answer to an impossible
question: the meaning these changes have for the soul of Dublin.
Bewleys Caf and Cosmopolitan Dublin
62. Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (Harmondsworth:
Penguin, 1968), p. 224.