58 Cool Things to Do in NYC That Turn Visits Into Epic Stories (revised!)

I’m always looking for incredible things to do in NYC—hidden gems and New York attractions that most people don’t know about (unless you hear it from “the natives”) that I can share with friends and guests at my shows.

I updated the list I posted in 2010 and have added more of the coolest, quirkiest things to do in New York that are guaranteed to not only keep you busy for years to come, but also leave you with stories to share for life.

Please enjoy and share these…

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Chan Canasta Art Exhibition in New York

Chan Canasta (1920-1999) is one of my heroes in magic. In front of live audiences he took major risks that are breathtaking to behold. Sometimes a trick wouldn’t work and his entire presentation failed. Unlike a traditional magician, Chan Canasta was fine with that. Failure was an acceptable outcome. But when he succeeded, ah! The outcome was gloriously impossible. This was part of the public’s fascination toward Chan’s brand of psychological illusion – they were keenly aware that his experiments could fail, so they believed he was real. His approach elicited empathy, and audiences earnestly wanted him to succeed.

Later in life, he left the world of public performance and focused on another lifelong passion – painting. As artists evolve, they often find new outlets to express themselves. Chan put down the deck of cards and picked up a paintbrush to stimulate audiences in a fresh way. His paintings presented the world in a dreamlike fashion, challenging viewers to discern the difference between reality and illusion.

Today Chan Canasta paintings are seldom seen – most are held in private collections spread across the globe. I encountered my first Chan Canasta painting in 2004 hanging on the wall of Derren Brown’s flat in London. It made an impact on me because I knew that the canvas behind the plate glass had been personally touched by our mutual hero. Although Chan died in 1999 and I had never met him in person, I felt his presence while standing in the same room as his painting.

Years later, I chanced across an eBay auction containing twenty Chan Canasta paintings. At the time I wasn’t in the market to purchase art, but I felt a sudden inspiration to create screenshots of each painting. I saved those digital files and later posted them in a blog post on my website, dated April 13, 2010. The dealer selling these paintings was located in Brussels, Belgium, and I instructed my blog visitors to contact this dealer via eBay if they wished to purchase an original Canasta.

After a week of being listed on eBay, something magical yet disturbing happened. Not only did the auction listings end, but the Belgian art dealer himself had vanished. There was no way to track him down on eBay, since he had used an untraceable screen name that didn’t correspond to any known galleries.

I continued to host the twenty images on my blog. Five years passed.

On January 9, 2015, I received an email from a lady named Renata Kadrnka who explained that she was Chan Canasta’s widow. The day she wrote would have been Chan’s 95th birthday and she was reminiscing about life with her late husband. Renata had searched the Internet for articles about Chan, and stumbled across my blog post.

To my knowledge…

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Just as singers have their favorite songs, magicians have our favorite tricks.

One of my all-time favorites is Think-a-Drink. The proper title of this routine is Any Drink Called For, and has also been known as The Bar Act. I’ve been performing this routine in my shows for the past eight years, but it has existed in various forms for over a century. The trick is so old, it’s new again.

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Max Malini’s calling card!

A recent guest at my Waldorf show introduced himself as a relative of the great old-time magician, Max Malini. According to the gentleman, his great aunt’s second husband was Malini. A few weeks later, he sent me a piece of memorabilia from their family scrapbook – Malini’s calling card.

This image was drawn by the world-famous tenor, Enrico Caruso.

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