The McKittrick Hotel, then rivaling New York’s luxurious Waldorf, opened in 1939. It was a place to see and be seen. Alfred Hitchcock paid tribute by calling the hotel in his film Vertigo McKittrick. Shortly after, World War II broke out. Reservations were cancelled, bills couldn’t be met. The place was shut and padlocked.
Seventy-two years later, scouting movie locations, Nick Carr was taken on a tour of the abandoned edifice amazed to find much of the interior intact. For the curious, click here for photos .
An industrial-looking elevator takes us up to the top floor. Passing stairs to the rooftop restaurant, Gallow Green, we walk through a period phone booth à la speakeasy and into a low lit, beamed room that looks much like one might imagine illicit prohibition establishments. All that’s missing is a password.
Pianist Jesse Gelber (whose own group is well worth hearing) occupies a wood stage playing tunes of the era on an atmospherically tinny upright. Large round tables pepper the floor. Bar waiters attentively circulate. Expectation creates buzz. Strangers at our table – we were 12 in all – genially exchange stories.
We’re welcomed by hosts: Todd Robbins, actor, magician, ringmaster, sideshow artist, playwright, author, ragtime pianist; and, Jacqueline, “Jack,” a member of the McKittrick family. I ask Robbins about the origin of these evenings.
“For decades, magicians have been doing what is known as `sessions,’ informal get-togethers where they gather and perform for each other,” he says. “I invited Jack to one of these many years ago in the back room of a little bar in Hell’s Kitchen called Tobacco Road. (It’s now closed.) She loved what was experienced that night, and offered the use of the Club Car whenever we wanted to do one of these. I took her up on it, and we did them whenever a magician friend was in town to do a corporate or private event. It was Jack’s idea to make this into a public event.”
Onstage, Matthew Holtzclaw nonchalantly manifests and vanishes fire, multiple cigarettes, a glass of champagne, and a bottle of beer with the wave of hands or handkerchiefs. Stage artists work silently (but for piano) and are not announced. Between performer visits to your table, turn an eye upward. When I do next , I see Alex Boyce gracefully calling forth enough doves to fill a birdcage. Both these men also visit tables, though tonight, not mine.
Rachel Wax takes our single, unoccupied seat. She’s friendly, quick and wry, relating easily to the intimate audience. Comments and response are contemporary; we laugh. Except for a few chestnut rope tricks, she’s a card magician. It’s a rare opportunity to be so close to a canny sleight of hand artist that one can look in the eye, as well as fixing on deployment of cards. Choose one. The other is misdirection.
The highlight of Wax’s time with us is one I serendipitously experience myself. Placing a deck of cards in my flat left palm, right hand on top, she asks a companion to put one of his on each of mine. “How sure are you the deck is still there?” she asks. “Ninety-five percent,” I reply having felt no change. We open up and a deck-shaped rectangle of clear plastic sits where cards had been.
Opulently tattooed Mark Calabrese is next. This artist has the appearance of a dodgy, central casting character you wouldn’t want to play against. Kinetic energy is authoritative. Speech is as cool as quicksilver hands. One moment cards are on the table, the next, elsewhere – perhaps affixed to his forehead. Shuffling is balletic.
A playing card face down under an audience member’s firm finger is identified by checking Calabrase’s Instagram site on a SmartPhone. Pulling a white matchbook from his pocket, he then has a woman who’s chosen and hidden a card, read the book’s inner flap. It says: My Card. But wait, lift the interior bend behind matches and…
Chilean, illusionist/mentalist Matias Letelier has a corona of curls and charming accent. The practitioner baffles us with an iPad. Assorted objects on screen seem to be extricated, morphing into 3-D reality. Complicit in deception, we actually observe a card make its way out.
Many effects leave a magical trail of Harry Potterish steam. Cards are lost and found elsewhere, coming up in predicted order. A flat shuffle is artful. At one point, Letelier imperceptibly purloins a man’s wristwatch, holding it over his head so we can all see. The astonished audience member doesn’t realize it’s gone.
“Does anyone know what shuffling a deck in the air is?” Patrick Davis begins. “It’s called, no dates in high school.” Exhibiting an artful knife (its veracity is checked), the performer manages to spear a card from a tumbling deck accompanied by a startling flash of powder/flame. The card is one on which someone had earlier written her name.
He requests a ring from another woman, “preferably something expensive,” passes his hand over a candle, and it’s gone. Long story short, the jewelry ends up in his back pocket on a ring with his car keys. A tandem joke is spot on. Davis leaves us with an effect half finished. Is the card on the table missing from the deck still sealed in cellophane? We find out.
Halfway through the roster of close-up performers, Robbins and “Jack” take to the stage to MC a game of BINGO. Game sheets are handed out. The winner is offered a $100 bill. That’s all I’m going to write about that.
This is a terrific evening’s entertainment, bang for your buck. Feelings of bonhomie and astonishment pervade. One can hear loud exclamations, clapping, and laughter from other tables. Barbed competition between performers is voiced with good humor.
Every artist has her/his own style, a paramount aspect of any magician/ mentalist’s act. As diehard a fan of the genre, I’ve seen a few of these effects repeatedly. Style, patter, and personality make all the difference. This is a top notch group who, appealingly, seem to enjoy the evening as much as we do. The room is well run. Treat yourself.
Photos by giafrese
Group photo by William Goodheart
Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday Club Car at The McKittrick Hotel
542 West 27th Street