Nowadays, people want more than just a fancy cocktail and a stool to sit on. They’re looking for experiences, something to dilute the monotony of everyday life, something to transport them to another dimension. Here’s where the Houston brothers come in. Mark and Jonnie, purveyors of nine of the most exciting nightlife spots in L.A., have dropped number 10. Black Rabbit Rose is a magic-themed bar that takes mystery and spectacle to a whole new level. Real-life magicians work the doors and floor of this dimly lit, mini Magic Castle set in turn-of-the-century industrial decor. Small performances materialize in different spots and bartenders shake up alluring libations meant not only to satisfy but to amuse. Through a door to the left of the bar is a hallway leading to a 40-seat theater. The room is engineered with shaking floors, false walls and trick lighting to spotlight the magicians, illusionists, burlesque dancers and others who perform Thursday through Saturday ($25–$40). This haven of nostalgic sophistication is dress code-protected and thus stands in bold contrast to the grimy tourist trap of Hollywood Boulevard.
The Houston brothers specialize in old timey decor, whether it be Cuban (La Descarga), French (Pour Vous) or classic Hollywood (No Vacancy). Black Rabbit Rose takes yesteryear decor past prohibition speakeasies and back to the turn of the century: The lighting’s even darker, the wood’s even older, the furniture is almost Victorian and the ceiling fans run on a pulley system. The place is rarely empty because the word is out, but it’s also rarely packed because most use the bar as a waystation before moving to the performance room. Don’t be the only one left out. In the hallway to the theater is the original Zoltar machine from the movie Big.
Dates with a new flame or with your soulmate of decades. The dark lighting is great for intimacy and the pop-up magic shows are opportunities to laugh, marvel and bond. The whole spectacle is also great for groups looking for a new experience and a departure from the stale speakeasy bar scene.
Each cocktail is delivered with its own mystical gimmick. The Dark Arts ($15) comes with a large rose petal floating on top. The Bullet Catch ($14) is topped with whipped cream set on fire. The Honey Bunny ($15) billows Halloween fog from a chunk of dry ice at the bottom. But gimmicks aside, focus on these standout drinks: The Freddy Nuff ($13) is a take on an old fashioned, but Tamarind is used to ease the usual bite of bitters and whiskey. It somehow flows creamy as it delivers subtle waves of rye to the back of the tongue. The Dove Tail ($14) is the house favorite that comes in an old-school coupe glass with a flower design on the surface you’d usually find at a craft coffee roaster. The egg white and cassis give this Irish whiskey/scotch concoction thickness, smoothness and complexity. But the surprise champion here is the Zig Zag Lady ($14). Don’t let the ruby red color fool you. The black currant juice and house blended rum offset the tartness of lime and ginger for a masterful blend you’ll want to reorder. Sixteen wines and four beers are available, as are Thai tapas cooked behind the takeout window next door.
Rumor has it the theater turns into a dancefloor at night after shows Thursday through Saturday, but come in on a Wednesday and you just might witness the best jazz music west of the Mississippi. Be wary of the automatic gratuity policy.