Bettys is one of the most recognisable sights in York. Commanding a great sweeping corner, stretching from St. Helen’s Square round to Davygate, the tea rooms are an institution in the city. Every day a long, patient queue forms from before opening time; each visitor keen to sample the culinary delights on offer. Bettys’ popularity is matched only by its quality, and year on year keeps tourists and residents alike coming back for more.
Beneath street level, however, next to the toilets of all places, stands a paean to both the rich history of Bettys in York, and also the bravery of British and overseas soldiers in the second World War.
During the war years, the basement floor of Bettys, (known as Bettys Bar), was a favourite drinking spot of Canadian and American ‘Bomber Boys’ stationed in York. The interior was inspired by the great RMS Queen Mary cruise liner, and as such was lined with mirrors and wood panelling. Today, if you were to descend the flight of stairs near the entrance to the restaurant to the Oak Room, and make a sharp right, you would find ‘Bettys Mirror’, a huge looking glass made up of several previously broken pieces.
Ordinarily, a broken mirror would not be of much interest. Rather, it would stand as a portent of extended bad luck. In this instance, however, the mirror serves as inspiration, a memory of the continued courage of those men in question.
‘Bettys Mirror’ is the reconstruction of several mirrors originally found in the basement bar. More than 600 names were engraved on the mirrors, and one story goes that they were etched on with a Bettys waitress’ engagement ring. The soldiers, thousands of miles away from home, left their mark on their beloved bar before flying off for dangerous missions. Some would never return.
At that time, Bettys was one of the only cafes to possess a liquor licence, and very soon it became immensely popular. Affectionately known as the ‘Dive’, or ‘The Briefing Room’, Bettys Bar quenched the immeasurable thirst of the visiting military men, and allowed them to carve their names on the mirrors on the walls, exactly as celebrities did on the numerous mirrors on the Queen Mary.
The men who signed their names on the mirrors of Bettys Bar were celebrities in their own right. Powerful and inspiring, their plight and fearlessness lives on in the display of the mirror in present-day Bettys. Visit the tea room, try their afternoon tea, and while you’re there, pay a visit to Bettys Mirror.