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Bewley’s Oriental Café, Grafton Street

Bewley’s Oriental Café, Grafton Street.

The History of the Bewley Company

The Bewley’s Oriental Café story begins with the Bewley family, who originally hailed from Northern England, were Quakers and moved to Ireland in the 17th century where they soon established themselves in Dublin.

In 1835, following trade reforms which ended the monopoly on tea importation held by the East India Company, Samuel Bewley and his son Charles became the first independent tea traders to import tea directly from Canton, China to Ireland. Their first ship, ‘The Hellas’, carried over 2,000 chests of tea to Dublin and many more soon followed.

The Bewley family also began the importation of coffee and soon established themselves in the tea and coffee importation business in Ireland.  In 1840, another of Samuel’s sons, Joshua, founded the China Tea Company, which later became Charles Bewley &Co and in 1926, it became Bewley’s Oriental Cafes Ltd.

Joshua Bewley was succeeded by his son Ernest, who, in 1894 opened up his first oriental café in South Great Georges Street. This was followed in 1896, by the opening of his second café, this time in Westmoreland Street. The Grafton street café opened in 1927 and is the only one of the three cafes still open. Ernest Bewley also imported the first Jersey cows into Ireland from the island of Jersey in 1903, reportedly to keep up the supply of top quality milk and cream to his cafes and bakeries.

After being in the stewardship of generations of the Bewley’s family since its founding in 1840, the Bewley’s company was bought by businessman Patrick Campbell in 1986. It now operates under the Campbell Bewley Group.

Bewley’s Oriental Café, Grafton Street 

The Bewley’s Oriental Café in Grafton Street has now been trading for almost a century. The building itself, had originally been a school called ‘Whytes Academy’  ‘which was a ‘Seminary for the Instruction of Youth’. The Whytes Academy had opened in 1758 and had counted as some of its most eminent pupils, Robert Emmet (publically executed in Dublin in September 1803 for his part in the insurrection of earlier that year), writer Oscar Wilde and military commander and statesman, Arthur Wellesley, better known as ‘the Duke of Wellington.’ The academy closed in 1824.

The Art of Bewleys,  Grafton Street

Even before entering the café, visitors encounter its mosaic façade, with its Ancient Egyptian theme. The mosaic shows an ancient Egyptian winged sun symbol above the entrance along with decorative flowers down the sides and was reputedly influenced by the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922, only a few years before the café opened in 1927.

Inside, you can see the Japanese themed wallpaper decorating the café, which is a reproduction of the original café’s wallpaper from the 1920’s and was printed by David Skinners Wallpapers, Dublin, as part of the café’s refurbishment between 2015 and 2017.

The café has number of rooms for diners. There is the ‘Harry Clarke Room’ on the ground floor, named after the stained glass window artist. There are fine examples of Harry Clarke’s art within this area itself. There is a balcony’ overlooking this area. There is also the James Joyce Room with a mezzanine, which overlooks Grafton Street.  The first floor room, which was closed at the time I visited, but according to staff, it opens at busy times and weekends.

There are many pieces of stained glass work in this café. The most impressive pieces are a number of stained glass windows by two Irish artists, Harry Clarke and Jim Fitzpatrick.

The four original stained glass windows, which were there at the café’s opening, are by renowned stained glass artist Harry Clarke. They are at the rear ground floor seating area and are of an architectural theme, depicting the four distinctive column styles of ‘the Classical Orders of Architecture’ of Ancient Greece and Rome. If you look more closely at the windows, you can see colorful exotic birds, butterflies, vases of flowers and sea creatures.  Two more windows were commissioned from Clark for an adjoining wall. These two windows are decorated with butterflies, birds and sea creatures.

There is another more recent stained glass window by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick.  Fitzpatrick’s window is at the entrance to the ground floor ‘Harry Clarke Room’ seating area and depicts a red-robed woman who is the ancient Irish legendary character Cruithne, the lover of Irish hero Finn McCool.

It was originally commissioned for the now closed Bewley’s café in Mary Street.  After being removed from Mary Street and lying in storage for 15 years, its border was removed and its base shortened to fit into the smaller space available in the Grafton Street café.

Fitzpatrick became world famous for his iconic 1968 black and red graphic of ‘Che’ Guevara and is renowned for his elaborately detailed work on figures from Irish mythology and his design of rock band Thin Lizzy’s album covers.

I visited the café on a Monday afternoon in June and I had a pot of Bewley’s Irish Afternoon tea for one at 4.50 Euros and a buttermilk scone with butter, seasonal preserve and a bowl of cream, which was 5.20 Euros. The tea was a refreshing tea from Kenya and it washed the buttered scone with cream and jam down perfectly.

Bewley’s Oriental Café has more than a touch of the exotic about and is unlike any other café in Dublin. It is an art gallery and working museum in its own right and the assortment of stunning exotic plants on display on the ground floor adds to your feelings of comfort and wellbeing.

Bewley’s Café Theatre             

Bewley’s also has a Café Theatre on the second floor. Its lunch time performances range from traditional favorites such as Oscar Wilde and Sean O’Casey to the best of New Irish dramatists. Doors open at 12.50, the performance starts at 1pm and finishes by 2pm.

You can find the Bewley’s Café Theatre program at Lunchtime Theatre In Dublin | Bewley’s Café Theatre | Dublin (




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