It’s been some time now since anyone ordered a cup of tea in Bewley’s on Grafton Street.
Four hundred and fifty-nine days to be exact.
When the café closed in February of 2015, a period of six months or so was floated as the time necessary to refurbish and reopen it.
And yet, some 15 months later, here we are: no grand reopening so far, and no definite date set for one.
Will the café ever open? When might that happen? And what’s causing the delay?
In the Beginning
On 27 February 2015, the Grafton Street premises closed its doors, and 140 staff members were made redundant.
This was meant to reduce the losses of the business, which were estimated to be €1.2 million annually, it was reported in the Irish Times at the time.
Bewley’s on Grafton Street would need to be simplified if it were to remain a viable business. After a full refurbishment, the café would continue to trade, but only on the ground floor.
The six months or so floated in early 2015 for the refurbishment was an unlikely target.
Dublin City Council only issued final planning permission on 2 September 2015, show planning records. That’s seven months after the store closed.
Then, in October 2015, the Irish Times reported that the company had decided to fully refurbish the first floor (as well as the ground floor), so that it would be ready for trade, should the market recover and grow.
The company said they hoped to have the café back open by spring.
A Cautious Approach
The company now says it’s taking its time with the refurbishment. The project has proven more substantial than first envisaged, said Bewley’s spokesperson Tim Kinsella.
“Bewley’s are concentrating on a high quality approach to this overall project and we aren’t setting a specific date for the reopening until we’re ready to open our doors to a fully renovated café,” he said in an email.
“Bewley’s are committed to supporting the café as part of the social and cultural fabric of Dublin. We have decided to invest further in the renovation to make it as complete as possible,” he said.
The premises, opened in 1927, is a protected structure and, as such, any refurbishment or works need to be delicate in order to retain the character of the historic building.
But with a now-expanded revamp come further complications. To deal with those, it might need council approval.
More Ambitious Plans
In the original planning application for the revamp, Bewley’s said it intended to alter the window fittings and entrances, replace paving and add new external lighting.
The council okayed the application, and works began.
Last week, however, a Section 5 application for 78/79 Grafton Street appeared on Dublin City Council’s website, dated 20 May.
Sections 5 applications are made in order to determine whether certain elements of a specific development or a singular alteration require planning permission.
Since Bewley’s Grafton Street building is protected, if the company wanted to make additional alterations, it would have to ask under Section 5 whether this required planning permission.
Bewley’s application in relation to the ongoing refurbishment of the café is detailed – 27 paragraphs in total, outlining intended works and further alterations.
This includes changes to the Upper Whyte’s Café and the removal of block work around the famous Harry Clarke stained-glass windows.
It also includes repairs to the stained-glass windows, some timber windows in the first-floor’s James Joyce Room and some decorative lanterns, as well as internal layout revisions and changes to the curved stairs.
The application also envisions the replacement of internal doors and floors, repairs to the lift shaft and timber fireplaces, the repair of the café clock, and the upgrade of the existing heating, plumbing and electrical services.
Open by 2017?
For the council’s planning department to give the thumbs-up to further alterations, it will need to – over the next three weeks – assess the intended works to determine if any of the 27 detailed articles listed require planning permission.
If conservation concerns are raised and the planning authorities decide any of the intended works require further planning permission, that’s a further delay of eight weeks or so.
Bewley’s, however, says it is confident that the Grafton Street premises will reopen by the end of the year, despite further requests for further refurbishment.
“The café had not been renovated for over a decade and it has needed conservation and restoration work as one of Dublin’s finest buildings which needs care and sensitivity to ensure the job is done to the best effect possible,” says spokesperson Kinsella.
“The works being undertaken turned out to more substantial than had originally been envisaged but we’re making great progress and are looking forward to our reopening later this year,” he said.