Sometimes magic happens when and where you least expect it. Say, for example, in a random suburban strip mall in Encino on a Monday night.
That’s where, in a dimly lit, cozy 12-seat bar last week, magician Kayla Drescher borrowed a $1 bill from a patron, tore the corner of the bill to give it a unique, distinguishing mark and promptly made it disappear into thin air.
“Can I borrow some of this fruit?” Drescher asked the bartender. She grabbed a knife and sliced open a fresh, juicy lime. And there, folded neatly inside the previously whole and untouched piece of citrus was the patron’s dollar, a bit soggy with lime juice but identical to the one that had disappeared, torn corner and all.
How did she do it? I have no idea. And I don’t really want to know. The best part of any magic show is the wonder, the awe, the omg-how-did-she-do-that whispers and gasps.
At Magic Bar, bartender/magician extraordinaire Benjamin Schrader’s weekly pop-up sleight-of-hand saloon, the magic is intimate and happens just feet away, making each card trick all the more impressive. For around 45 minutes, a dozen lucky patrons sip specially crafted cocktails and have their minds blown by a rotating roster of guest performers, all of whom, like Schrader, also are headlining magicians at the Magic Castle.
Schrader first encountered the small backroom bar space he uses for the weekly event when Scratch Bar chef Phillip Frankland Lee (of Top Chef fame) brought him on to design a cocktail menu for a speakeasy-style sushi bar.
Lee’s restaurant concepts occupy a sizable upstairs corner of the strip mall. Scratch Bar is next door to the cocktail-driven Woodley Proper. A more casual crab shack sits between the two high-end spaces. And hidden in the back is the eight-seat Sushi Bar, where Lee serves up an inventive omakase every Wednesday through Sunday.
In addition to serving drinks, Schrader started doing a few tricks for Sushi Bar customers after dinner service. Lee was impressed. He decided to give Schrader free rein of the tiny space on Monday nights, and thus Magic Bar was born (it opened in September).
Tickets to Magic Bar’s 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Monday evening shows are $25 (booze and food are extra). Each week Schrader concocts three specialty cocktails specifically for the space. Last week a traditional margarita was served with a “magic berry” that, once chewed, zapped the tongue’s sour receptors, transforming the cocktail into a sweet sort of lemon-drop concoction. Patrons also can order from the full bar and kitchen at Woodley Proper (or any of Lee’s other adjacent restaurants). You can pop in and sign up before one of the two shows, or call Woodley Proper’s main reservation line and reserve a spot.
Drinking and slinging cards. Schrader says that’s what he and his fellow magicians like to do in their free time. And those intimate sessions are what he seeks to re-create for Magic Bar patrons each Monday. It’s an escape. From day jobs and the 24-hour news cycle. From all the problems of life that have no magical solution.
Once the wooden doors of Magic Bar slide shut, a small group of wonder-seekers bond over shared moments of amazement. Old jazz records spin on a turntable. Decks are cut. Booze is imbibed. And poof! Just like that, at least for an hour or so, the outside world disappears.