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Vesper Club is smokin' mad

The private dining club, which moved this fall across the street, is facing a smoking ban.

Has time caught up with the Vesper Club?

The old-guard Philly dining club was rousted from its Center City building a few months ago. It found a home across Sydenham Street, at the Racquet Club. It is now a tenant. The two clubs have separate dining facilities but share a bar.

This relationship does not seem to be working out. Vesper officials say that on Sept. 27, three weeks after they moved in, the Racquet Club instituted a smoking ban.

"They called it temporary," Vesper treasurer Ed Rhodes told me. But he is not sure about that.

The Vesper, as the club notified members in an email, is "under attack."

In its old quarters, the Vesper was one of the city's last bastions of quasipublic smoking. That the Vesper is chafing at a smoking ban carries some irony; in 1901, founders chartered it as a private Mummers club to allow it to circumvent the city's "blue" laws that banned alcohol sales on Sundays and Election Days. It became a private dining club in 1941, and more recently was granted a city exemption from smoking restrictions.

In the email, club officers say they understood that they would need to make some adjustments in their new quarters - "some positive and some not so positive. We packed up our kitchen, our furniture, and our staff and made the move across the street to our new home. All was well with the Racquet Club and the Vesper Club. Then without notice, without consideration, the Board of the Racquet Club of Philadelphia attacked the very fiber and tradition of the Vesper Club and unilaterally passed a smoke-free environment policy. This action has placed our club in a very tenuous financial position. Therefore, improved cash flow and member usage of the club is critical to our survival."

The email urges members to show their support for the club, which wants to regain its financial footing, by renewing their memberships and by patronizing the club.

The Vesper may be on the move again. Its old building (above) is on the market.