Jeff Grow has a title you don’t come across very often. He’s a “bar illusionist” at Albert Trummer’s recently-opened-to-the-public Theater Bar (114 Franklin Street) in Tribeca. He discusses just how manages to mix drinks with magic and why the two are a great pair.
Have you always been a magician?
I started doing sleight of hand when I was 7. My grandfather was a magician, which is how I got started.
How does magic tie into mixology?
There’s actually a long, rich history of combining sleight of hand, illusion, and mixing drinks. It dates back to Chicago in the late ’30s, after Prohibition, at places like Schulien’s and the La Salle Hotel. It really became its own genre of almost raucous sleight-of-hand performance, with the bar as a stage.
Explain what you do exactly.
I’ve created cocktails that are paired with some of the illusions and sleight-of-hand pieces that I perform. Guests order one of my cocktails and the host brings them backstage and behind the scenes, to a VIP area. I make the cocktail, perform the illusion that goes with it, and then a short bespoke show for about 15 minutes. These first couple of weeks we’ll be taking reservations and I’ll be there periodically, but we’ll soon be doing the shows by reservation only, with a minimum of four guests per reservation.
Do you use fire in any of your tricks, as Albert Trummer did at Apotheke?
Not really. Definitely no fire with absinthe …
What personal traits are required to bartend at Theater Bar?
When a bartender is behind the bar, they are on stage — from how they handle the tools, create the cocktail, to how they garnish a drink. At Theater Bar, we’re putting those inherent qualities on display. So, obviously, everyone mixing can make some unbelievable cocktails. But they also have a creative sense of how they prepare and present them.
What’s the most unusual drink/trick combo you have? Or just your favorite?
Right now, my favorite is a pine-needle liqueur champagne cocktail paired with something I do with sewing needles. The needle trick dates back a long time to India and was also a featured showpiece of Houdini’s.
How do you come up with your tricks and drinks? Which comes first?
It goes both ways. At times, the ingredients of a trick will inspire a cocktail. At times, there is a cocktail I want to present and I find a way to magically produce it.
Do you do private parties? If so, what can you offer private clients you can’t really do at the bar?
The majority of the work I do is sleight of hand and mentalism at private and corporate events and trade shows. I also have a stage show about con artistry that I present here in the city, at regional theaters and universities. You can take a look at jeffgrow.net to find out more.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 28, 2011