Bewley's cafe mosaics set to disappear

Bewley's cafe
Image caption Dublin's last remaining Bewley's is on Grafton Street

The last vestiges of one of Dublin's most famous cafes could be replaced.

The former owner of the Bewley's Westmoreland Street cafe, which is now a Starbucks, wants to remove mosaics from the facade and floor of the building, which would be replaced with plain tiles.

A stained glass panel over the entrance is also set to be removed.

Dublin City Council has given Bewley's Oriental Cafes Ltd the go-ahead to replace the glass but decided the removal of the mosaics needs planning permission.

Bewley's, which says is it merely trying to keep control of its brand, has been closely associated with Irish coffee and tea since the early 19th Century.

The company has operated a number of cafes in Dublin over that time, but only one now remains, on the city's Grafton Street.

Bewley's opened its first cafe on Dublin's George's Street and the Westmoreland Street branch opened in 1896.

It was a favourite haunt of writers and journalists and the late Maeve Binchy was at one time almost a daily fixture.

The move to eliminate the Bewley's signage has been met with alarm by some. It has been highlighted by An Taisce - The National Trust for Ireland and newspaper columnist Frank McNally.

Reports had earlier stated the signage to be almost 120 years old, however a spokesman for Bewley's Oriental Cafes Ltd said the current mosaics dated back to the 1970s and the stained glass to the 1990s.

'Hand-crafted work'

Speaking before the council came to its decision, the environmental correspondent for the Irish Times Frank McDonald said the cafe had ''long been a Dublin institution''.

"If I was thinking of it in Belfast terms, the Crown Bar would come to mind," he said.

"Bewley's was never as ornate as the Crown, but on the other hand it's been a meeting place for over 100 years. It was trading successfully up until 2004."

The cafe was then closed down for almost five years before being taken over by a franchisee.

Part of it is now a Starbucks and a TGI Fridays operates from the rear of the building on Fleet Street.

According to Mr McDonald, one of the conditions of the original planning application made in 2008 stated that all existing Bewley's signage on both Westmoreland Street and Fleet Street facades should be retained.

"Hand-crafted work - mosaic tiles, stained glass, signage and so on. Really you just wonder why on Earth wouldn't they want to retain that?" he said.

"They want to get rid of it, they want to replace the tiles with plain tiles and they want to expunge the memory of the place which has been the subject of books and everything.

"The late Maeve Binchy, one of my former colleagues, used to virtually live in Bewley's in Westmoreland Street and it was from overhearing the conversations, she always had her ears pricked up, that she became such a great raconteur."

A spokesman for Bewley's explained that the company no longer had any connection with the Westmoreland Street premises and its application to remove the signage was taken as a step to keep control of its brand.

"They're just considering the planning application as it stands, but they haven't come out publicly with any particular comment," he said.

"They're genuinely not overly-exercised by the matter - the cafe was sold in 2006, it's now 2012 so six years later they get around to doing this.

"No pun intended, the thing is a bit of a storm in a teacup. It is a mosaic, but it's not like something going back to the Roman emperors."

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