I just got back from a trip to Nashville, Tennessee where I discovered that wearing a suit gets you a lot of funny looks.
Wait, let me backup.
Visiting Nashville for the first time ever, this was a "guy's trip" and we had a few things planned. Attending a magic show, not one of them. Out of my friends going, I'm the only magician and really the only one who would've ever known that House of Cards was a place (thanks Genii).
We were doing a little bit of sight-seeing and I spotted the Johnny Cash museum. "Hey, let's go check that one out," I said. While inside, there was the Cash museum on the first floor and a Patsy Cline museum upstairs. I went over to a security guard looking guy and asked, "how do we get downstairs?" My friends all looked at me like I was crazy. And, so did the security guard.
"You're not dressed for it," was the only reply I received. Ouch.
With everyone intrigued, we made a reservation for the next night. Coincidentally, we had each brought a suit for a separate bourbon tasting event we attended. Why is this relevant? Because House of Cards has a strict dress code. For guys, this requires a dinner jacket, button up shirt, and dress shoes. Nice!
We rolled in around 6:30pm, the security guard was much nicer this time around, and we went on in. The inner-door read "no photography beyond this point". Well shucks.
Let me describe the inside of this place, just to paint you a picture. Mostly because, well, I couldn't take pictures.
It was a restaurant, with no windows. The walls had red curtains draped across them with magic show posters everywhere. Columns were scattered throughout the restaurant between this table and that, each column having a shadow box featuring a very old and rare playing card. In fact, these were the oldest surviving playing cards in the world!
In the center of the restaurant was a large bar that wrapped around, making it accessible regardless of your table.
A long corridor off to the back, enveloped also with red curtains on both sides, led the way to the bathroom. If you took the stroll down that corridor, you'd pass by a window that has a floating head following you in it!
One wall had a painting with eyes shifting left and right every so often, but towards the back of the restaurant was a player-less piano. Rather, the ghost of Thurston was said to be there, playing the night away. You could speak a simple phrase, "Thurston, play <any song>" and the piano would be on its way!
There were a couple of tables setup where magicians would be performing -- we'll get to that shortly, and the headliner's stage room was roped off as well.
All-in-all, it was a speakeasy and had the vibes of one completely.
Though I'm sure I could have asked when I made the reservation, I didn't know who the headliner of the night was. In fact, I didn't actually know what to expect at all -- specifically, I didn't realize there would be a headliner. I actually thought that it would be more like a restaurant or bar and magicians would be table-hopping all night. Boy was I wrong!
When we first entered and the host was bringing us in, I saw a familiar face: Ryan Plunkett! I told one of my friends that I met him last week at MagiFest. A minute or two later, the host let us know that Ryan was the headliner of the night! Sweetness!
To get access to see that show, you need a ticket. To get a ticket, you have to order an entrée or a steak. Given that we were there for dinner, it worked out. Over-stuffing ourselves with food and drinks, we received our tickets and 8:15pm rolled around -- we all ushered into the parlor room.
I didn't count, but I'd guess there was likely 50 people or so in there. Maybe more, maybe less, but close to 50.
The curtains separated and out came Ryan.
I have never seen Ryan perform before, but I do have his books Distilled and A New Angle. These, however, don't impart his personality nearly as well as seeing him live. He had, in my opinion, the perfect level of comedy and quick-wit to make a show both elegant, and hilarious.
I loved the routines he performed too. Coins, Cards, Bills - he was all over the place, flexing his prowess in many magical areas. My favorite piece of his was, and don't mistake this as saying anything else was less impressive, but his opening effect that slipped out of the mind of everyone I spoke to afterwards was just perfect.
The only routine of his that I'll actually describe is this one. He took a tightly folded up paper bag and unfolded it. Reached into it and pulled out a full bottle of whiskey. He then opened the bottle, poured some into a glass, and began his show.
What an amazing way to start a show. If I ever had an act of my own, this is exactly how I would want to start it!
Reverse Table Hopping
After the show, we all shuffled out and went back into the restaurant. Everyone was pretty much finished dinner so the crowd thinned out a bit. I'd say about half of the people left. Those of us who remained, we went to one of several tables where magicians were sitting and performing.
My original thought that magicians would come to us to perform at our tables, e.g., table hopping, was reversed. We went to them!
The first table we sat at, there was a decent-sized crowd around it too. This act went on for maybe 15 minutes or so and was really fun. The magician was Kevin King and he was quite a southern comedian. He used a lot of props in his act too. I would say that the sleight of hand necessary was just enough to use each prop, but the impact of the routines were spot-on for the audience.
We went to two more tables after this, but it turned out that we were the only ones seeing them because everyone else already had a chance. Because we were a small group, unfortunately, we didn't get any big performances. The next two magicians, who I sadly can't remember their names, did one or two little tricks and called it a night. Great tricks overall though, just short and to the point.
Leading off from the last section, a big takeaway if I were to ever go back -- or a tip if you ever go -- is to visit some of the magic tables before the headliner act. The host hinted to us to finish eating before seeing any of the magic because otherwise "our mashed potatoes would be cold," and so we did. Yeah, other people didn't take that hint and ended up getting a lot more magic at the smaller tables.
There's a tiny shop in House of Cards too. It has shirts and decks available. You know me, I bought a deck! I really wanted one of their pins that they had -- the employees, that is -- but they weren't for sale. I almost had a deal with a waiter for one, but it didn't work out =P
If you're visiting Nashville for purposes other than attending this restaurant, make sure to get a reservation in advance -- and bring appropriate clothes. They definitely won't let you in if you're not dressed appropriately (e.g., like you came off of Broadway in your honky tonk get-up). Afterwards though, if you're like us and were wearing suits, it's either a good idea to have a plan of where to go that suits would be a good fit, or head back to your hotel and change. If you're interested in other suit-appropriate spots around there, reach out to me and I'll give you a full run-down of our itinerary. We managed to avoid plastic-cup bourbon the entire trip =]
Overall, House of Cards was a really great experience. The food was great. The service was spectacular. The magic was beautiful. 5 stars, would go again!