On the Rocks
by: ANNE MARIE DISTEFANO, Can barroom illusionist Reed McClintock and his bag of tricks convince Portlanders they’re not too cool for magic?

'No way, Reed McClintock! You're out of this world!' the woman sitting next to me calls out.

'This isn't TV, you know,' McClintock responds from the stage, 'I can hear you.'

Local magician Reed McClintock has a knack for interacting with his audience. He does most of his work while tablehopping in bars such as Dante's (1 S.W. Third Ave.) and Thunder Ranch (13456 S.E. McLoughlin Blvd.), but we're here tonight at Voleur for a slightly more formal Saturday-evening supper show.

Every time I mention Voleur to someone who hasn't heard of it before, they think I'm saying 'velour.' A similar misconception occurs when I say 'magic show.' People my age grew up in a time when cornball magical acts - and tacky plush jogging suits - were inescapable.

As a result, I usually rank magicians right up there with clowns, mimes and ventriloquists, as things to be avoided.

I make a big exception for McClintock, though. His brand of sorcery is definitely worth seeking out. And, by the way, Voleur is a high-ceilinged, unpretentious bar and restaurant that's open really late - all night on weekends - and serves bourbon infused with fig, vanilla and cinnamon that is, now that I think of it, rather warm and velvety.

An illustrated illusionist

There are no top hats here, no lovely assistants, no doves or rabbits, just a man dressed in basic black, his short-sleeved shirt revealing arms covered in tattoos. He begins pulling coins and red balls out of midair.

His humorous, approachable manner, along with a few good card tricks, would be enough to get him gigs around town, but as his tricks become more complex you realize, wow, this guy is really good.

Some of his stunts are genuinely hard to wrap your mind around. When he moves up to the stage, his interaction with the small crowd of 12 or so remains conversational. That is, up until the grand finale. When he starts putting razor blades in his mouth, the room goes dead quiet.

I'm surprised there aren't more people here. McClintock may not be a household name around Portland, but he's known nationally among illusionists. He sells his techniques to other magicians. He's the author of the McClintock Twist, and his Stars and Hexes method enables the practitioner to manipulate tattoos.

As a matter of fact, McClintock used to be a tattoo artist. Then a kids' magic kit captured his imagination. He was a 24-year-old art student at the time, and he unwrapped a present meant for his much younger cousins, while they were asleep.

'If you've ever had an epiphany in your life where you just know - oh, man, this is what I was put here to do - since that night I've been doing magic almost every day of my life,' he says.

In conversation, McClintock is so enthusiastic that he sounds, at times, like a motivational speaker. 'I used to be embarrassed that I was a magician,' he says. 'I used to think it served no purpose for people, but then I realized, you know what? I do make a difference, in a big way.'

He gets a charge from seeing the looks on people's faces when they experience amazement - in daily life, how often does that happen? - and he believes they take something positive away from it. Giving that experience to others means mostly giving it up for yourself.

'That's the unfortunate part,' McClintock says. 'When you do magic, you give up that innocence. … Very rarely do I get fooled by other magicians.'

Portland's a tough crowd

The 33-year-old McClintock is committed to keeping his family (a wife and three young children) in Portland, although it can be a tough place to perform. There's so much live music to compete with here, he says, not to mention cynical attitudes (like mine) to overcome.

He likes working small clubs. For the future, though, he expects big things, and wouldn't say no to, say, a prime-time TV special.

'The whole show would be about the audience,' McClintock says. 'Let's get the real reactions on TV.' When that happens, he'll want to find that woman who is sitting next to me tonight, and make sure she's sitting in the front row.

Reed McClintock

Where: Voleur,

111 S.W. Ash St., 503-227-3764

When: 9 p.m. Saturdays, call for details

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