First look: Bewley’s outdoor balcony offers bird's eye view of Grafton Street
The hiding places in the nooks, crannies, and cozy fireside tables of the first floor of the café are fit for purpose once again
The new James Joyce room in Bewley’s Cafe, Grafton Street, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times
Since reopening last November, Bewley’s of Grafton Street has welcomed thousands of Bewley’s bun aficionados and a queue for tables in the downstairs hall has become an everyday occurrence.
This week Bewley’s welcomed its first customers into the newly refurbished first floor rooms – The James Joyce Room, Lower Whytes and Upper Whytes, and The Garden Atrium – doubling its capacity for customers. Bewley’s of Grafton Street can now accommodate just under 500 customers at a time.
Owner Paddy Campbell is also an artist, and many of his sculptures are dotted throughout the building, such as his piece The Seven Veils, which is a tribute to the exotic dancer and spy Mata Hari. It has secured a prime spot under the skylight of The Garden Atrium, and fits into this cafe’s ability to elicit bygone eras. Plans are to fill this space with greenery to create an escape from the city outside.
Bewley’s has a long-standing reputation as offering Dubliners respite and recovery from the pace of the capital city. The upstairs remodel has maintained the nooks and crannies that have made this café such a successful space to while away an afternoon over a book, or a piece of writing, or a chat with a loved one for the better part of a century. The Lower and Upper Whyte’s room, in particular, are ideal for tucking oneself away.
Veronica Campbell, Paddy’s wife and business partner has curated exhibition pieces of memorabilia with a link to Bewley’s which hang on the walls. Among them are tributes to Robert Emmet and other past pupils of Whyte’s Academy, the school which occupied this building between 1758 and 1824.
The parquet wood and white Carrera marble floors from the ground floor have made their way upstairs, and the marble-topped tables are present, as are a number of the velvet cushioned banquettes.
In The James Joyce Room, a teal-tinted wallpaper of a design originally dating to the 1800s was reproduced for Bewley’s by David Shimer in Leitrim using a nine colour wood block printing technique. It flanks one of the two open fire places blazing away as the natural light from pours in from floor to ceiling windows that look out onto the busy street below.
The best seats in the house are arguably the tables on the outdoor balcony which offer a bird’s eye view of Grafton Street.
Back indoors, a Harry Clarke window depicting St Colmcille sits behind the food counter. This patron saint watches over the Mary Buns (€6.50), Piedmont hazelnut praline profiteroles (€6.50) and the original sticky buns (€3.30) that lay before him.
The menu is the work of executive chef Ludovic Lantier and his team, and it’s this menu that is on offer throughout the entire building. The kitchen at Bewley’s is a 24-hour operation, thanks to the bakery in the basement where all of the pastries, buns and bread on offer are baked on the daily by a team of 24 chefs and Patisserie chefs.
The conduit between the kitchen and the customers are the 38 floor staff whose uniforms are a contemporary nod the black and white pinafores of Bewley’s in days gone by. Paddy and Veronica’s son, Cól Campbell, is the managing director of Bewley’s Cafe and Paddy Bewley remains on the company board.
Coffee and tea is still the mainstay; the tea trade of the 1800s was how the Bewley family first entered the hospitality business. There are 22 baristas working with Bewley’s of Grafton Street. Among them are award-winning baristas Seivijus Matiejunas, who’s known to everyone in Bewley’s by his nickname – Elvis.
The final piece in this €12 million refurbishment project is the return of Bewley’s Cafe Theatre, the 50-set theatre at the very top of the building. It’s due to reopen at the end of March.
For now, the hiding places in the nooks, crannies, open spaces and cozy fireside tables of the first floor of the café are fit for purpose once again. As can be said for the ground floor, the refurbishment team have done a highly commendable job on restoring Bewley’s to its past glory. The space evokes nostalgia, from the buns to the coffee to the stained glass windows to the marble-topped tables to the stories you bring to Bewley’s when you visit it. Thanks to the reopening of the first floor, Bewley’s can now accommodate for double the memories.