Javas Cafe pictured above was a much love Limerick institution in its time.
A Loving Tribute to Javas by Jen Ronan
Friends had Central Perk, Frasier had Café Nervosa…and in a little city in the Mid-West of Ireland, we had Javas Cafe.
When it first opened around 1994 it was the freshest breath of air our lovely little city could have wished for, and the thirteen years it was with us served to weave its way into the fibres of many a Limerick young person’s psyche. It seems that many of my fundamental later teenage memories are invariably infused with the numerous portions of Death By Chocolate and giant cups of tea that my friends and I consumed while solving all of the problems in our wonderful, intimate universe. Here, we pay homage to the wonder and delight of my favourite coffee shop in the whole wide world. Thanks for the memories, Duncan and all the staff down through the years. I miss you, Java’s. This one’s for you….
It’s the late Nineties, you’re walking down Catherine Street. A burgundy-painted coffee shop sits resplendent on a corner, its large glass shop front exposing the patrons to the only glimpse of the outside world they want to welcome. As you wander in the door, the stairs directly in front of you leads to the other realm of The Upstairs, the main seating area to your immediate right. The choice is yours.
The ground floor area of Javas Cafe offers a lighter, more casual approach to your coffee / lunch experience. Here, the people are transitory, on lunch breaks with limited time, or just stopping by to grab a bite while they formulate their plan for the rest of the day. It’s bright, bustling and busy, and these customers have places to go and people to see.
There’s a sub-group sitting down the back in the corner table, shying away from the natural light and having deep, meaningful conversations. For some reason they all look like art or drama teachers. There is an abundance of long-sleeved black t-shirts, chokers, Doc Martens, hand-woven Native American-style headscarves and packets of Golden Virginia tobacco scattered across the table surrounded by empty cappuccino cups. On closer inspection there seem to be some dreadlocks sporadically scattered throughout the group – not enough to be labelled a ‘hippy’, but just the right amount to let everyone know you’re not part of The Establishment. As if your conversation about suicidal novelists and that time you saw Nirvana in Sir Henry’s down in Cork wasn’t enough of a hint already…
If Java Cafe was a metaphor for family hierarchy, you would have the responsible parents along with their older children in their mid-to-late twenties sitting downstairs putting the world to rights, while the misunderstood disenfranchised teenage black sheep of the family hung out where they felt they belonged – Upstairs.
As one of the aforementioned depressed grungy teens back in the Nineties, this was where I lived. Upstairs, with little or no money, you could sit with your equally apathetic friends, four people to one hot chocolate, seven glasses of water, and a double chocolate muffin with four forks. Nobody ever really ate the cream that came with it, but one of your friends would undoubtedly mess with the cream until it churned to butter. They would then empty a couple of sachets of sugar into it – only to try and burn it with a lighter (We all had that one pyromaniac friend). This was our sanctuary. Too young for bars, too old to be happy sitting at home.
For me, it was the closest I’d ever get to living the Seattle-grunge slacker’s dream life. We would arse about in Java Cafe all day with friends, lie our way into Termights at night, fall back into Java’s again afterwards until the very wee small hours. This was the life. A fog of smoke would greet you the further down the back of Java’s you went, all the non-smokers scrambling for a window seat, the too-high temperature that never changed no matter what time of year it was; it was pure and utter heaven.
Who among us ex Java-goers hasn’t sat back every now and again and remembered the sense of victory they felt when THEY got the hanging seat next to the fire? (The couch beside it was the next best thing.) That was the observation deck for all the Upstairs goings-on. I can remember hearing footsteps coming up the stairs and craning my neck to see what head would pop up, my heart pounding because I’d heard that so-and-so always came in around this time on a Friday, and being bitterly disappointed when it was just one of the staff. It was ALWAYS just one of the staff. Or even that brief moment of vulnerability when you walked up those stairs yourself while everyone else did the same thing, and then looked away when they didn’t know you. Although, this being Limerick, you invariably always knew someone sitting Upstairs.
A more diverse, eclectic group of young souls you would never see together, except in Java’s. Bunches of school uniforms huddled together, giggling and trying to out-funny each other, smoking without fear of being spotted by wandering parents or teachers, mini tribal councils of gothic and metaller kids who commandeered the big long table at the back near the windows, boys and girls mixing, one young couple sharing headphones listening to the latest Marilyn Manson CD, three of the boys playing Rock Paper Scissors to decide who would go up to the hot Spanish girl with the lip piercing working behind the counter and either ask her out or get her to play their band’s demo on the shop music system, whichever happened first. The kids from Tutorial and Bruce College with the fake Dublin 4 accents who all wore Hobo hoodies, shell-top Adidas and Pan-Stik foundation (I include both genders in that). You knew they were posh because they were all able to buy a drink each – AND food if they wanted. Jammy gowls. I’m not bitter…
Honourable mention must of course go to the food. Oh sweet Lord, how I long for a heated chocolate croissant with a giant cup of tea once more. Their Thai Chicken Wrap was a thing of majesty. The chips were a treat on a Friday whenever I would have the finances to get the city bus in after school from my home in the sprawling metropolis of Kildimo, to meet my town friends for a precious few hours. Bowl of chips, hot choc mallow (extra mallow obviously) and the famous glass of tap water that was the universal teenage signal to all waiting staff: “We’ve no money and nowhere else to go, please let us stay.” Sometimes it worked. Not on Saturday afternoons however; though it wasn’t for the want of trying.
As the years went on, Java’s brought in the odd spot of live music, where many long-standing friendships were formed and have lasted through the decades. It was one of those places that had a type of energy far beyond just being a coffee shop or late-night after-hours spot. It had its own personality, and welcomed anyone in who could give it more life and depth. It was the setting for many a make-up and break-up, and all the wonderful complicated stuff in between. It was fantastic. Historically, it was also where I was the moment I heard about the events of 9/11. I was sitting with some friends having a laugh as we often did, when another friend with a penchant for the dramatic ran upstairs, stood in the centre of the floor and roared at the top of his voice “OHMYGOD LADS, TWO PLANES ARE AFTER CRASHING INTO THE TWIN TOWERS IN NEW YORK AND ANOTHER IS ON ITS WAY TO THE PENTAGON – WE’RE ALL DOOMED!!” Then ran back out again. No word of a lie. It’s the stuff movies are made of.
Java Cafe is gone many a year now, and I mourn it deeply. Sure, I’ve sought comfort in the arms of another venue many a night, but my heart belongs inside those dark red walls. I miss those giant round wooden tables, those cups wider than the circumference of your head that made the tea go cold way too soon, the friends playing guitar in the corner singing songs by The Lemonheads and Neil Young, the coveted hanging chair next to the fire, and the feeling of having your own safe space with all of your friends where you could sit and watch the world go by, while trying to protect each other from the threat of being a responsible adult in the not-too-distant future.
Whatever the formula was for the perfect coffee shop atmosphere, Java’s got it right. It may be gone, but it will never be forgotten. Too many memories are tied up in it. All the nostalgia comes from many a bewildered Limerick soul longing for the days where you could hang out in a place that just ‘got’ what you were about. What separated Java’s from the rest? Ask anyone and you’ll get as many different answers as the number of people you ask. Whatever about anything else; Java’s operated under the one fundamental secret to a happy life:
Everything is better with a cup of tea.
For Jens blog go HERE
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