By Amy McNeal
Sometimes that classic chestnut “you get what you pay for” is actually true. We’ve all been in that situation: the moment when you’re sitting in a nondescript but aggressively modern trendy bar, drinking a mediocre yet expensive cocktail and listening to the same tired bar music and you start to think “What am I doing here?” But then there are those special places that aren’t easy on the wallet but you’re practically guaranteed to have a great night. They’ve got great looking décor, tons of ambiance and a deep bar selection. It’s the place where you don’t mind paying a little bit more for a drink because the atmosphere is right and the service is good, without being fussy or snobby. You can show up in jeans or a cocktail dress, and still be comfortable.
Illusions Bar & Theater isn’t your average Federal Hill college hangout. The bar crowd definitely skews older, although on the weekends you’ll see groups of date night and birthday celebrating college kids in the place. The black and red décor harks back to the days of the classic speakeasy, with plush banquettes and towering mirrors. Elegant chandeliers on the ceiling and classic magic show posters on the walls complete that back-in-the-day feel. The excellent wine list features American, Australian and European choices. Wines are available by the bottle or the glass. The beer menu offers beer lovers the opportunity to choose from a carefully assembled selection. This bar really stands out with cocktails. You can order your favorite classic drink, like an excellent and potent Sidecar, or choose a classic martini that fits right in with the elegant surroundings. The Razzberry Martini is a beautiful and delicious choice.
The weekend magic shows are Illusions Bar & Theater’s signature event. The second half of the facility features an equally elegantly presented stage, with a classic comedy-magic show that plays like a fun Vegas lounge act. Bar patrons are treated to cool magic tricks, witty banter and audience participation stunts. The highlight of the show is the famous straightjacket escape trick. Shows are held every weekend. Illusions is also now offering occasional comedy nights and classic burlesque performances on a limited basis.
Great atmosphere, great drinks and great entertainment isn’t cheap. You won’t find anything for less than $3 on the beer list, even the generic domestics. Mixed drinks and signature cocktails are pricey too – martinis can run to $10 and up. There’s a cover charge for the weekend magic show as well, but no cover during the week unless there’s a special show. Special performances like the comedy and burlesque shows have a varying by the event cover charge. This isn’t the place to go out for a night on the town on a budget. This is a bar for grown-ups looking for a great night. You’ll have a fun evening in a place that makes you feel great, instead of elbowing in for a beer at a loud bar full of college kids. If you’re a believer in “you get what you pay for”, you’ll understand that paying a little more for an evening at a bar like Illusions is well worth the money.
Illusions Bar & Theater
1025 S. Charles Street
Baltimore, Md. 21230
Amy McNeal is a writer and journalist living in Bowie, Md. A Baltimore native, she’s constantly intrigued by her city’s vibrant and unique culture.