Top magic shows in Chicago | Feature | Chicago Reader

Top magic shows in Chicago 

Catch local illusionists and touring acts around the city at venues old and new.

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  • Ryan Duggan

The Chicago Magic Lounge takes inspiration from the historic bars specializing in close-up or tableside magic that prospered alongside the city's trick shops in the 1940s. Magicians work the crowd from the floor, moving from table to table to perform their tricks as opposed to sweating alone beneath a spotlight onstage. However there's also stage magic and bar magic—the venerable Bob Schulien, great-grandson to magic innovator Matt Schulien, was bartending when I visited last year. You're invited to let the magicians wandering the floor greet you with an illusion at your table, and the host might encourage you to approach the bar for some card-trick sleight of hand—all between sets by the main-stage headliner. —KEVIN WARWICK Open run: Thu 7:30 PM, Sat at 7 PM, Uptown Underground,, $27.50-$46.50. 21+


Once upon a time, Chicago was a magic town. You could buy tricks and apparatus at Marshall Field's and get a full-blown magic show with your dinner at Schulien's. The waiters there invented what became known as the Chicago style of magic. It was up-close and personal, not too grand, but still astonishing, and best of all, it made the audience part of the show. David Parr and Joe Diamond re-create this golden age in The Magic Cabaret, using homely objects like books and lightbulbs and (naturally) playing cards to bring their stories of old-time magic to life. The result is by turns funny, surprising, and spooky. But here's the most amazing part: it really is fun for the whole family, not just the kids. —AIMEE LEVITT Open run: Wed 8 PM, Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln,, $20.


The monthly showcase presents a mix of well-respected locals and touring magicians. Upcoming headliners include Kenrick "Ice" McDonald, whose November 2 set is sure to be packed with dove illusions, and the veteran mentalist Max Maven on December 7. Open run: first Wed of the month, 7:30 PM, Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont,, $25.


This magic show is exactly what it should be: funny, lively, intimate, and utterly baffling. House Theatre of Chicago member Dennis Watkins blends quick-witted improv and physical comedy with freewheeling patter as he performs classic illusions. Though his sleight of hand is impossibly subtle, it was the mind-reading tricks that seemed to have drawn several inquisitive skeptics back for another look on the night I attended. A curio-shop intimacy encourages audience participation, and Watkins, with his Eagle Scout looks, clearly takes a mischievous pleasure in the unexpected. Just let your cell phone go off during the show and see what kind of fun he has. —KEITH GRIFFITH Open run: Fri 7:30 and 9:30 PM; Sat 4:30, 7:30, and 9:30 PM, Palmer House Hilton, 17 E. Monroe, 773-769-3832,, $79.


A longtime home of Chicago bar magic, the former Schulien's keeps the tradition alive with a roster of close-up magic performers providing tableside entertainment three days a week. Stalwart master magician Al James performs on Fridays, while a handful of other sleight-of-hand artists fill in on Saturdays and Sundays. Open run: Fri-Sat 6-10 PM, Sun 5-9 PM, 1801 W. Irving Park, 773-478-2100.  F  v

Correction: The entry for the Magic Parlour has been emended to correctly reflect the current running time, which is 90 minutes. Drinks (wine, beer, and soda) are included in the price of admission.

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