Back in the ’40s, the Windy City was magic central, with bars aplenty where magicians practiced Chicago’s signature “up-close magic” of card tricks and sleight of hand. The scene faded away by the end of the ’90s, but now it’s back in full force across the city—including at these four must-visit venues and shows.
Big news for the city’s magic-obsessed set: In early 2018, after nearly three years at the Uptown Underground, Joey Cranford’s Chicago Magic Lounge opens the doors of its own 7,200-square-foot, 110-seat theater in Andersonville. At this speakeasy-style venue, where guests enter through an unmarked door and through a faux laundry that pays homage to the building’s history, Cranford’s 40-plus-local-magician-strong community—including Chicago names Trent James, Joe Diamond and Mark Toland (plus David Parr of Magic Cabaret, which had been housed at the Greenhouse eater for the last decade)—will perform in a state-of-the-art, two-level theater and a separate, more intimate back room (the 43-seat 654 Club) while guests enjoy elevated cocktails and food. “I wanted to reintroduce the public to the magic bar scene in Chicago, but also create a community for magicians,” Cranford says. “To understand this project is to understand what’s out there in magic right now. It’s an art form.” 5050 N. Clark St., 312-366-4500
“My granddad said magic is not about tricking people, but reconnecting with their inner child to make them sit in a place of joyful mystery,” says third-generation magician Dennis Watkins, who co-founded the Magic Parlour with The House Theater of Chicago in 2010. And that’s what Watkins does for 44 people five times a week (in addition to private shows) in a den-like lounge nestled in the Palmer House Hilton. Whether duct-taping his eyes with coins before correctly ID’ing people’s personal objects or swallowing razors only to pull them out of his mouth attached on a string, Watkins, now in his seventh year, keeps you guessing, laughing and feeling like a kid. $79, 17 E. Monroe St., 773.769.3832
In the heart of the Loop, men’s bespoke clothing shop/hair salon Gentlemen’s Cooperative regularly transforms into the upscale cocktail event Magic Penthouse. The 5,100-square-foot, 25th-floor getaway has everything to get a quality party started: Champagne as you step off the elevator, a cozy lounge with full bar and bites, pool table, 15-foot windows, a roof deck and four magicians who perform roaming tricks while you mingle before, during and after 20-minute stage and parlor shows. “We’re making magic fun and sexy,” says owner Nick Roy. $80, 111 W. Jackson Blvd., 25th Floor, 773.706.1780
Since launching his stumble-upon, originally donation-based magic show in July in a tucked-away storefront in Boystown, L.A. native Aaron Rabkin (along with his trusty sidekick, Hoppy the Psychic Wonder Bunny) has created a buzz with Trickery Chicago, his intimate 24-seat BYOB shows. Using wit and charm, Rabkin—who trained at L.A.’s famed Magic Castle—wins people over to his comedic blend of card tricks and mind-reading mentalism. “If people don’t see a good show, they’ll say, ‘Oh, so that’s a magic show,’ and never go again,” Rabkin says. “I set people up to see more magic.” $15, 3453 N. Halsted St., 312.566.8061