Posted tagged ‘cafés’

Wake up and smell the coffee!

February 4, 2011

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.

All day and all of the night

October 25, 2008

A few weeks ago I was driving back late at night from Cork to Dublin and had to pass through Dublin city centre to get home, at around 2 am. As I drove down Pearse Street I came to a stop, caught in a major traffic jam. At 2 am! Not only were there cars everywhere, but looking at the pavement I could see crowds of people, weaving in and out of shops and other establishments. A significant proportion of them clearly had, as they say here, drink taken.

In my youth in Ireland, I got used to more or less everything shutting down every day at 5.30 pm or so, with the exception only of restaurants (not of much interest to me back then) and pubs. Things laid on specially for young people might close at 9 pm. In addition, on Sundays and bank holidays almost nothing other than newsagents was open, day or night.

In fact this was not out of line with Europe. I lived in Germany between 1968 and 1974, and it was the same there, even more so in fact as even newsagents were closed for most of the day on Sunday, and legislation on trading hours actually prohibited shops and other establishments from opening ‘after hours. The American ‘all night’ culture had not made it across the Atlantic.

Back in Ireland in the 1980s things began to change. Gradually all night convenience stores emerged, and towards the end of the decade Bewleys Café in Grafton Street extended its opening hours, and eventually was (if I recall correctly) open all night. More recently shops began to follow suit, and the major supermarkets (or some of them) have been open for 24 hours.

But the trend is not all one way. Shops and bars and night clubs are open all hours, but if you want to sit and have a quiet cup of coffee at 3 am, it’s much more difficult. Bewleys for example went back to cloding at night. The night time culture is hedonistic rather than thoughtful or peaceful. Beyond hedonistic, I know that a lot of people are worried that if they are out at night amongst the crowds they are as likely to face an assault as enjoy an amusing conversation.

I am a great fan of a 24/7 society. I know there are arguments – based on religion for some, on health and well-being for others – that we should shut everything down at certain times, but instinctively I like the idea of society being open at all times for those who want it. But I am not sure that this is what we have. There is something brash (and not in the good sense) about our night time culture. Dublin is also now the ‘city that never sleeps’ – but I hope it might become a night time city that can provide a positive culture, and ultimately not just one fuelled by drink and drugs. More thought should be put into this by policy makers.


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