The Magic Castle is a mysterious place. Located on Franklin Avenue behind Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theater, this unusual building houses some of the coolest nighttime demonstrations in town. In the simplest of terms, The Magic Castle provides adult magic shows in a sophisticated atmosphere. Still, don’t let the phrase “magic show” fool you. The demonstrations are complicated, well-presented, and just plain baffling. Unlike other venues, such as those found in Las Vegas where there is a large stage with equipment, Castle performers are in a small room with very little in hand and mere feet from you. I sat front row once and even participated in the demonstration, yet could not figure out how the guy did what he did. The Magic Castle carefully lures the educated adult into believing in real magic.
The Magic Castle has an interesting history. This Victorian home was built between 1908 and 1909 by Rollin B. Lane. Lane had visions of the Hollywood area being developed as vibrant farmland and orchards. When that didn’t pan out, he moved on and the home became a multi-family residence in the 1940s. After that, the beautiful structure became an old folks’ home. It eventually evolved into a small apartment building. Finally in 1961, Milt Larsen restored the building back to its Victorian splendor and made the fine home into an exclusive clubhouse. Milt’s late father was a magician and always dreamed of such a place. The doors opened in 1962 and its walls have housed some pretty amazing acts ever since.
You may be dazzled by the shows, but this hotspot isn’t just for giggles. This is a serious business. The clubhouse is home to approximately 5,000 members. The nonprofit social order is technically referred to as the Academy of Magical Arts, Inc. The goals of the order are to cultivate the magical arts, invite the public to enjoy intricate performances, and provide a positive image for the practice. There is a Board of Trustees that manages the magic and there is a Board of Directors that manages the business. The current president of the Board of Directors is familiar face Neil Patrick Harris. Makes sense that a man with a long, fruitful career in the entertainment business is at the helm. Magic classes are available to the public and you can apply for a membership either as a magician or as an avid supporter.
Access to the Castle is like many other Hollywood locales. You need to know somebody who knows somebody. Also, you must be at least 21 years old and there is a strict dress code. I first obtained access through an unlikely connection. My mother worked at a preschool and, unbeknownst to her, was working with a member’s child. My mother made a positive impression and a pass was gifted to her. One pass is good for up to eight people, thus, you can spread the wealth. At that time, my dad was still alive and I love that one of our last memories as a foursome was in such an enchanting place. Plus, my father was a child at heart, so this was a great experience to share with him. The second time I came to the Castle was for my hubby’s 30th birthday. I surprised him with a limo and six of our friends. It was a wonderful night.
When you first arrive at the Castle, you will enter a small foyer. With no doors. You check in (dinner reservations required), take a group photo, and the hostess directs you to a special object in the rear bookcase. One person is chosen to utter the “magic words” and a hidden access way shifts open. Your evening begins.
The decor is vintage, but the vibe is hip. I like to think of it as part Hollywood home, part speakeasy. There are bars, lounges, a full restaurant, and three showrooms. There is also a room preserved for séances. Guests are not allowed to take photos once inside, so keep your eyes open and try to soak it all in. I particularly like the lounge where the piano is played by a “ghost”. Feel free to make requests, she does her best to oblige. You can also visit the Hat and Hare Pub located in the cellar. There are specialty martinis as well as impromptu magic performances. Dinner is upstairs and includes a wide menu. The food is good and the ambience is elegant. Expect to pay about $30 for your main meal.
There are five different shows, not including the séance which requires special reservations and fees. I like to get to the Castle right when it opens at 5pm. That way I can enjoy the lounges, have dinner around 6pm, then try to hit up all five shows. Sometimes there is a line outside the small venues so plan your time wisely. Each performance is unique and boggles your mind in different ways. Besides, if you only have one pass, you want to make the whole night count. Speaking of passes, you might be wondering how I got access to the Castle a second time. Well, during that first visit, a Castle photographer took pictures of our family at dinner. You buy the photo, you get another pass. The trick is to get your foot in the door – or in this case – the hidden access way.
While I prefer The Magic Castle experience as a nighttime affair, they also host Sunday brunch. Performance times are adjusted for the earlier crowd. Still, regardless of what time you visit, you can expect a top-notch experience. This isn’t smoke and mirrors – this is true talent unfolding right in front of you. And as they say, location is key. This is a beautifully restored Victorian home in classic Hollywood. The walls already have a busy history. It’s the perfect setting to get lost in the ‘lore. If you can get access to this amazing site, let it completely ‘wow’ you until the last ghostly piano tune.