European Diary

The Eudaemonic Serb

The Ritz Club, the casino arm of the venerable and resplendent hotel in Piccadilly, is, for the discriminating player with an 18th-century sense of what gambling is all about, “the other place.”  Apart from the late John Aspinall’s hallowed sepulchre in Curzon Street, this subterranean alhambra is the only privately owned gambling club in London.  The remaining 30-odd joints—some magnificently appointed, such as the Clermont, others irreparably dingy, such as the Victoria, still others, such as the Connoisseur, possessed of that curious blend of the gleam of brushed steel with the reek of Indian kitchen spices now characterizing the modern in what remains of Britain—are owned by hotel and leisure chains, some coming from as far afield as Atlantic City.

Loyal as I am to Aspinalls, I thought it was only fair that I should give the Ritz a chance, and, when the management there smiled on me benignly, I succumbed.  On my maiden evening at the club, I found myself playing side by side with a man of athletic build who was betting the floor maximum of £1,000 per number.  Judging by his accent in English, and from his lively banter, over the head of the impassive croupier, with a sidekick at the next table, I identified a Serb on a rampage.  How ironic that all these jolly fellows should be from the Balkans, I thought, and straightaway something in my mind seemed to sprout...

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