The magic that takes place in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them will have you believing in a world of wizards and magical beasts. In modern-day New York City, a different type of magic—namely, the art of illusion—is celebrated and performed in stores, theaters, galleries, research centers and nightclubs across the five boroughs (did you know that New York once had its own official magician?). Read on for ways to have some enchanted evenings—and mornings and afternoons, for that matter—during your NYC stay.
Home base for magicians has always been the local magic shop. Though the City has seen a few enterprises vanish like rabbits in a hat—including one that for a time was owned by Harry Houdini—a handful remain to provide sources for tricks, in-store demonstrations and historical records of the art.
The oldest such shop in town, Tannen’s, sits six floors up in a relatively faceless Midtown building. Open since 1925, though not in the same location, Tannen’s is a trove for books (some available for browsing), videos, new and classic tricks—some of which you might see performed by staff—artifacts and various tools of the trade: tables, cards, coins and wands.
Its main competition comes in the form of nearby Fantasma Magic, another good spot to catch demos and plunge into the mysteries of the craft. In addition to its stock of cuffs, card tricks and such, Fantasma devotes part of its square footage to the Houdini Museum of New York—worth a look for the ephemera related to the man who continues to inspire legions of illusionists.
Bigger than both—but with a much smaller actual stock of magic stuff—is Abracadabra, in the Flatiron District. It’s more a place for costumes and novelty items but does have a devoted section for sorcerers, with decks of cards, tricks, juggling items and magic wands.
Less a magic shop than a place to raise spirits, East Village occult store Enchantments is in the middle of its third decade of dispensing runes, candles, talismans and cauldrons to those who enter. Looking to imbue a potion with feverfew and Queen of the Meadow? Look no further.
Over in Brooklyn’s Bushwick, a pair of places cater to the supernaturally inclined. Catland is a bookshop that holds evening events devoted to séances, storytelling and spellcraft, while the Tarot Society Gallery & Reading Room functions as a performance space and art gallery while dispensing guidance via tarot, astrology and palm readings.
You might not be content with just browsing or having your future told; perhaps you need to see some conjuring close up—or as close as you can get without secrets being revealed. Hey presto, sim sala bim! (That’s magic talk for “keep reading.”)
Monday Night Magic at the Players Theatre had its roots in a long-running magic cabaret space called the Magic Towne House, which helped develop young magicians and provide a forum for seasoned illusionists and characters such as Brother Theodore. The founder, Michael Chaut, has continued the theme of mixing newbies with old hands; the show’s been a success for more than a decade and a half, starring a rotating cast of magicians and mentalists.
Other regular performances highlight individual tricksters: there’s Steve Cohen’s Chamber Magic at the Waldorf Towers, brought to you by the so-called Millionaires’ Magician, who can make cards fly; Sam Eaton’s The Quantum Eye, down in the East Village at Theatre St. Marks, where its performer regularly astounds audiences with mind-reading feats; and the Magician at Nomad Upstairs, aka Dan White, who once worked for David Copperfield and now performs iPhone tricks. Then there’s the more homespun conjuring of Belinda Sinclair, who does a small weekly show called A Magicienne Among the Spirits.
This fall, another iteration of The Illusionists opens on Broadway with a turn-of-the-century theme, giving you the chance to see escape moves, dangerous stunts, sleight of hand and other acts that were popular in the early 1900s. Speaking of acts that hark back to a golden age of magic, there’s always (well, in season) the Coney Island Circus Sideshow. Sword swallowers, fire eaters, acts that defy easy description—in other words: good, clean fun.
Where else to find magic in the City? Out in Ridgewood, Queens, you can get on the trail by visiting the grave Harry Houdini at Machpelah Cemetery. Houdini lived in the City from the time he was a small child and purchased a townhome near Columbia University (though the current owner of the private residence, understandably, doesn’t love curious types rubbernecking in front of the house). Not far from the cemetery, the escape artist’s name lives on at the Houdini Kitchen Laboratory, a restaurant that eschews tricks for Neapolitan-style pizza, with results worthy of applause. Speaking of pizza and the supernatural, Three of Cups over in the East Village takes its name from a tarot card signifying celebration and serves up free beer with purchase of a pizza in its subterranean lounge in the evenings. And a little further south, on the Lower East Side, The Magician manages, by dint of some kind of magic, to serve dirt-cheap drinks in the face of skyrocketing rents and superhip speakeasies nearby. Then there’s Alchemy, across the East River in Park Slope, where you can test out how long it takes to make their tasty pub food and craft beers disappear.
If you want to examine the kind of stuff that kept Houdini up at night—and see one of the more unusual obsessions in town—head to the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, home to the Mossman Lock Collection. Don’t worry; they won’t slap anything on you to see if you can escape. Though a place does exist that houses research materials in the event: the Conjuring Arts Society, holder of letters, recordings, magazines and books about magic as well as some antique apparatus used for trickery. You can make an appointment to visit, or you can examine a limited selection of their holdings at either Fantasma Magic or Tannen’s.
Of course, in New York City, not all magic is of the sleight-of-hand variety. There’s a different kind of magic taking place almost everywhere you look in New York City: at Broadway’s theaters and baseball stadiums, in Michelin-starred restaurants and family-owned bakeries, in the enduring engineering of the Brooklyn Bridge and, well, you get the point. No matter what you believe in, this town is full of charm and mystique.
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