Full disclosure: I didn’t know. I didn’t know about Chicago’s long history with Magic. I didn’t know Chicago is the home of close-up work, that this city was the home base for many early 20th century grand illusionists, that a 19-year-old Harry Houdini worked the White City. I didn’t know that Chicago once supported as many as 15 magic bars and hundreds of working magicians. I didn’t know there was an annual Magicians Ball that drew a thousand guests or more. I didn’t know Magic is enjoying a resurgence and I didn’t know Chicago may be the epicenter of that growing trend. Maybe you didn’t know that either.
But as of February 22, when Max Maven takes the stage in a newly renovated and specially designed theater at 5050 North Clark, we will know that Magic is a major player in entertainment and tourism in Chicago because the Chicago Magic Lounge will open its doors and you’ll be able to grab a seat and be blown away by world class illusionists.
If you can get in.
I don’t mean it’s like a snooty night club where you can’t get in, or an exclusive restaurant where you can’t get in, I mean you may or may not be able to find the door.
If the Violet Hour thinks it has some kind of local monopoly on hidden or obscured entrances, they ain’t got nothing on the Chicago Magic Lounge. I’d hate to wreck the trick for you so I’ll keep my mouth shut and just give you a winky winky hint: the renovated building where the Lounge has made its stunning new home was once a massive laundry. So, you know, when you walk in and you’re facing a wall of washers and dryers just understand, yes, you are in the right place.
I recently took a hard-hat tour of the Lounge. The walls weren’t painted and the floors weren’t done and construction workers were hustling around like ants on a hill. Although the press handlers gave all the journalists thumb drives with gorgeous renderings, it was clear to us even through the dust and the splatter of being built that this joint is special.
And maybe it starts with the architecture. Morris Architects is behind many of Chicago’s iconic theaters, including Steppenwolf, the Lookingglass Theater, the Olde Towne School of Folk Music, and the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. The Magic Lounge was designed from the floor up to accommodate magicians and fans of the art. From the secret entrance to the specially designed close-up magic bar, to the main stage itself, every inch of the facility promotes illusion.
Of course a lounge needs a bar. The bar at the front of the Magic Lounge was designed to showcase close-up magic, a style of sleight-of-hand featuring card tricks, coin tricks, and all kinds of illusions that happen right under your nose. The center of the bar is bumped out in a felted semicircle where a magician can work as guests crowd around and knock back a few martinis. This is truly in the spirit of the kind of no-barrier close-up magic pioneered in Chicago where everything comes down to impeccable technique and the audience is just a handful of people. That bump-out section is raised and well lighted, so ever people a few seats away will be able to see the tricks while they’re waiting to hit the main show.
If they can get in.
Didn’t we do this already? To guests arriving in the bar, it will seem they have discovered the entirety of the facility. But why have only one secret entrance? Again, I have to keep my mouth shut and just say enjoy the card tricks and maybe, I don’t know, read a book while you sip your cocktail by the fire?
That’s a hint, by the way.
For the second secret door.
To get in.
The main stage manages to be intimate (it only seats 110) yet spectacular with an art deco feel that hearkens back to the golden age of Chicago magic.
Behind the main stage is the 654 Club, offering up to 40 guests a closer look at a more intimate show.
However, what may turn into the most important element of the Magic Lounge, however invisible it is to patrons, is upstairs. And it’s nothing special, really, just an area behind the mezzanine, overlooking the bar with some comfortable seating. The lounge admin offices are to the north and the stairs are in the south. It could be space wasted with a non-descript hallway or storage but the Magic Lounge has made it a space for magicians to hang out. To meet. To enjoy the fellowship of their peers. To vet tricks and talk shop.
Magicians have always had social clubs, like the SAM, (Society of American Magicians) and the IBM (International Brotherhood of Magicians), all with local chapters in Chicago. These clubs meet wherever they can find space–in churches, community centers, maybe in bars. The Chicago Magic Round Table will use the space upstairs at the Magic Lounge. The Round Table dates back to the late 1930’s to a club called the Chicago Magicians Round Table which met daily at Drake’s on Dearborn, a historic restaurant long closed.
Magicians from all over the world knew if they dropped in between 1 and 5 they’d find a group of fellow entertainers who would welcome them. Such community is vital to any group of solo performers. It helps them stay connected. It helps them network. It grounds them. However, to give such a community a permanent home is an invaluable gift. By giving the Round Table their space, the Magic Lounge establishes itself as home for magicians in Chicago. Like the Magic Castle in L.A. and Boomers in Vegas, it will become a destination for magicians even if they aren’t playing the stage. More, it will more than likely nurture this community and assist in the this perennial bloom of interest in magic shows, adding a dedicated space to the roster of entertainment options for destination tourism. Just as Second City and Uptown is a destination for fans of comedy, The Magic Lounge will become a destination for fans of prestidigitation.
Opening night will feature Max Maven, a critically acclaimed mentalist, author, television performer and host, and a consultant to such magical luminaries as David Copperfield, Doug Henning, and Penn & Teller. Other performers include Arthur Trace, Alba, Kayla Drescher, Ryan Plunkett, Lee Benzaquin, Luis Carreon, Deven Brown, and Justin Purcell.
You can get tickets to The Magic Lounge at their website. The lounge itself is at 5050 North Clark Street in Chicago.
If you can find it.
And if you can get in . . .