Secret entry to Magic Castle

    If you go

    What: Magic Castle Hotel

    Where: 7025 Franklin Ave., Hollywood, 90028

    Info and reservations: (323) 851-0800 or

    Room rates: Starting Sept. 24, $174 for studio rooms, $214 for one-bedroom suites. Summer months, $184 for studios, $244 for one-bedroom suites.

    Parking: $12 a day.

    Freebies: Continental breakfast, snacks, Wi-Fi, DVD rentals.

    What: Magic Castle

    Where: 7001 Franklin Ave., Hollywood, 90028

    Info: (323) 851-3313 or

    Door charge: $20 per person Sunday-Thursday, $25 Friday-Saturday.

    Houdini séance: Additional $35 per person.

    Dinner entrees: $24 to $42.

    No one under 21 allowed except for weekend brunch. Door charge $15, meal $19.95 for children, $36.95 adults.


    This 1908 Victorian mansion in the Hollywood hills is home to the members-only Magic Castle. Jennifer Ovadia photos


    The Magic Castle Hotel features 43 units.

    “Open sesame!” I barked at a gold owl perched on a musty-looking wall bookcase in the ornate foyer of a 1908 Victorian mansion. With that secret phrase, the bookcase slid open, allowing me to enter the mystery-shrouded, members-only Magic Castle, where Irma the ghost plays requests on the piano, Houdini returns from the grave during séances, and hocus-pocus pros perform brain-bending acts in an elegant parlor, the W.C. Fields Bar, and red velvet-draped salons.

    Shazam! This swanky sorcerers’ showplace casts a spell. But here’s the trick: The only folks who can get into the “most unique private club in the world” are its magician members (Steve Martin is one of them), magic-fond “associate members” (like Johnny Depp) or their invitees. Everyone else is out of luck, unless, abracadabra! you bunk next door at the Magic Castle Hotel.

    Without waving a wand, guests who stay at the boutique ’50s-built hotel have access to the Magic Castle (you still have to pay the door fee). It’s a captivating combo — the hand is quicker than the eye at the whirling paranormal palace, but the vibe at the retro-decor hotel that used to be an apartment complex is hypnotically laid-back. As you levitate, err rather, lounge poolside and ponder how women are sawed in half, cheerful employees deliver lavender-infused chilled washcloths and cherry Popsicles on a silver tray. The magic theme is low-key in the 43 units (most are 500-square-feet one-bedroom suites with full kitchens), although white washcloths in the bathroom are folded to look like rabbit ears and the maid-service door hanger shows a bunny popping out of a top hat and reads “We request that our room attendant APPEAR.”

    If a Castle Knight (a docent) is on duty at the adjacent now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t shrine, you’ll learn the mansion was formerly the home of real estate mogul Rollin Lane, who in 1940 died of a stroke in the bedroom where long-gone Houdini currently rattles tables, bangs a tambourine, and hovers over his displayed handcuffs and other props. “He’s very cooperative — he shows up two or three times a night,” said our Knight, Jessie Altamirano.

    The Magic Castle opened in 1963; its creators were Milt Larsen, a writer on Bob Barker’s “Truth or Consequences,” and his CBS producer brother William, both magicians who wanted a hangout for bewitching brethren.

    Altamirano first led us into a Gothic-groovy room where he greeted Irma the ghost at the empty piano bench “What did you do today?” he asked and the piano banged out “Makin’ Whoopee.” An onlooker requested the “Happy Birthday” song for his girlfriend. Invisible Irma complied.

    As we ambled through the dimly-lit memorabilia-packed 26,000-square-foot labyrinth, our guide paused in five cocktail lounges, including the W.C. Fields Bar, where you can ogle Fields’ pool table from his “Ziegfeld Follies” and order libations at the fancy bar from the Barbra Streisand movie “Hello Dolly!”

    The docent uttered the club mantra: “The more you drink, the better the magic.”

    We eventually landed in the Hall of Fame, next to a picture of founding Magic Castle member Cary Grant, aka “Carini” when he did his shtick here. (The current club president is “How I Met Your Mother” star Neil Patrick Harris). Then Altamirano whipped out a Sharpie pen and had me write my name on both sides of a swizzle stick. Presto-chango! He spun it rapidly and his name somehow replaced mine.

    Earlier, in the Close-Up Gallery, a comical conjurer passed coins through a table and made spongy balls grow and vanish into thin air. In the Parlour of Prestidigitation (where I was picked to be the magician’s assistant), a wisecracking wizard changed my six of spades into a different card, had me rip it up, and changed it back to the six of spades minus one corner. The missing piece ended up in a can of pepper spray I was to use on him if he bombed.

    All visitors to this classy cult must deck out (coats and ties for gents, “evening wear” for ladies) and are required to dine in the regal restaurant, where it’s possible to wash down a 12-ounce Harry Houdini Cut prime rib with Sleight of Hand Cellars “Spellbinder” red wine. You can drop the stuffy illusion, though, when you return to the mind-reading Magic Castle Hotel. Voilà! Nearly 50 different snacks — from Cokes to Cheez-Its to Kit Kat bars — are free and unlimited 24-7 at the front desk.

    Hotel CEO Darren Ross also makes personal touches magically appear in vacationers’ rooms. After travelers mentioned they had tickets to a baseball game, Ross planted peanuts and Crackerjacks with a “Go Dodgers” sign in their suite; anniversary and birthday celebrants find gourmet layer cakes, congrats, and bottles of wine.

    “We like to surprise our guests,” Ross said. But no, that doesn’t mean he’ll pull doves out of a silk handkerchief.

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