Bewley’s closes for refurbishment

Grafton Street institution will reopen on ground floor only

Bewley’s cafè on Grafton Street has closed until the autumn while it undergoes a €1 million-renovation, to rejuvenate the Dublin institution which has recorded significant losses in recent years.

When the protected structure reopens in about six months' time it will trade only on the ground floor, halving its seating to about 160. In addition to abandoning the upper sections of the historic cafè, the menu will be smaller, the opening hours will be reduced and the number of employees will be halved from 140 to 70.

Part of a restructuring plan to reduce annual losses of €1.2 million, the move came down to a choice of "either permanent closure or investing in a realignment and rejuvenation of the cafe", according to Bewley's boss John Cahill. The reopened cafè will have a new menu with a focus on hot drinks, pastries, breads and cakes rather than hot food.

In 1927 the building, which had once housed Whyte’s Academy, a school whose pupils included the Duke of Wellington, was opened as tea-rooms by Ernest Bewley whose family already operated several cafès in Dublin. The new cafè was very exotic for Dublin of the 1920s: its interior was modelled on European cafès of Paris and Vienna, as well as having oriental tearooms and Egyptian-style architecture, inspired by Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb five years earlier.

The cafè became a hub for Dublin's cultural and social life, attracting literary figures such as Samuel Beckett and James Joyce, who mentioned one of the Bewleys cafès - possibly the outlet on Dame Street - in his book Dubliners.

Over the years it retained its artistic role in Dublin and was celebrated in recent times for its popular hour-long lunchtime theatre productions, held upstairs. It is not clear if this tradition will continue in the future.

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