Tuesday, November 30, 2004

So. Farewell then, Bewley's

And in my mind's eye I can see him still, the infant Spailpín supine before a black and white PYE television set in the late 1970s in the West of Ireland, listening to Gay Byrne going on and on about what Dublin is like at Christmas when Gay could have been using that valuable time to show even more of those marvellous toys.

Greybo was saying, in that peculiar sing-song that he has, about how wonderful Dublin gets after the 8th of December when the county people come up to Dublin "for to do the bit of shopping, do you see, and they like to meet under Clery's clock and get their bits and pieces, and then off to Bewley's for the cup tea and the sticky bun. Yehwha', Gay? I say, off to Bewley's for the cup of tea and the sticky bun Missus. Lovely. Just lovely. All right. All right. And now here's something I think you'll really enjoy, it's Red Hurley, backed by the Billy Barry kids, to sing The Little Drummer Boy. Take it away Red!"

Poor Gay has long since been taken away himself, and now they've taken away Bewley's as well. National institutions ain't what they used to be.

Whether or not Bewley's ever was what it was supposed to be is what An Spailpín has been wondering these past few days, as he reads the posters outside Gratten's Parliament calling for the people of Dublin to unite to save their bunshop. And if a Spailpín may borrow from a Beatle, Bewley's has probably been dead for about the same time as Elvis, the corncrake, and the door on the latch. If it ever existed at all.

An Spailpín is continually disappointed by his capital city, and his debut visit to Bewley's of Grafton Street was the first inkling, in the mid-nineties, that old Gaybo might have been spinning a bit of a yarn when he was going on about those sticky buns.

I wonder if all the people that are so lonesome after Bewley's ever used to visit the damned place. I have, more than once, and it's been quite hideous every time. The head buck cat of Campbell's Catering, the owners of Bewley's, remarked that it just wasn't viable to run a café on Grafton Street. You may rest easy in your bed tonight sir - by charging six Euro for a cup of tea and a sticky bun that was as hard and as edible as a slíothar, you did your best to make a shilling on Grafton Street.

Dining in Bewley's was not dissimilar to dining in Manhattan only if one was in the habit of taking one's meals at Grand Central Station. There was hustle and there was bustle in Bewley's of Grafton Street, but a reflective cup of scald, a smoke and philosophical discussion of the world? Pick some other joint fella, we're moving it along, getting along, getting ahead.

I believe that there are those that say it wasn't so much the sticky buns but the architecture that's the great loss in Bewley's. An Spailpín knows only one thing about architecture, and that is that you can't eat it. Those who were going to Bewley's to gape out the windows mustn't have been very hungry. Or else had long ago damaged the dentures on those titanium buns and were taking no further chances.

Watching the sad faces on RTÉ and Sky News this evening as the dear old padlock went around Bewley's front door, I began to wonder if anyone had ever really believed this nonsense about Bewley's, that it was some sort of uber-café where the elite meet to eat and greet. Surely a chophouse is a chophouse where-ever you go. As such, I conducted an experiment. I flicked over to TG4, to see if the Bewley's closure had impacted in Ireland, as opposed to Dublin. Nothing. Not a peep. The notion of Bewley's as a Platonic dining ideal appears to be uniquely an invention of the Pale, rather like their needing to win the All-Ireland to save the very game of Gaelic Football itself. So farewell then Bewley's - pull the door after you.