I jumped, the voice startling me. Craning my neck, I sought out its source. Where did he come from? I thought, my eyes locking on the now silent man staring at the bookcase before him, hands folded beneath his waistcoat, the midnight blue sheen of his jacket appearing black in the dim light. A cravat furled around his neck, complementing the pocket watch at his breast. My only clue he didn’t step straight out of the 1800’s was the absence of a top hat.
“Do you need to check a coat, miss? Miss? Excuse me, miss? Can I help you?”
I had forgotten I was in line at coat check. I handed my bag to the clerk, muttering a distracted thanks as I turned back around.
The man was gone.
“Did you see where that guy went?” I asked my friend Michelle standing behind me. Her lips stretched in a conspiratorial smile. This wasn’t her first time at The Magic Castle.
The room we were in was small, no entrances or exits apart from the main door we had come in through. Books with tattered bindings covered the walls left to right, floor to ceiling, a lone statue of an owl lying out of place on one of the shelves. I approached the effigy, prompted by Michelle whispering directives into my ear. Unsure, I glanced back at her, silently pleading not to make me say it. Her glare was unwavering. Releasing a sigh, I turned my attention back to the owl and uttered “Open Sesame!”
It would not be my last time speaking to an owl that evening.
Its eyes lit up, a brief flash of neon green.
I waited, feeling more than a little silly. I could feel the intensity of Michelle’s gaze boring into me, careful not to miss one nuance of my expression. It reminded me of the time I once made an ex-boyfriend watch my favorite movie, one he had never seen before. Whenever a pivotal moment approached the horizon, I would lean forward on the couch, hungrily anticipating his reaction as I gawked at him the same way Michelle gawked now.
Vowing never to do that to someone again, I opened my mouth, intent on telling her to cut it out when the words froze on my lips. The bookcase had started rumbling, inching to the right, slowly revealing a concealed passage. I stepped forward, the panel now closing behind me. I had made it to the Academy of Magical Arts.
The Academy of Magical Arts is a private, members-only clubhouse in Hollywood, California. Headquartered in an early 1900’s chateau, aptly christened The Magic Castle, it’s a place where preeminent magicians and illusionists the world over, as well as those who love them, come together in a celebration of all things magic. I was there as a guest, courtesy of my friends Christy and Eric, both members of the exclusive club. They were tying the knot that weekend and had invited the wedding party for an evening of the most unconventional sort.
In crossing the threshold, I lost sense of time and place, both in actuality and chronologically within this story. There were no cell phones to connect me to the outside world, no photographs or videos to later remind me of things I may have done or seen. Rules strictly enforced to make this so. What would remain are jumbled, fragmented memories appearing and disappearing at will, like the illusions I was on the verge of witnessing.
The castle is a multi-story maze of rooms and staircases, secret doors and panels, parlors and lounges. A never-ending labyrinth of surprises, each area possessing its own unique mystical element. The deeper I explored the harder it became to distinguish if I were coming or going.
Feeling a tap on my arm, I turned as someone gently cupped my elbow and escorted me to an enclosed room. Twenty or so chairs were arranged in a semi-circle around a wooden table. I took a seat as a man emerged from the folds of a velvet curtain. He held his audience captive, transforming apples into limes, ripping twenty dollar bills in half just to make them whole again. I must have hung my sensibilities at the door, so futile was my attempt at convincing myself it was all an illusion.
A mellifluous tune emanated from the hallway. Following its melodic resonance into an adjacent alcove, I saw a crowd, the liveliest I’d seen thus far, gathered round a grand piano. A piano playing without human assistance. Standing at the forefront was a robust, mustachioed man. Red-faced and laughing (either from amusement, drunkenness, or both) he yelled out one showtune after another. The object of his shouts a mystery to me.
“He’s talking to Irma,” said Michelle, suddenly materializing by my side.
“The piano. Watch.”
I obeyed. Now watching Michelle take her turn crying out song title after song title, Irma restlessly recognizing and playing them all.
I needed a drink.
The distinguished old-world glamor of the castle demanded a cocktail of equal dignity. An Old-fashioned. Manhattan. Sazerac. Going the straight up route, I leaned across the bar and ordered bourbon on the rocks.
“A girl after my own heart.”
The voice belonged to the older man seated in the barstool closest to me. His right hand making a show of swirling the same dark brown liquor I’d just ordered round his tumbler. I acknowledged the gesture with a half-smile, noticing his unusual pocket square out of the corner of my eye. The one recycling colors, shifting from green to purple to pink to blue to green again.
“Which color is your favorite?”
Never taking my eyes off his pocket, I replied “Blue.”
Without hesitation it changed hue, holding steady on the blue tone until the man declared, “I’ve always been partial to green.”
The swath of fabric followed suit, transitioning to a soft green.
My eyes strayed to his hands, the ones that had remained clearly visible throughout the entire enchantment. The night passed in a string of similar illusionary events. I watched a bartender shuffle cards rather than drinks, mixing and stirring them in an attempt to shake off the card a female patron had selected from the deck. No matter how he split, sliced, or stacked them, each flip revealed her three of clubs without fail. There were seances. Daring acts of bravery. Or stupidity depending on how you looked at it. I came face to face with another owl. This one able to see into the future, the mood suggesting I ask a question of romantical proportions. What with all the chandeliers casting low-lit glows around the room, charming pendulum floor clocks adorning the landing of curved staircases, and men milling about dressed to the nines.
“Will my evening end on a romantic note?”
A resounding no screeched from the nocturnal creature’s beak. Though a silver lining later presented itself. While there would be no clandestine midnight kiss, a brief moment with the best man at a much less-romantic taco shop would transpire in the early morning hours.
The night began winding down. The fantastical whimsy coming to a close as the magic faded into mundane reality. One by one patrons slipped out of the castle. I followed them. Back out the secret passageway, shedding my magical cloak and wondering if the night ever really happened at all.
- The Magic Castle Website: http://www.magiccastle.com/
- The venue is a private members club. Only members and their guests are permitted entry. If you do not know someone who is a member, I would recommend hopping onto online forums or LA-specific social media groups to politely express your interest in spending an evening at The Magic Castle. Someone in that group may be a member or know someone who’d be willing to help out. Alternately, next door sits The Magic Castle Hotel. Guests staying at this hotel can receive access to The Magic Castle.
- There is a strict dress code guests must adhere to. More on that here.
- The venue is strictly 21 and up apart from their kid-friendly Saturday and Sunday brunch.
- No photography or videos are permitted inside The Magic Castle.
- Hours of Operation: Sun – Sun 5:00pm to 2:00am; Sat and Sun brunch 10:00am to 3:00pm.
I loved immersing myself in this world. Not being able to use my cell phone made the experience that much more incredible and fashioning a story without the aid of photography presented a wonderful challenge. Have you ever disconnected and threw yourself into an experience? Tell me about it in the comments below.
Why Suffer From FOMO When You Don’t Have To?
Taking on the classic “round-the-world” route, the next Travel Dispatch journey kicks off Nov 15 as I travel east to west, looping the globe over a period of 12 months with $25,000. Now’s your chance to get in on it from the very beginning!