A Visit To the Magic Castle

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Postby Alain Roy » 01/05/03 12:03 PM

Last December, I traveled to Los Angeles for a week of meetings, and I was fortunate to make it to the Magic Castle for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. When I arrived home a few days later, I was delighted to see that not only had my January 2003 Genii arrived, but it featured several articles about the Magic Castle. What perfect timing.

The articles were great and made me wish that I could immediately take another trip to the Magic Castle so that I could see all of the aspects of the building that I had missed on this trip. Ah well, perhaps next time.

However, I dont think the articles provided a sense of what a visit to the Magic Castle is like. For those of us that have been there, it may not be necessary. But I suspect that many magicians have never been to the Magic Castle. I thought I would describe a little about my visit there. Perhaps some of you can add some descriptions of what your visits to the Magic Castle have been like.

I was fortunate to get tickets to the Magic Castle from a magician that I know online. I wont post his name so that he doesnt get asked for tickets by everyone traveling to LA, but I want him to know that I really enjoyed my visit there.

One Tuesday evening last December, shortly after some torrential rains stopped failing in LA, we left our meetings a little early and caught a cab from Marina del Ray to Hollywood. I sure am glad I dont have to drive in the gridlock that is LA. Fortunately, we arrived in plenty of time to make the shows, but we were a bit hungry because I had made our reservations at the last minute, and our dinner reservation wasnt until 9:30pm. Because we had guest passes (as opposed to being members), we had to eat dinner at the Castle in order to get tickets to the stage show, and we also had to pay a cover charge of $15 per person. There are also VIP passes that dont require a cover charge, but I think they still require dinner to see the stage show.

One of the difficulties at the magic castle is that you really have to work hard to see all of the shows. There isnt much time to dilly-dally looking at all of the fantastic decorations and surprises in the Castle. The Close-Up Gallery only seats twenty people, and on a busy night you have to line up quite early in order to get into a show. The night we were there, they seemed unable to give us exact times for the close-up shows, and crowds were aggressive in lining up early. That meant less time wandering around, finding the cool gags that are everywhere.

You are never more than a few steps from a drink in the Castle, and drinking is heavily promoted. I suspect it is a good money-maker for the Castle, but perhaps it also loosens people up for the shows. People are let into the shows five minutes before they begin, and pretty women come by an offer to fetch drinks from the bar. Sometimes they are even pushy about it. Note to teetotalers: water and soft drinks are available from the bar, and the water is free.

We managed to see four official shows and two unofficial shows while at the Castle. We saw both performances in the close-up gallery, both in the parlor, one visiting magician who set up shop downstairs, and one magician in line. I also was able to just see some utterly fabulous mind-bending coin work for about a minute while standing in line. It looked like it may have been Shoot Ogawa, but I wasnt sure, and he was some distance from me. I also wasnt about to give up my spot in line, and Im too shy to introduce myself to magicians I dont know.

Our close-up shows were pretty good. The first was by someone who loudly proclaimed his skill at sleight-of-hand, but I saw most of his moves, and one of my friends saw several as well. But he was pretty good. The second close-up show was Jonathan Levitt, the guy who was doing magic on the X-Files a while ago. He was really funny, although I felt a little bad for the slightly embarrassed women who was assisting him. He skates a thin line between outrageously funny and rude, but I think he succeeded pretty well. Im not sure my wife would have agreed, could she have seen the show.

In the parlor, I saw a mentalism show and a "grown-up kids show". This was the second mentalism show Ive seen, and my conclusion after both of them is that mentalism is really hard to pull off successfully. Neither were that interesting to either me or my non-magician friends. The "grown-up kids show" was Woody Pittman, who was really funny. He acted like a grown-up kid who was a bit shy, but most of his magic was done really well. His linking rings routine, which he used to close his show, was phenomenal.

Downstairs, a magician set up and showed off his stuff. He wasnt on the billing, so I dont know how official it was, but they were sort of formal shows, in a small room set up for the purpose. Does the Magic Castle let anyone do this sort of thing? It seems like a great way to get experience. He was pretty good, too, though he used a few too many decks of cards. Later, we saw someone perform in line, and he did a pretty good job. I think one of the thrills of the Magic Castle is that you may get to see more magic than is on the billing. People often seemed to be thrilled by apparently impromptu close-up magic, and there are few places you can count on seeing it, unless you have a magician as a friend.

One impression I had after all of the close-up magic I saw: people really do pick a card tricks A LOT, dont they? I saw some fabulous effects of that sort, but I was tired of them by the end of the evening. Food for thought

We didnt make it to the stage show, so I cant comment on it. Its really hard to see all five magic shows in the Castle. When I saw the picture in Genii that showed by Dai Vernon and Slydini on the billing for one night my first thought was Wow, I wish I could have been there, and my second thought was, "What is the chance that I could have seen both of those shows?"

Dinner at the Magic Castle is not so great. Its overpriced for the quality of what you get. Its not bad food, mind you, just not nearly as good as the price we paid for it. Fortunately, it comes fairly quickly so that you can scoot off to the next show.

If you have time, definitely walk around the Castle. Check out the downstairs, where it may be quiet if there are no unofficial shows happening down there. There is still a lot to see. There are tons of posters and other memorabilia, as well as many funny things to see.

I highly recommend going to the Magic Castle if you get a chance. There is a lot of magic, both on and off the billing, and there is plenty to keep you occupied for several hours. It is worth the trip.

Is anyone else interested in describing their positive experiences at the Castle?

-alain
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/05/03 04:04 PM

The magicians who work downstairs in the Museum (which is just down the stairs from the Blackstone Room, which is off the grand salon) are doing what is called "overflow." These are shows for the people who can't squeeze into the close-up gallery. Shoot Ogawa frequently works overflow.
I think it should be noted that the price of the meals subsidizes the four to six magic shows that one can see in the Magic Castle on any given evening. The $15 cover charge doesn't "cover" much!
So, the price of the food will seem high for what it is, but when viewed with the understanding that the price has to include paying for the shows it makes more sense. I had the Beef Wellington last November and it was quite good. Paul Wilson and I had dinner and it cost a pretty penny!
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Postby Charles Spector » 01/05/03 05:02 PM

The Beef Wellington is the one everybody raves about.

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Postby Steve Bryant » 01/05/03 05:19 PM

Alain,

I'm glad you enjoyed your first visit to the Magic Castle. As I live in Indiana and am only able to get to the Castle once or twice a year, dining there is one of the special things to me. During the 4 nights I visited the Castle in October, for the Genii article, I had 3 excellent evening meals plus a spectacular meal with the seance. All who attended agreed, and they are California natives. While the price probably seems high relative to Madison prices (and certainly relative to Bloomington, IN prices), I don't think they are out of whack for a dressy restaurant in Hollywood. (I've only ordered "badly" there once: there is a new trend to serve mahi mahi about the temperature of sushi, which took me by surprise.) The best part of the dinner is the Festalboard, now an extra charge item or you can choose to have it alone. I should add that the prices are not only relative to geography but also to the march of time. When I first arrived at the Magic Castle, exactly a month before the Vernon/Slydini photo (such talent was NORMAL for the close-up gallery!), the cost of a Castle prime rib dinner including Festalboard was $5 and resident magician dues were $20 a year (see Max's article in MAGIC for even lower prices). And yes, way back then there were lines and difficulty getting into the close-up room, but it could be done. The powers that be have worked on it over the years and are still working on it.
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Postby Alain Roy » 01/05/03 05:44 PM

I hope my first post didn't come off as complaining about the dinner, but I'm afraid it did. I've been getting more picky about what I label as "fine dining" lately, and I come from a less expensive area of the country, so those reasons I commented on it. However, the dinner in no way lessened my visit to the Magic Castle, and should not be a factor in anyone's decision to visit. It's a great place, and it's a bonus that you get to eat dinner in a pleasant dining room.

I also appreciate that they may make up some of their costs in the dinners. That may also explain my sense that the cost of the dinner was not commensurate with the quality of the dinner. I don't begrudge them this cost differential at all. I spent a lot to go to the Magic Castle when taxi fare is factored in, and it was worth every penny!

-alain
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Postby Guest » 01/05/03 06:15 PM

I can't comment on the meals at the Magic Castle nowadays. I can sy a few things about it historically.

When the Castle first opened (Jan 1963) There was no dining room -- no upstairs open. The dining room opened in Sept 1963. For a few years the food was iffy to say the least. Then we got Chef Howard Prindle. In a short time local food editors were touting the Magic Castle as one of the best dining rooms in the area. In those days I ate at the Magic Castle six nights a week. (For three years)

In those days, too, the dining room lost money on operations. The bar made up the cost of doing business. However, that is a fact of life in many fine dining rooms. Lose on the food, make it up by bar receipts.

I know it is a temptation if one is going to be at the Magic Castle for only one evening to cram in as many as you can of the shows. I would recommend a more leisurely approach. Savor as you go and if you don't see everything, you will have thoroughly enjoyed what you did see.
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Postby Brian Morton » 01/05/03 07:30 PM

Can't say how it is for other people, but I can give my own Castle impressions...

I became a member in 1996 (September 9th; I auditioned right after Andrew Goldenhersh -- we call ourselves the "Class of 9/9, or in German, 'Nein! Nein!' "). The night I became a member, the Palace had Tina Lenert, Mike Caveney and John Gaughan demonstrating the original Antonio Diavolo automaton.

Ever since then I've always tried to do a set every night I've been in town in the Museum Room downstairs from the Blackstone room.

The Close-Up room doesn't hold as many as it did a year ago -- they've eliminated the standing-room section and taken out a few seats, but they've added shows, so there's a better chance of seeing a close-up show.

Although there are various performers who "take over" the table just outside the Palace and the Museum Room on weekends, it's still possible to see any number of unscheduled performers -- I've worked overflow in the Museum Room myself this past December. Shoot Ogawa has been there (as well as hanging around the main bar) and Whit Haydn was videotaping an audience segment for his "Mongolian Pop-Knot" video in the Peller Room as well. Earl Nelson was supposed to be around the week I was there in December, but unfortunately I never saw him.

I'm told my pal Gary "Fitzgerald" Fitzgerald has been putting in regular unscheduled Friday night stand-up performances in the Peller as well with a few friends.

You'll nearly always get to see a little something you didn't bargain on if you hang around long enough.

brian :cool:
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Postby Mr. Stickley » 01/06/03 11:01 PM

Having the pleasure of visiting the Castle again back in September 2002, and dining there for the first time, I was actually quite surprised at both the quality and price of the food. On average, the food was no more than $10-12 more expensive than say a Chillis or TGI Fridays meal (and that is @ the higher end of the spectrum)! And the atmosphere is one heck of a lot neater. It's no $5.99 Las Vegas buffet - but don't even think twice about dining there! It's a definate must do.
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Postby Chris Aguilar » 01/07/03 09:15 PM

So what is the price range for magic castle dining these days?

Around $30-$45/plate?
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Postby Dustin Stinett » 01/07/03 10:20 PM

Originally posted by wert:
So what is the price range for magic castle dining these days?

Around $30-$45/plate?
After tax & tip, yeah that's about right, give or take a few bucks. But don't forget the cappuccino ice cream! Homer says, Mmmmmmmmmmmm....cappuccino ice cream...
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Postby Charles Spector » 01/08/03 10:14 AM

The cheapest dinner is about $15 or $16 for the Pasta. Then there are drinks. Again, you are helping subsidize the entertainment.

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Postby magicbar » 01/10/03 07:02 AM

If you look at the total experience the Castle is still a 'best bet' for an evening out. Let's say you spend $50-60 per person that includes a very nice dinner, cover, drinks and gratuities. You get a complete evening of entertainment and socializing in an upscale adult environment that is hard to come by. A good night at the theater is much more with no dinner and movies by comparison are well, no comparison. It is a one of a kind place that celebrates the past while carving out a future. Go and enjoy yourselves!
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Postby Guest » 01/10/03 02:40 PM

Originally posted by Charles Spector:
The cheapest dinner is about $15 or $16 for the Pasta. Then there are drinks. Again, you are helping subsidize the entertainment.

Charles Spector
Well I think the cheapest is about $12 for the grilled vegies with potato or rice. The most is about $28 (beef wellington or something like that) Most are in the $18-23 range and I think it's worth it. Food is good (and keeps getting better), service is great. Plus all the entertainment. Drinks do add to your bill, but where doesn't that happen?

Scott
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/10/03 02:56 PM

Perhaps part of this has to do with the fact that if you don't visit restaurants in large metropolitan areas (or Walt Disney World!), then you're going to be shocked at the cost of the food at The Magic Castle. I'm not shocked because I lived in New York, and now Washington DC, and it's expensive to go to a decent restaurant. Ditto for Chicago, Boston, LA, etc. One of the reasons is because both rent and salaries are higher in these areas.
At least, when you visit The Magic Castle, you get as many magic shows as you can possibly watch in an evening in addition to the food.
Sure, there are many places where it's cheaper to eat, and if they're ethnic restaurants, the food is likely to be better. BUT, you don't get non-stop magic shows all evening if you don't pay for it somehow, and the measly door charge certainly isn't going to do it. The Magic Castle MUST make its money on meals and booze.
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Postby Guest » 01/11/03 02:48 AM

>>Sure, there are many places where it's cheaper to eat, and if they're ethnic restaurants, the food is likely to be better.

Please elaborate regarding the "ethnic"
restaurants. I'd like to visit some.

Do you mean Greek?
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Postby Richard Kaufman » 01/11/03 08:26 AM

I was actually referring to a Thai restaurant called something like The Pink Pepper on ... La Brea ? Perhaps someone in the LA area can correct that if it's wrong.
The phrase "ethnic" food is generally used to refer to restaurants such as Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Ethiopian, etc., etc.
Oh--there's a Hamburger Hamlet a few blocks from the Castle on Hollywood Blvd. where a lot of folks eat. Everyone calls it "The Hamlet" and if you go there the food is decent, but do NOT eat the meatloaf!!!!
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Postby Guest » 01/14/03 07:15 PM

Sorry to interupt this dining discussion.

I made my first trip to the Castle last year and it was a fantastic trip. Of course, I was under the assumption that the wait staff us as into the thing as I was. I asked the bartender to point out Vernon's chair, where he always sat and he didn't know and had never heard of Dai Vernon. I was a little taken back, but not all of us look on the place as mecca. Some just work there.

A little hint for people staying from out of town. Stay at the Magic Hotel right next door. Not only is it decent and cheap, you can book diner reservations at the Castle for the next night and so don't have to worry about magicians getting you tickets. It was great to spend time in the library and catch up on some copies of Magick which I'll never be able to afford to own.

The only thing that bothered me was that the audience was fairly old. It definitly had an antique air about the place which makes me worry about the future of the place. But it is a very magical place and I caught 3 shows.
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Postby Eddie » 01/17/03 03:57 AM

Hi you should stop moaning about the prices of food at the castle . You should come to Glasgow Scotland , we will typicaly pay 40-60 for a bog standard meal ,booze is extra. Considering you have all the magic as well i think you have got it made.Thanks Eddie.
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Postby Alain Roy » 01/17/03 03:44 PM

I made the original post, hoping to share a great experience and get more stories from people about their time at the Magic Castle. I'm almost sad I did--I really didn't mean to start off a series of posts about dining there. There is so much more to say about the Castle.

Ah, I guess that is the way of online discussions.

-alain
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