For decades, the Vesper Club was a Mad Men-ny, private dining club tucked on a Center City backstreet. On Friday nights from the mid-'50s through the late '70s, that's where you'd find Frank Rizzo, for example.
Tastes changed, members died off, smoking was banned, and, in late 2012, it was booted from its home on Sydenham Street (near 15th and Locust Streets) pending the building's sale.
The building returned this week as a supper-club-style restaurant open to the public, with nightly dancing and a downstairs bar that bans cell phones.
Vesper (223 S. Sydenham St., 267-930-3813) brings together Chuck Ercole, a lawyer who owns Misconduct Tavern next door, and Brendan Smith and John Barry of Smiths Restaurant. Running it is Jim Israel, who founded and sold the catering company Culinary Concepts.
Irish-born chef Ken Wallace's continental menu is primarily small plates. There's a raw bar at the end of the main bar. Effectively, there are five entrées (two meats, a fish, a chicken, and a vegetarian pot pie), most priced either for one or two people.
Jesse Cornell, whose resume includes Chick's Social, Sbraga, and Franky Bradley's, heads the bar, serving classics.
A black rotary wall phone near the entrance, bearing the old Vesper number, PE5-7810, is a hotline to the downstairs bar, open Wednesday through Saturday. Pick up the phone and speak the password to seek admittance, and the bookcase will open as a door leading downstairs.
Dinner will be served nightly. Main bar will open at 4:30 p.m., dinner starts at 5 p.m., music (jazz, swing, singer-songwriter) begins at 5:30 p.m.
Lots of college students work in coffee shops. But at the new Saxbys at 65 N. 34th St. on Drexel University's campus, they actually operate it. Saxbys has partnered with Drexel's Close School of Entrepreneurship, in conjunction with the school's co-op program. It's open daily from early till late.
The options for ramen have expanded with this week's opening of Rai Rai Ramen at 915 Race St. (215-309-3609), a BYOB. Rai Rai, whose bright interior contains tables, high-tops, and wall-counter seating, is rooted in North Brunswick, N.J., where the original location is being rebuilt after a 2014 fire. Staff said a Rai Rai location is destined a ways off for Bryn Mawr. Menu fuses Chinese and Japanese. Figure on $9.75 to $13.50 for ramen. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The city's zoning board has approved a variance that will place Revolution Taco - a counter-service taco and burrito shop - at 2015 Walnut St. It will be the first brick-and-mortar effort for Alan Krawitz of Say Cheese food truck and Mike Sultan and Carolyn Nguyen, who own the Street Food Philly and Taco Mondo food trucks. Revolution is due in late June or early July.
Sweetgreen - the salad specialist - has a May 6 date with the zoning board for an expansive flagship location at 1821 Chestnut St.
The McFadden's bar at 461 N. Third St. closed after 14 years. Its location at Citizens Bank Park and sister operations Tavern on Broad and Johnny Utah's (next door) are unaffected.