How to get in, what to eat, and the ghost of Houdini
It’s no secret that The Magic Castle remains among the most sought-after dinner destinations in Los Angeles. The members-only club is technically open just to those who are a part of The Academy of Magical Arts (or, crucially, their guests), but that doesn’t stop tourists from trying to catch dinner and a show at the Victorian mansion above Hollywood.
Most casual enquirers are unlucky, as it were, though it’s usually possible to get a seat inside with a local hookup or a kind email or two. The biggest question for anyone seeking a spot inside is: What’s The Magic Castle actually like inside? More than a few have covered the history and the hidden secrets of the place, but how does dinner and a drink actually work at one of the most desirable tables in town?
The Basics: How to Get In and How Much It Costs
First, a few ground rules, for anyone who doesn’t already know. Because The Magic Castle operates as the consumer-facing side of a non-profit organization, there are rules to be followed. There’s a famously strict dress code, for one, that requires suit jackets and ties for men, and formal dinner attire for women. Children are also not allowed inside the club any evening (with the exception of daytime brunch on Saturday and Sunday).
Second, it’s not free once inside. A door charge of $20 per person applies during the week (it’s $30 on weekend evenings), and that doesn’t cover the cost of food, drink, or the $13 valet.
So how does one get in? It helps to know a member, or have a friend-of-a-friend with a membership, and earn passes that way. Otherwise, guests who are staying at the Magic Castle Hotel — a next-door property that is affiliated, but does not share ownership with the Magic Castle itself — get access if they want it. One common way to sneak inside for anyone who can’t adhere to the first two options? Check the weekly schedule of performers and reach out to them directly via Facebook or email. Guests will still have to pay the door charge, but one or two magicians may be able to throw out some passes.
Dinner: Better Than It’s Been in the Past
Most folks who make it through the front door (which carries its own magic surprise) end up staying for dinner, which means just about any night of the week The Magic Castle is among the busiest full-service restaurants in Los Angeles. The dining area can seat up to 150 guests at a clip, and usually turns over at least twice a night. Add in weekend brunch, and a Saturday could see 450 to 600 diners, easily. That’s to say nothing of the several bars on property, with their own bar menus. And yes, reservations are required, usually well in advance.
Dinner comes by way of executive chef Jason Sperber, who has been overseeing the kitchen since 2014. The menu is mostly continental fare, big steaks and classics like beef wellington, with fried calamari and lobster tails to boot. Unlike years ago, when the Magic Castle’s food was pretty widely panned, sauces are now made in-house, and Sperber even operates a small garden on property, out by the large parking lot.
The Bars: Even the Drinks Comes With Tricks
The first thing guests will encounter after making it through the magical entryway is a sort of lobby bar. It’s the first stop on a grand reveal tour of the entire Magic Castle, and comes with its own history.
The property is a mishmash of collected artifacts and oddities over decades, and it shows in all of the individual bars throughout the property. The lobby bar still holds the former residence’s original wooden staircase, and behind the bar are old cellophane advertising slides from bygone movie houses. The Castle even ages its own old fashioneds in branded whiskey barrels kept behind the bar.
Upstairs from there is the owl bar, which is so named thanks to a prognosticating (and once very real) owl who lords over the bar. He answers yes or no questions with ease, while the far wall of the tucked-in enclave off the staircase is actually an original backdrop from the Tonight Show.
Through the dining room and down a long hallway lined with caricatures and old magic posters is another bar, wrapped in pressed tin and wood. Magicians tend to gather here because of the quick access to several different showrooms; there’s even a felt table for on-the-fly up close magic to one side.
Guests can also keep meandering past the shows to another staircase at the far end of the building. Once in the basement (one of two, actually), there’s a well-lit blue-backed bar for magic shows that involve the bartender directly. The big, open room is otherwise surrounded by artifacts and memorabilia, from trick pool cues to straightjackets. At the opposite end of the big, open space there are a few classrooms for aspiring magicians, and the Academy of Magical Arts’s own private library. That area is off-limits for guests though, and comes officially staffed with a librarian.
Back up towards the front of the property, underneath where Erma the ghost plays any tune one can name on command, is the Hat and Hare Pub. A low, dim British-style bar, this is the place for in-the-know folks to catch a close-up show from bartender/magician Mike Pisciotta, who has been a part of the place for years. Bar limes disappear, real drinks are poured, and everyone has a great time.
Another side room of the Hat and Hare Pub offers spontaneous table magic for anyone who happens in at the right moment, while outside the warren of stone corridors keeps passersby guessing as well. Don’t forget to check out the collection of rabbit tchotchkes tucked in just about every cabinet, too.
The Scene: How to Soak in the Magical Experience
There are many different types of nights possible at The Magic Castle, but perhaps the best way to experience the place is with a couple of friends and a hefty sense of wonderment. The Castle is old and quirky and has its own kind of pace and charm, so first-timers would do well to go with the liberal flow.
Get a pre-dinner drink at the lobby or owl bar, enjoy a peek into the Houdini seance room — yes, real seances to try to raise Houdini’s ghost — off the dining area, then fan out to enjoy the corner pockets and felt tables that property has to offer. There are timed shows to line up for, and spontaneous stuff happening all the time.
And, if one play their cards right, a friendly magician could offer an invitation for some other show, some other night. Or guests who spring for the $20 portrait photo (the only images usually allowed to be taken inside) will automatically get passes to come back another night, a secret that’s rather useful for anyone who catches the bug and needs a repeat viewing. After all, the shows are always changing at The Magic Castle, even if the place itself has been serving dinner guests since 1962.
“Inside The Magic Castle, the Most Mysterious Restaurant in Los Angeles.” Eater LA – All. https://la.eater.com/2017/7/26/16021786/magic-castle-hollywood-los-angeles-inside-photos.