The Magic Castle is a national treasure, but let's just say you have to know the secret password to get in. Perched on a steep hill in the Hollywood Heights, this quirky château is a legendary entertainment venue, restaurant and private club for professional magicians and enthusiasts from around the world. But this isn't the kind of country club where you'll find a manicured golf course and afternoon tea service. It’s a topsy turvy labyrinth of unique performance spaces and perhaps most notably, home to The Academy of Magical Arts, which is a nonprofit devoted to the promotion and development of the art of magic.
This whole thing might sound a little strange to the uninitiated, but my friend Siegfried Tieber, who is a magician and performer, said it best. “Magic is an art form.” And until that very moment, I had never thought of magic as anything other than silly entertainment at a children’s party when in reality, it is a sophisticated and little-known branch of the performing arts.
Look at it this way. Every artist has their medium. Picasso had paint. Grace Kelly had film. Beyoncé has Beyoncé. Siegfried has a deck of cards. And ordinary objects like coins, cash and keys. Anyways, this conversation with Siegfried completely changed my understanding and appreciation of magic as an art form and now I've seen more than 150 magicians sharing their art at different venues around in Los Angeles. When he's not performing at The Magic Castle, Siegfried partners with my favorite travel experience company, Atlas Obscura on his new solo show, Red Thread.
Siegfried was kind enough to take Josh and I to The Magic Castle as his guests a few years ago and since then, I’ve had the opportunity to come back five or six other times. So while I’m not a magician myself (yet, anyways...) I can share insights on how to get in and how to have a magical time.
This Gothic mansion was originally constructed as a private home in 1909, but it became rundown when the owners passed away. Although there was a Japanese restaurant here in the 1950s, the future for this crumbling hillside manor looked bleak. In 1961, it caught the eye of magician Milt Larsen who purchased it in 1963 from Tom Glover and transformed it into The Magic Castle we know and love today. It was designated as a Los Angeles Historical-Cultural monument in 1989, which means it’s been deemed worthy of preservation based on architectural, historic and cultural criteria. Today, more than 5,000 magicians from more than 40 countries have earned an exclusive membership and consider the castle their headquarters.
The Secret Password
Since it’s a private club, the secret password to getting into The Magic Castle is to get to know a magician who is a member. They are allowed to bring a certain number of guests every month, but don't be a moochy weirdo and be all like, "DO A TRICK AND GIMME TICKETS, MAGIC MAN." Don't be that person. See this as a unique opportunity to make new and interesting friends!
Meet a Magician
But where to meet a magician? Welp, so glad you asked. There are several magic shows in Los Angeles including black rabbit rose on Hollywood Boulevard and Magic Monday at Santa Monica Playhouse & Group Theatre, which is pretty much how I’ve gotten so deep in the magic scene here. Magic Monday is emceed by big-hearted magician Albie Selznick who will do just about anything to make the audience have a good time. His show features three performers who are the best magicians, jugglers and entertainers in town. If you love experiencing the strange and fantastical world of the art of magic then this is the show for you. If nothing else, it will challenge your idea of what kind of careers are possible. Tickets are available here!
Spending an evening at The Magic Castle is a fun opportunity to get a little glamorous and embrace your inner movie star. All members and guests are required to dress in business attire or evening wear that is conservative, formal, and elegant. Men are required to wear a formal suit or coat with dress shirt, tie, and dress slacks (no denim) with closed-toe dress shoes. While black tie isn’t mandatory, it certainly isn’t discouraged! Above all else, be a gracious guest and follow all of the club rules.
No photography. This is probably the most important rule at The Magic Castle, so turn off your phone and keep your camera in your pocket. If caught taking photos, your photos will be confiscated and you'll be asked to leave the premises immediately and not be invited back. Being unplugged for a few hours is a magic trick all on its own.
There are so many nooks and crannies to explore here! The Magic Castle has the outward appearance of a haunted house, but when I step through the secret passageway, I feel like I’ve time traveled into the 1800s and am a formal dinner guest at an otherworldly mansion. The space is outfitted with Tiffany stained glass, antique chandeliers, bespoke wooden furnishings and historic relics from legends like Houdini.
See a Performance
Grab a schedule as soon as you walk in. There are about a dozen professional magicians putting on shows in four main theaters each week, and amateur magicians wander within the small crowds and do impromptu performance at felt-topped tables throughout the venue. Make sure you get in line early for performances, because the theatres are rather small and fill up quickly. If you're selected by a magician during a show to be a volunteer, remember to listen carefully, follow instructions and don't forget that this is their show. It's always soooo awkward when a volunteer tries to make jokes and become the star of the show.
Grab a Bite
If you're looking for something to eat, you have to visit Irma in the Magic Castle Bar on the first floor. Irma is the resident "ghost"pianist who can play any song you want, but don't forget to leave a tip in her birdcage. I highly recommend the truffle fries and veggie burger. If you’re looking for a multi-course dinner, however, there’s a high-end steak restaurant on the second floor that requires advance reservations...sometimes 6 months in advance! It’s very expensive, so plan accordingly.
There are so many exciting places to explore on a trip to Los Angeles, but I highly recommend trying to book an unforgettable adventure at The Magic Castle! If you have trouble finding a magician, please reach out to me for help.