Chicago Magic Lounge

          By Dan Zeff


Chicago—What follows are the comments made by an individual who is a magic show idolater. Don’t look for any negative remarks about the Chicago Magic Lounge, the new entertainment endeavor in the Andersonville neighborhood on the North Side. I attended the opening of the Lounge on February 22 and my experience was, obviously, magical.

The Lounge is located in a renovated laundry on north Clark Street and the only difficulty of the night was figuring out how to get into the place. The façade is anonymous looking with only a small elevated marquee for guidance. Patrons are admitted through a secret door and at first I feared another gimmicky nightclub with a speakeasy motif.

It took me only a few moments after being admitted to recognize I was in a magic wonderland. The patron passes through a small library of books about magic, some of them reputedly rare, flavored with posters of famous magicians of the past. There are two performing areas. The largest is still an intimate venue, the 119-seat Blackstone Theater, named in honor of the famous father and son magicians. Several rows of seats and a small balcony enclose a small stage where the magicians perform. There is also the 654 Club, a backroom theater limited to 43 guests who can enjoy even more intimate magic displays.

Once seated, the patron is likely to be visited by a magician who comes to the table to perform hand magic with playing cards or coins. The magician who visited us specialized in manipulating half dollar coins, doing all kinds of sleight of hand a few inches from our gaze. In one of the mind blowers, he placed five coins in my wife’s hand, closed her fingers over the money, and stepped away. He then opened her hand and there were six coins. I was watching intently six inches from his palm and I didn’t have a clue how he brought it off.

The main performers on opening night were Arthur Trace and Max Maven. Trace is a sly youngish man who deals in ropes and cards and tricks like removing a small metal ball from a bell clapper and somehow substituting a tennis ball. He was a master at shifting cards from place to place without ever touching them. Trace kept up a lively and humorous line of patter that suggests he could be a quality stand-up comic if he ever considered a career change.

Photo by Daniel Boczarski

The second magician of the night was Max Maven, older than Trace and weirder but just as witty and skilled. He, too, seemed to have the power to move things about invisibly, and to identify playing cards previously selected by audience members that indicated he could see through the cards, which he obviously couldn’t. That’s the thing about good magic. It’s not magic. It’s a

trick performed by a very talented artist who fools us every time. If it really were magic, we wouldn’t seek an explanation. It is just magic and therefore inexplicable. But these people pull the wool over our eyes with their human abilities, so their accomplishments can’t be shrugged off off simply as supernatural.

The Chicago Magic Lounge is dedicated to “small” magic. There are no illusions or spectacles. Trace and Maven perform as singles, minus chorus girl type assistants. Nobody gets cut in half or floats through the air and nobody escapes from a locked water tank. It’s pure magic, without frills.

                            Photo by Daniel Boczarski

The management is making a huge commitment to the Lounge. It will be open every day of the week. The magicians will be world class. There will be children’s performances and live jazz concerts and a bar offering craft drinks. High-end snacks are also available. Walk-ins can sit at the bar free but there is an admission to the show rooms. A complete show in the Blackstone Room should take about two hours, including the introductory at-the-table hand magic.

If visitors are lucky, they will have the opportunity to hear co-owner Joey Cranford deliver an evangelical lecture on the Chicago history of magic lounges and bars, which goes back to the early 1900’s. Cranford is a true believer and it’s easy to get swept up in his enthusiasm for magic. He said the management deliberately choose a Chicago neighborhood for the Lounge when it may have made more economic sense to open a place in the tourist drenched Near North side. But he wanted Chicagoans to be the beneficiaries of his vision. The tourists will find the Lounge but the place is in business to serve the locals.

I’ve attended the lavish palaces of magic in Las Vegas and the touring shows that intermittently move through the Loop and I have taken great pleasure in the hoopla of complicated illusions and prop-loaded spectacles. But hand magic is special. There is nothing between the audience and the magician but the viewer’s sense of wonder. No disrespect o David Copperfield and Doug Henning, but this is magic in its purist state. You have got to love it.

The Chicago Magic Lounge is open seven days a week at 5050 North Clark Street. Street parking is available but was tight on opening night because of pavement construction. For a list of current and coming attractions and other information, visit .

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