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SYFY WIRE Geek Road Trip

Geek Road Trip: Abracadabra! Check out these 5 magic clubs across the country

By Vanessa Armstrong
House of Cards magic house, Nashville, Tennessee

Places to see top-tier magic are popping up all over the United States, giving magic nerds and laypeople alike the chance to be amazed by jaw-dropping feats of sleight of hand, prestidigitation, and misdirection no matter where they live. These establishments are popular not only because they offer people the opportunity to see great magic outside of Vegas, but also because they provide an unforgettable, encompassing experience, a night out on the town their visitors won’t soon forget.

Below are five such places across the country that offer shows several days a week in memorable venues, with magicians you may have seen on TV shows like Penn & Teller's Fool Us. These five are just the tip of the iceberg, however; several other establishments run magic shows on a weekly or monthly basis that are worthy of a visit as well. So wherever you live, if you happen to see a magical performance advertised in your town or city, give it a try! Chances are it will be an experience you'll remember.

The Magic Castle, Los Angeles, California

01. The Magic Castle, Los Angeles, California

Located in the heart of Hollywood, the Magic Castle is the private clubhouse for members of the Academy of Magical Arts (AMA), a 5,400-member organization for magicians and magic enthusiasts. Every night, members and their guests flock to the Castle, an eclectically elegant Chateauesque mansion that, over its 56-year history, has grown to include a dining room, four theaters, and five bars. The establishment is a mecca of magic, with professional magicians across the globe vying to perform in one of their showrooms, which range in size from the 26-seat Close-Up Gallery to the 130-seat Palace of Mystery.

Since it’s a private club, getting an invitation to the Magic Castle requires being the guest of a member or becoming a member outright (the AMA has both Magician Memberships and Associate Memberships, the latter being for magic enthusiasts who do not practice the art). If you do gain access (which also requires adhering to their strict dress code), it’s like spending a night at Hogwarts: the style is loosely Victorian in theme but includes memorable quirks and eccentricities like portraits whose eyes follow you, and a resident ghost named Irma who takes song requests at her piano several hours a night.

“People lose themselves,” Joe Furlow, General Manager of the Academy of Magical Arts, explains. “It takes them back to when they were kids when they first saw that first magic trick…that sense of wonderment. We try to create that sense of wonderment on a nightly basis.”

And guests can re-create that sense of wonderment over and over during their time in the Castle, whether that’s simply wandering its rooms, drink in hand, or by seeing one or many of the 20 or so scheduled performances in a given night.

House of Cards magic house, Nashville, Tennessee

02. House of Cards, Nashville, Tennessee

Nashville’s House of Cards owner Bill Miller is one of those people who has been enraptured by the Magic Castle.

“I had been to the Castle for the first time when I was eight years old, and I hadn’t seen anything like it,” Miller says. “One day I thought, my gosh, wouldn’t it be great to bring a little slice of the Magic Castle to Nashville because there’s nothing like it anywhere near here in the Southeast.”

Miller created his dream in the 9,500-square foot space beneath downtown Nashville’s Johnny Cash Museum (an establishment he also owns). House of Cards, which opened in April 2018, has no outside signage and is only accessible through a secret tunnel that goes beneath the museum. The place is fancy — it has a dress code and is the only restaurant in Nashville that has a full caviar service — and the theming has a 1930s speakeasy feel that is intentionally over the top.

“Very few jaws do not drop when they come down that tunnel and enter the lobby,” Miller says. “It truly blows you away.”

House of Cards has four intimate shows per night in the Carter the Great Theatre, and has two alcoves where guests, cocktail in hand, can watch magicians performing amazing sleight-of-hand tricks. Reservations are required, and access to see the theater show comes with buying a dinner entree. Miller, however, encourages patrons to take their time in the space.

“Rather than coming in, having dinner, seeing one show and going home, we’d like people, at their option, to spend the entire evening and experience as much magic as they possibly could want,” he says. “It’s a sumptuous, luxurious, dark, warm, cozy, mystical, magical place. When you’re here, you truly are in another world.”

The Great Magic Hall, Kissimmee, Florida

03. The Great Magic Hall, Kissimmee, Florida

While the Magic Castle and House of Cards mainly focus on adult crowds, the Great Magic Hall in Kissimmee, Florida, caters to a broader audience, including families with kids older than six.

The establishment offers at least two hour-long performances per day, and the experience begins and ends in the Magic Room, a place where guests first gather to see magic in a more relaxed atmosphere (and have the chance to look at some magic tricks available for purchase). After the Magic Room, guests are taken to up to five other rooms that are designed to highlight different types of magic, from close-up (magic performed just a couple of feet away from the audience) to small stage illusions.

“The key element is the way you present the magic,” explains Attillio, the founder of the Great Magic Hall. “Each room has different frames that highlights each type of performance.”

The Great Magic Hall is also a great deal, with tickets ranging from $14-$22 for adults depending on the time and day of the show. And while there’s no food or drink available inside, there’s plenty of places to eat in Old Town, the outdoor shopping and entertainment area where The Great Magic Hall resides.

Chicago Magic Lounge, Chicago, Illinois

04. Chicago Magic Lounge, Chicago, Illinois

With the Chicago Magic Lounge, CEO Joey Cranford and his co-owners set out to bring Chicago-style magic back to the city. This style of magic was popular in the 1930s, and was more rough-and-tumble than the elaborate illusion shows many people think of today when they think of magic.

Cranford describes an old Chicago magic bar as follows: “It was just a shot and a beer kind of place, a place where you could sit down with a magician, laugh with a magician, talk with a magician and drink while watching magic. It was the first breaking of the fourth wall for magicians… this was a magician who was just there with you. It was always really fast, and really funny, a little crass back in the early days, but it was all personality driven… it was a whole different style from that time period.”

Chicago Magic Lounge is bringing this tradition back to the Windy City, and Chicagoans are responding. The concept started in 2015, where Cranford and his co-owners produced a show twice a week at a rented-out facility. Their shows were extremely popular, and in February 2018, the Lounge started holding shows daily in its own 7,200 square foot facility, which was specifically designed to highlight Chicago-style magic.

Like House of Cards, the club has a 1930s art deco vibe and has no signage outside. Unlike House of Cards, the venue does not have a dress code, and guests enter through an old laundromat, where one of the washer doors opens, revealing the posh interior.

Bar food is available, but the real experience here is the magic: guests can watch magicians behind the bar or at stations in the main part of the club, and they can also buy tickets ($42 on a weekend night) to a 120-seat cabaret theater and, if they purchased premium tickets ($57 on a weekend night), see an additional show in their 654 Club, a 43-seat traditional theater built exclusively for close-up magic.

Mystique Dining magic club

05. Mystique Dining, Folsom, California, and West Jordan, Utah

Heading further West takes us to Mystique Dining, which has an 18-guest establishment in Folsom, California, and a 30-guest venue in West Jordan, Utah, near Salt Lake City. “The main thing about Mystique is that it’s very intimate,” Terry Commons, owner and founder of Mystique Dining, explains. “It allows for an intimate and personal connection with the performer.”

This intimate magic and dining experience lasts 2 and a half hours, and other than the difference in seating size, the two establishments are identical: After a five-course dinner around a large table (“Guests are seated at a table with strangers and end up as friends,” Commons says), the diners are treated to a 45-minute close-up magic show.

Magicians from around the world rotate out of the clubs every week or two, and the menu changes seasonally. The decor of the room also changes for certain holidays, becoming a spooky mausoleum around Halloween and a festively decorated dining hall during Christmastime.

Tickets, which includes everything except hot drinks and alcohol, range from $70 to $85 at the Folsom location and $60 to $65 in Utah. “I wanted to have a quality dinner followed by a world-class performance,” Commons explains, “and I wanted to have it in an atmosphere that is super impressive and overwhelming.” Mystique Dining achieves all three of Commons’s goals, and diners here will not be disappointed.