Bewley's of Dublin: tea, coffee and culture

Updated: 2010-02-09 09:08
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Bewley's of Dublin: tea, coffee and culture

DUBLIN - At Bewley's in Dublin, the curtain doesn't so much rise on the performance as close on it, shutting out the shoppers down below thronging one of the city's best-known streets.

A Dublin institution associated with Ireland's literary and artistic greats past and present, the 1920s cafe, has been putting on lunch-time theater in an upstairs room since 1999.

This month, it has joined in the worldwide celebrations of Chekhov's 150th birthday with an adaptation of his short story The Party.

Caitriona Ni Mhurchu, known in Ireland for television performances and as an award-winning writer of children's books, plays the part of Olya, the heavily pregnant wife of a philandering husband, busy flirting his way through his name day party.

Her nuanced portrayal of a complex, unhappy woman is all the more convincing because she genuinely is eight months pregnant.

As for the noise floating up from Grafton Street below, that could just be Olya's husband's irritating guests.

Critics have enthused about Ni Mhurchu's "pitch perfect performance" and, seduced by the bowl of soup that accompanies lunch-time shows, hailed the "food for both the soul and the stomach."

Dublin's own James Joyce would have surely approved.

Russia's Anton Chekhov anticipated the Dublin-born writer's stream-of-consciousness technique and Joyce was a patron of Bewley's, which he mentioned in his Dubliners short stories.

The brand dates back to the 19th-century when the Bewley family began to import tea directly to Ireland from China and later brought in coffee too.

Their flagship Grafton Street cafe was opened in 1927 at great expense. Taking its inspiration from the grand cafes of continental Europe, it was decorated with art nouveau and stained glass windows designed by celebrated Irish artist Harry Clarke.

Bewley's Grafton Street cafe has been serving tea, coffee and culture ever since, with a brief interruption when it closed in 2004. It reopened after a public outcry so great it made it into parliamentary debates.