Illusions Magic Bar
Bristol, 2009
Alex Rangel recounts one night at Illusions

Really Fat Penguins, well I just thought I'd say something to break the ice.

My name is Alex Rangel and this is not a story about me. This is a story about an experience. I believe an experience cannot be owned by a single soul. It takes the perfect amount of timing and events as a whole to complete the experience. This is the story of my night at Illusions Magic Bar in Bristol England. To quote my good friend Doc Eason, this is the story that “I might not remember, But I'll never forget.”

Recently on tour with Daniel Garcia we were on the tail end of about negative 4 hours sleep..... The funny thought of justifying leaving England five days early versus the cost difference in hotel, train rides and food had weighed heavy in our minds... It was Saturday morning, stuffing my last “chip” AKA French fry in my mouth my left hand retrieved my lighter, my right already had a delicious Newport waiting. The first puff of the day is always the tastiest. We stood silently watching passer byes, a little Asian boy successfully retrieved a monstrosity of a booger he had been working on the entirety of time we had waited across the busy sidewalk cafe. After ten minutes or so Danny broke the silence by simply saying, “well” I nodded “yep”. The invitation of a free steak diner, open bar and let's just say plain old debauchery had been extended the night before. On one hand this seemed very pleasing, on the other an unfortunate amount of bad events from the previous evening made us want to leave as soon as possible. We kicked around ideas with not much real thought then Danny said, “hey what about the Magic Bar”? Nice, I replied.

A few days earlier, in fact on the first night of Blackpool, we had bumped into a guy that claimed to have the biggest magic bar in England. This immediately sparked my interest having worked at the Tower Magic Bar side by side with Doc Eason, Eric Mead, Bob Sheets and so many other great influences. Disappointingly when I asked other English magicians about the bar, their general response was “oh I haven't been myself, but I've heard it was really nice.” Nice? My grandmother, God rest her soul was nice....... I wanted details, something.

By chance we had met a young lady also in Blackpool named Annabel de Vetten. She was pimping her custom designed deck of playing cards aptly named the “Jill Deck”. After some wine a few fags and some cider Annabel was soon chatting up about her artwork, the Jill Deck and this magic bar in Bristol that we had to go to. So that was that, Danny and I were off to Bristol. About an hour in a half into our train ride I decided it would be best to text Annabel to find out the name of this bar and the name of the owner for that matter. Danny did a quick Google search for Illusions Magic bar and gave the owner Mark Bennett a ring. Seeing as we had made no hotel arrangements, nor let our future Bristol host privy to our intentions, I thought it best we should let him know we were popping in. (Taking a brief moment to explain. Danny lives in a world where things always just seem to work out and I'd have to say I live in reality. Inarguably I will say 98% of the time he is right. I just didn't want to end up on the streets of a foreign Country freezing standing outside a closed magic bar. “Hence the phone call” Danny hangs up the phone and says “we're good to go”.

Taking advantage of our first class seats we ordered a coffee and hot coco. Next stop taxi ride to Illusions, now that's a whole other story for another time. Our driver proceeded to take us on an unintentional misguided scenic tour of down town Bristol. It was foolish on our part to assume that just because we had the full address, post code and name of the establishment that “Michael” would know where to take us. Danny made another $6 phone call to Mark who stood on the street waving his arms like air traffic control. We spotted him and exited the cab about a hundred and fifty yards off target. Mark was posted outside leaning against a white mini SUV with the illusions logo proudly pasted on its side. Ahhh, time for quick cig and a bit of small talk before walking into the bar.

Upon entering I quickly noticed the original Artwork of Annabel de Vetten displayed on the walls. The floors were clean and there was no smell of smoke as you would find in most Texas bars. A baby grand piano sat staged to the right, an L shaped bar adorned with classic magic posters at its base lay in the middle. To the left was a nice comfortable lounge area. And in front of that, not to sound “Cheeky” is where the magic happened. It was a six seater hand made bar, with a velvet curtain that laid in the back, a display case of common magic goods sat to the left and the house butler stood to the right. There were no liquor bottles, no beer taps, this was a magic bar. Get your cocktail sit down shut the @#$* up and get ready to be entertained. THIS WAS A MAGIC BAR and I was home. A small group that honestly just walked in, were now wrapped into a 30 minute set of awe and disbelief. Jezza was pounding them with close up effect after close up effect. Curse words flew as fast as the pints. It was now six thirty and that rumble in my stomach was a gentle reminder that breakfast had been over 8 hours ago. We politely excused ourselves and asked Mark where we might get a quick bite. He said he knew of just the place and before we knew it he was joining us at ZiZi's Italian cafe. They treated us like rock stars, a bottle of wine and a full belly later we walked back to the bar. I couldn't imagine that more than an hour and a half had passed since our filling dinner and now the Illusions patrons had quadrupled in volume. Mark hustled us through the crowd taking time to shake hands and smile. Danny and I just exchanged glances, this was going to be a fun night..........

Back stage is a place I've always enjoyed and this was no exception. Concrete floors, beer storage, a stainless steel 3 well sink and a plaster wall graffitied with past visited magi's autographs separated us from the anxiously waiting crowd. Now keep in mind we were never “asked” to perform, it was more that within the first 24 seconds of meeting Mark he had “told” us we would be going on. What Mark didn't know, is you couldn't have kept me away from that crowd with a s%&*@ mop. I could feel blood rushing from my neck down my arms and finally enter my hands. Don't get confused boys and girls, this was not fear by any means. This was the thrill, the excitement the adrenaline right before the kill. Tonight there was no need to tone it down, no neck ties no screaming kids, a little term Danny and I like to call “all meat”.

Mark gave a quick introduction and Daniel Garcia was first up. Now I wish I could tell you that Mark and I watched every second of his act, but instead we dashed out into a secrete storage for yet another puff. Well that didn't last long, abrupt laughter and the echoing voice of DG made us quickly toss our fags on the ground to rush back in. Armed with a deck of bikes and a blue megaphone Danny was making his American presence well known. Again, all meat....... Straight to the point in your face no smoke or mirrors magic. Earlier Mark had handed Jezza one of the house magicians my camera, Jezza took more pictures than a paparazzi sitting in front of Brittney Spears house on a Saturday. Danny was in rare form a scene that few have ever witnessed before. Danny took his well deserved applause, gave me a soccer pat on the ass and I was next. Working with a borrowed deck, a borrowed sharpie and a half borrowed act (kidding ok not really no really) I found my rhythm. The cool guy stood in front not wanting to beak. An ambitious card to mouth routine I had done a thousand times notedly broke down his tough guy demeanor. Amanda was the beauty I had chosen to be the star of the show. Well probably every guy in that room wanted that girl to be the “star” of the show. Mark shot me a whisper “one more” he says. I'm almost glad he did because I would have stayed all night.

Oh did I mention? Yes we ended up staying all night. Mark the home town hero took it from there and from the sound of cheers he knocked it out of the park. It was now time for some serious business. Fresh squeezed delicious British pints of nectar softened our pallets for the long road ahead. A young and hip blend of music played nicely in the background. We sat on the black leather couches watching the show from the spectators point of view. In SnowMass we had a mirror that hung above the bar as to catch all the angles. Well Illusions had to one up us Yanks, a 42inch flat screen with wireless video camera took care of that. Danny, Mark and I just sat and watched, sipped our pints and watched some more. Around about 5:30 in the morning I guess we figured we had told each other enough lies and called it a night. While Mark took about sixty or so steps up to his apartment Danny and I soon found out that our “right around the corner” hotel ended up being an honest 3/4 of a mile hike.

It would be a night that we might not remember but I guarantee we would never forget.......... I say this to all magicians and laymen alike if you find yourself in England, some might consider it a sin to your own self not to find the time to visit Illusions Magic Bar. It was a joy that completed my total experience of England and for that I say with all my heart from Danny and I both, Thank you Mark Bennett, thank you to the staff at Illusions and thank you random reader that I forgot to mention.


© Alex Rangel, April 2009