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ENTERTAINMENT Chicago Magic Lounge putting a spell on guests
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2018-03-13

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Chicago Magic Lounge is already enthralling guests since opening last month, thanks to its decor and, of course, its slate of magicians—but those who also want to experience all of it have to enter through a laundromat.

Yes, that's correct. The place that specializes in misdirection gets guests right off the bat, as visitors have to figure out exactly how to enter the place.

"It used to be a laundromat, so we wanted to keep some element of that here, founder Joey Cranford told Windy City Times. "This whole project is a project in history, including the history of Chicago magic, in a bar and a restaurant. It's been gone since the '90s—[places] where you could see close-up magic." Cranford, who calls himself a "local magic-bar historian," then listed places that flourished in the '70s and '80s, including Houdini's Pub & Pizza Magic, Mr. C's Magic Lounge and The Ivanhoe.

As to why these bars disappeared, Cranford said that some have said that stand-up was the reason. "However," he added, "one day, a magician said to me, 'You know what killed these bars? Bad magic, oversaturation, because all of these other bars are doing so well.' ... But I don't think that's what truly did it: I think owners of these places got old and decided to retire, and magicians decided to go [elsewhere]."

Well, Cranford and business partner Donald Clark Jr. hope to bring back great bar, stage and table magic, thanks to a multimillion-dollar renovation, designed by Morris Architects Planners, that is ushering in a new wave of entertainment by bringing back "Chicago Style Magic."

However, Cranford and Clark want to do more than amaze audiences and bring back history. "We also want to bring the sense of community back," Cranford said. "If you look at how magicians work, it's a very solitary art form. Stand-up comedy's the same way—but if you go to a stand-up comedy club, you see the back of the bar is lined with stand-ups watching each other. Then, they go back to the green room and say, 'What if you punched it [up] like this?' Here, we're doing the same thing, except with illusion."

Chicago Magic Lounge is open seven days a week, and has renowned magicians such as Ryan Plunkett, Luis Carreon and Justin Purcell. ( In addition, the bar area has its own performers, including Al James and Deven Brown. ) Recent guest performers have included Arthur Trace, Jeanette Andrews, Nathan Colwell, Marcus Eddie, Patrick Livingstone ( who Windy City Times has profiled ), Alba, Sin and Danny Rudnick. ( Maybe Neil Patrick Harris, a known magician himself, will make a surprise appearance? )

The main area ( which has a theater setting ) manages to look plush and sleek at the same time, and Cranford described several aspects of it to WCT. "People will be able to have front-row and mezzanine experiences," he said. "We chose Art Deco decor to reflect the period when magic really stared to thrive. We wanted to celebrate when it was okay to drink again, the late '20s and early '30s—you know: party time." He even pointed out that there are devices to aid the hard-of-hearing.

There's also a smaller theater for intimate close-up magic after the show. It's called the 654 Club "because Bill Malone and Frank Everhart, names in magic, created a trick called 'Sam the Bellhop,'" Cranford explained. "It's a story trick [involving] a deck of cards, and telling a story with each card you pull off. Through that trick, '654 Club' is mentioned. It's an inside joke for magicians."

There are all sorts of innovative touches, such as a restroom called "The Royal Flush" because of the playing-card tile; a private balcony for magicians; and antique posters and fixtures. In addition, magicians ( whether actual or aspiring ) can apply to be part of the Chicago Magic Round Table; annual fees are $150-$250, and benefits range from food/beverage discounts to access to the reference library.

Cranford and Clark have put together an all-star management team, including Benjamin Barnes ( entertainment director ), John Sturk ( music director ), Lesley Stone ( managing director ) and Nick Murray ( food/beverage director ).

And there's a full menu, of course. Signature cocktails have names like Dark Arts, Smoke and Mirrors, Sleight of Hand, Abracadabra and How Houdini Died. There are also small-plate items for the hungry as well; items include Green City Market crudite, prosciutto-wrapped dates, pork-belly sliders and shrimp cocktail, among other offerings.

When asked how hecklers will be handled ( because those drinks can flow ), Cranford smiled and said, "The stage handles them. What you get mostly, though, are outbursts of 'What!' Magicians have their own way of shutting [hecklers] down, though."

So get swept up in the magic. Chicago Magic Lounge is the perfect place to be enchanted.

The Chicago Magic Lounge is at 5050 N. Clark St. See www.chicagomagiclounge.com/ .


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