Our Brunch at the Magic Castle (long)

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Our Brunch at the Magic Castle (long)

Postby erdnasephile » December 30th, 2013, 1:00 am

We had the pleasure of attending Saturday brunch at the Magic Castle yesterday. For those who have never been, I thought I’d share how it went in detail.

I had been advised to make reservations well ahead of time. As an out of state member, I had the option of making reservations on-line or by phone. About 45 days ahead, I logged on to the Castle site, but found out that on-line reservations only are allowed a month ahead, so I ended up calling. I had to give them a credit card number to secure the reservation, as there is fee if you don’t show up.

On the appointed day, we left Orange County at around 0945. I was rather surprised about how much traffic there was even on a Saturday morning, as things got real bad on the 101. After getting off on the Highland north exit, we made the sharp right hairpin turn up Franklin (watch the signs!). I could see the Castle rising on the hill, and it looked great in the morning sun. We drove past the first Castle sign which is actually the exit from the Castle parking lot (go in that exit, and you’ll wipe out your tires). We took the next right turn up the circle drive, and crept up the steep hill to the valet parking.

We pulled in at around 1030, and there was already a lengthy line wrapped around the front to get in. There were 50th anniversary banners all around, and a Magic Castle red carpet-type background to take pictures against—a very nice touch. I love looking at old architecture, and the Castle façade is a gold mine for this sort of thing. One interesting thing to look for is the apparent Lost & Found tree—you’ll know it when you see it.

We got to the front of the line and was greeted by one of the hosts. He handed us a performance schedule and recommended we skip the Parlour show since we had no kids in the party and told my father that there was no way to see all the shows (more on that later). We entered the smallish lobby to the reception desk, where you pay for the valet parking ($3.00 members/$10.00 guests). From there we were pointed toward the famous owl. My daughter did the honors (She knew exactly what to say—a legacy of frequent childhood “magic tricks” involving handicapped automatic doors at the mall :D ) and off we went!

First stop was the main bar area where we were greeted by Bob, the seemingly ubiquitous general manager, who asked us if we wanted to see a quick trick before brunch. A Castle Junior introduced himself and did a nice sandwich effect where the wrong card (and ace) was trapped between the two Jokers, proceeding to a kicker finish with the selected card trapped between the two aces. (Daughter: “Dad, you do that one!”). We then headed up the big staircase to be seated for brunch. We were seated promptly by Roy, and like magic, our waiter, Peter, appeared. All of the staff seemed to be in a good mood, and were friendly and prompt. He explained how brunch worked, and we got in line for the buffet.

The all-you-can-eat buffet itself was very impressive, albeit a little cramped for the amount of guests on this day. It is laid out in a U-shape and started with a couple of wonderful fresh fruit and cheese trays (love those blood oranges!), followed by various breads and brunch type desserts. As you move around the room, there is a cook-to-order omelet window, followed by a delicious stuffed whitefish with spinach and cream sauce, a Southwestern quesadilla-type entrée, and a prime rib carving station, with sides of scrambled eggs and breakfast meats. However, the piece de resistance was in the very center of the room, with piles of smoked salmon, jumbo shrimp cocktail, gigantic Alaskan snow crab legs, and a very nice tuna tartar, with all the appropriate accompaniments. For the kids, there was a separate station at the head of the stairs that included fried chicken fingers, tater tots, waffles, and ice cream. All of the food was prepared rather nicely and while there were a couple of small missteps (the prime rib was about 10 to 15 degrees too done—IMHO, prime rib deserves to be no more than medium-rare to medium—and the whitefish was a bit overdone), we were more than satisfied by the tastiness, variety, and quality of the buffet.

Although the greeter had warned my father that we couldn’t see every show, I had other plans. So, immediately after we finished eating, we hustled down the steps to the Close-Up Gallery, only to find out that the 12 noon show had already begun at 1150. Not to worry though, Kim the hostess informed us that the close-up performer had agreed to squeeze in an extra show at 1215, so we waited in line and I got a chance to look around the main bar area, including the new Dai Vernon corner (I still can’t figure out where the old corner was). I also enjoyed seeing the picture of Howard Hamburg, as I saw him sessioning on the Dai Vernon couch the last time I was here. It was also fun to see some of the newer caricatures next to the classic Ted Salter drawings. (Question: who did the Carney drawing?)

After a short wait, we took our seats and Kim introduced Nexus, a Castle Junior (the Castle Juniors do Close-Up during brunches, which is a terrific idea.) Nexus has a very hip vibe, sort of like a younger Oscar Munoz, and he did some very interesting work beginning with some card manipulation/4 of a kind productions to modern music. He proceeded to give some background information about himself and his magic, which I very much enjoyed—it’s obvious they emphasize character development in the Junior program. He performed a routine with an appearing/vanishing silk, ending with a surprise fan production, with several unique fan color changes, which I had never seen in a close-up show. The highlight of the set for me was an original routine which included a Bicycle sticker, a big hole, and an Omni Deck. He closed with a surprise appearing cane, and garnered a nice ovation. What I liked the best was that throughout his act, Nexus used age-appropriate lines that fit his character nicely. No goofy stories/affectations. He was technically very good, and I liked how he framed his effects to make them fit himself. Nice job!

We had plenty of time to hit the 1245 Palace show, and comedy magician, Matt Marcy, was first up. From the moment he came on, what was clear was that this guy is a pro—he has confidence, a well-established character, and the audience feels comfortable with letting him lead them. Usually, performers don’t begin with routines needing volunteers, but he quickly called up two for his Thumb Tie routine. What impressed me was that I was sitting next to one of the volunteers who really didn’t want to volunteer, but he helped her be at ease and his quick ad libs and lines provoked lots of laughs and applause. However, where I thought the act really shined was in the next two routines, done with child volunteers. Matt has a funny way with kids—he acts exasperated with them, but we know it’s all in fun. Sometimes this sort of thing comes off poorly, but Matt obviously knows where the line is and he goes up to the edge, but never crosses it with the little ones, and they respond in kind. He does a nice rope routine incorporating elements from the likes of Sands, Takagi, and Daryl. Finally, he closed with a hilarious balloon animal routine with a cute little girl. This led to a very funny moment when a kid from the audience actually snuck up to the edge of the stage and grabbed a prop needed for the climax. What was interesting to me, is that Matt cut the music several times during this sequence so he could react to what the kids were doing—this helped the routine seem fresh, relevant to the audience at hand, and allowed him to use one of strengths, which is his quick wit. Great act, and a pro’s pro.

Matt accepted his well-deserved applause and in turn introduced Mondre (Aka Mike Douglas), who wowed the crowd with his skillful manipulation act involving silks, doves, giant balls, liquids, and light. What I enjoyed about Mondre was that rather than being another “adventures of the props in the magician’s hands” act, he actually interacted with the audience and their reactions to him. I was sitting pretty close and his warm smile seemed genuine and he communicated even while silent. The bit that got the biggest reaction was his production of the tiny bird, the giant ball manipulation, and the dove toss vanish finish. Very smooth, polished, and a fine performer.

We had a bit of a break here, so we proceeded to the Inner Circle, and I was stunned by the visiting Cardini exhibit just outside the library. I own Levent’s book and it was absolutely amazing to be less than a foot away from the original Cardini and Swan costumes and the gloves he last used as well as the other rare artifacts. If you’re in town, you’ve got to see it! I also got a kick out of seeing the portrait of JC Wagner, who was kind enough to sit down with me one night at the Magic Island and kick my head in with some of his incredible estimation routines.

Continuing my quest to prove the greeter wrong, we landed in the Hat and Hare pub (down the stairs on the left of the main bar) to see a non-listed show, by Huma,(?sp) a magician of Japanese descent. The hard core sleight-of-hand guy in me sat up and took notice. His magic is very much of the New Wave style, but with a few more Western touches than other Japanese magicians I’ve seen. He began with a single cup routine followed by an original multiple cup type routine with produce and a kicker ending. A “skip trick” card routine followed. He then performed some smooth, flashy coin work (shades of Shoot), and an interesting 4 ace production led to a well-received Matrix, with the requisite backfire kicker. He closed the card set with a hard to describe Foursome-type effect, with a blank deck blow off. Finally, he moved into what I think was the strongest part of the set, involving some deft Flipstick work, followed by a great thimble routine (why don’t more people do thimble work—they are deceptive and fun to watch even close-up) set to music from his iPhone. The gathered crowd loved the work and showed their appreciation loudly.

We bounced back up the stairs to finish up in the Parlour, where Dan Jordan (“dot com!”) held court for the kiddies. He did a number of standard gags and effects in a very competent fashion, and the kids had a ball. He had various funny bits of business which added to the amusement and it’s clear that he has a lot of experience and seemed to enjoy himself as well. He also had a few lines aimed over the kids at the adults that got a good response. A very effective closer with some livestock brought the act to a strong finish. One observation: Dan inadvertently repeated two lines in succession that Matt Marcy used when a kid volunteer got a little rowdy (“Have you ever helped a magician before…”). Based on the lack of response, it was clear that a majority of audience in this show had also heard those same lines in the Palace show. This is probably a hazard only encountered at the Castle or at magic conventions. Either that or maybe it’s time we all retire these “stock” lines.

Happy that we had seen all the shows (and feeling a bit like the Griswolds at the Louve), we looked around a bit more before heading for the exit at 2:30. After brief stop at the gift alcove (no more 50th anniversary decks present), we picked up our car and headed out into the California sun.

A few closing thoughts:
**I continue to be amazed at how nice the Castle looks. The fire is a thankfully distant memory and the dining areas and show rooms look as good as ever. The atmosphere is just about perfect as a magic mansion, even during the daytime (although some exhibits are a bit dim for these old eyes). There really is something to see in whatever direction you look, regardless of what room you happen to be in.
**I would strongly suggest that before visiting, you look up the Genii issue where Milt describes some of the gags present, so you can help amuse your guests.
**For a one of a kind thrill, be sure to prepare a close-up routine you can amaze your guests with while sitting on the Dai Vernon couch.
**Don’t forget about the Hat and Hare, as that doesn’t appear on the performing schedule.
**In terms of value, I felt that the total cost for a fine meal with great entertainment, it was well worth the approximately $35 a person (kids under age 10 are discounted for brunch).
**I very much appreciated the active presence of the hosts—it is clear that management is serious about customer service and in making sure everyone has a good time. Even my DW says that she wants to come back, which is about the best endorsement I can give.
**Finally, you really CAN see all the shows--just need to plan ahead (and eat fast!) :D

Highly recommended, and if you’re going to be in SoCal and would like to go, please feel free to PM me for a guest card.
Last edited by erdnasephile on December 30th, 2013, 1:13 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Dustin Stinett
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Re: Our Brunch at the Magic Castle (long)

Postby Dustin Stinett » December 30th, 2013, 1:12 am

erdnasephile wrote:(I still can’t figure out where the old corner was)

The next time you're there, stand directly in front of, and facing, the Close-Up Gallery exit door (outside the Gallery of course). Look down and to your right. That was The Professor's corner. What is now a through-way was a wall with a window in it.

Nice job on the write-up!

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Re: Our Brunch at the Magic Castle (long)

Postby erdnasephile » December 31st, 2013, 3:44 pm

Thanks, Dustin! (for the information and your kind words)

Steve Hook
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Re: Our Brunch at the Magic Castle (long)

Postby Steve Hook » December 31st, 2013, 8:17 pm

This was an enjoyable read. Thanks!

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