Wake up and smell the coffee!

I suspect it is very similar in most other cities familiar to readers of this blog, but the face of Dublin is changing as a result of the recession. We have already mentioned bookshops closing, but in fact you can walk along any major shopping street in Dublin and see the casualties. Shops have disappeared, restaurants have closed. But there seems to me to be one exception to this experience: coffee shops.

When I was a student in Dublin in the mid-1970s, there was really only one coffee shop (or actually, it was a small chain), and that was Bewleys. This was a company with Quaker origins, and it ran five or six outlets, each called ‘Bewleys Oriental Cafés’. I was never quite sure what the ‘oriental’ bit was referring to, but actually if you went into them at the time you tended to walk through a dark panelled entrance hall, and to me there was always a whiff there of something exotically Victorian, as if one of the doors leading out of the hall might open into an opium den. They didn’t, or at least I don’t think so, but these cafés were big on atmosphere. I’m not sure what we’d make of the milky coffee and sticky buns now, but they kind of went with the image.

Bewleys is still there (or at least it’s there on Grafton Street), but not at all what it used to be. And all over Dublin the café culture has shifted from Victorian London to modern day Seattle, with Starbucks now on almost every corner, and local lookalikes spreading out in between. And the recession does not appear to have damaged them: they are still there in numbers, and when I go inside they all seem to be full.

I confess I like Bewleys as a nostalgia trip in my memory, I don’t need the old version to return. And I find that the modern US-style coffee shops do something for me, from the smell of the coffee to the hint of business-meeting-alternative-culture of the clientele. I rather like taking out my iPad and writing something on the spot (probably 50 or so blog posts have originated there). I like watching the world from there. I like eavesdropping. There is something social about coffee shops, and as we have lost so much recently, let us not lose these.

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4 Comments on “Wake up and smell the coffee!”

  1. Vincent Says:

    I suppose the latte and the Americano sans caffeine are the last little bit of a treat. To go soon if the ECB lifts the rate as expected.

  2. anna notaro Says:

    Madsen Pirie,the president of the Adam Smith Institute argued a while ago that “Food, drink and sex are not usually affected by a recession,” before adding “People might switch around within those sectors and go for cheaper options, but they all carry on.”
    If anything I would add ‘death’ and ‘taxes’ to the list of categories, funeral home directors and accountants can safely assume a recession won’t have much impact on death and taxes.
    To stick to the ‘food category’ though, coffee shops are special places – as I have argued yesterday from the chain-bookshop angle – watching the world from one (especially if you happen to be in a city like New York) while at the same time immersing onself in an online community can teach us a lot about both the *real* and the *virtual*

  3. Cormac Says:

    At home in Dublin for Christmas, I was once again struck by the number of bustling cafes and coffee shops around the city centre, especially around South William St – and they’re not all Starbucks clones either.
    My favourite is the little red cafe ‘Metro’ near the College of Music…a real continental feel to the decor, and a very European clientele

    • wendymr Says:

      I’m glad to hear that, not being a Starbucks fan! I don’t like the taste of their coffee. Admittedly, it’s been a long time since I’ve spent any amount of time in Dublin, but my favourites were always the Kilkenny Design Centre, Brown Thomas and the independents around Dawson Street and the side-streets between there and Grafton Street. Other than Bewley’s, there were few chains around back then…


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