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Chicago Magic Lounge revives a city tradition. 

AJ Sacco performs tableside close-up tricks. 

 

There was a time when seeing a bit of magic was as easy as grabbing a beer and a shot. In fact, the city was crawling with “magic bars,” nightspots—such as now-gone Schulien’s in North Center—where prestidigitation was as much a part of an evening out as small talk and a smooch. Well, Joey Cranford, a Second City-trained performer and director, is bringing that old-school entertainment—and ambience—back. Chicago Magic Lounge, the art deco spot he opened with partner Donald Clark Jr., celebrates close-up magic with masters of the art working their wonders at the bar, tableside and onstage.

A local history buff, Cranford’s primer was Now You See Them, Now You Don’t: My Life in the Magic Bars of Chicago by Bill Weimer. “It’s a fascinating history, one most people don’t know about,” says Cranford. “For 40 years, New York Lounge on North Lincoln had five magicians working till the wee hours of the morning doing bar magic.”

This new Andersonville boîte is the complete package, with a bar, lounge and cabaret all accessed through what appears to be a laundromat—an homage to both the commercial laundry that once occupied the club’s space and speakeasy days, when only those in the know knew where to go. “I didn’t want to be downtown. I didn’t want a tourist trap,” says Cranford. “I wanted to create an experience, one that takes you out of your normal and brings you into our world.” Tickets from $35, 5050 N. Clark St.