Potential buyers show interest in Montecito property
Milt and Arlene Larsen are selling the Magic Castle Cabaret in Montecito, but fear not, they have other tricks up their sleeves.
“I’m not retiring by any means,” Mr. Larsen, who turns 90 on April 9, cheerfully told the News-Press when asked about the sale of the Montecito site, the former Cafe del Sol that he and Mrs. Larsen magically transformed into a small palace of entertainment. They purchased the property in 2016 and opened the cabaret in 2018.
The site is listed for $4.25 million, which includes the liquor license, and will probably go on the market next week, real estate agent Joe Parker of Berkshire Hathaway told the News-Press.
But already, potential buyers have expressed interest in the property, which could retain the name Magic Castle Cabaret if a separate agreement is reached, Mr. Parker said.
He said the asking price includes most of the Magic Castle Cabaret’s furnishings and decorations.
Mr. Larsen spoke Tuesday to the News-Press by phone from Hollywood’s famous Magic Castle, which he and his late brother Bill Larsen Jr. started in 1963. Like other venues, it has been closed during the pandemic.
But Mr. Larsen said he hopes the Hollywood landmark, which includes magic theaters, dining and a bar with a ghost playing the piano (no kidding, watch the drink gradually disappear from its glass), will reopen as early as June with 50% occupancy.
The Magic Castle Cabaret in Montecito is much smaller than the original Magic Castle. But it has shown much of the same charm and wit, down to its furnishings and art work and all the musicians and magicians, including those who liked to perform some sleight of hand. (Go ahead; pick a card, any card.)
Mrs. Larsen recalled the Montecito cabaret’s 2019 New Year’s Eve party.
“We went on to 2 in the morning,” she told the News-Press by phone from the couple’s Santa Barbara home. “We started with a live band, then went over to a disc jockey, Scott Topper. It was a blast.”
Mrs. Larsen added that she and Mr. Larsen would be glad to serve as consultants for anyone who decides to buy the property and continue the tradition of magic.
She noted the Magic Castle Cabaret has had great magicians such as Shawn McMaster, Mark Collier and Johnny Ace Palmer.
The News-Press initially learned about the sale from a statement by Mr. and Mrs. Larsen, who said the Magic Castle Cabaret was a wonderful place for their friends, family and guests to “watch great magic and listen to wonderful music.
“We had the most unusual staff that was ready to learn any job and wear various costumes and uniforms to create a very unique and wonderful atmosphere,” the couple said. “We came up with a menu that the ABC (Liquor Board) and the Health Department accepted, and we were able to obtain an expensive full bar liquor license.
“The word was getting out, and our membership had started to grow; our guests were eating, drinking, staying in the club longer, and our entertainment was first class.”
But the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cabaret to close, the couple said. “We thought it would be for a few weeks, maybe a month or a two at the most. We used that time to rearrange and expand the collection of our gift shop. We perfected our menu with caviar deviled eggs, filet mignon tidbits and so many more delicious goodies.”
Mr. and Mrs. Larsen said they couldn’t have anticipated the 2017 Thomas Fire, the 2018 Montecito debris flow and the pandemic.
And they said they realized they’re not as young as they used to be.
“In April, Milt will be celebrating his 90th birthday. Arlene is no longer a teenager, so it’s time for the two of us to relax and smell the roses,” the statement said.
Mr. Larsen elaborated on that further during Tuesday’s interview with the News-Press.
“We want to find a very wonderful person who would take over the business side of what we’re doing and keep it as a wonderful institution and not make great changes in it,” Mr. Larsen said. “We would like to relax and have somebody else do all the worrying.
“Today’s world is not exactly easy,” he said. “When I started the Magic Castle 58 years ago, it was a different time. You could have one or two people in the office. Now you need 20 people to do the same thing.”
But even as the couple works on selling the Montecito property, Mr. Larsen is still pulling rabbits out of his hat. One is “Hear Them Again for the First Time!,” the radio show about classic songs that he hosts with acclaimed songwriter Richard Sherman (“Mary Poppins” and other Disney classics).
The show airs at 7 p.m. Saturdays at crntalk.com. Mr. Larsen tapes them in his Magic Castle office.
“Dick and I talk about the songwriters of the last century,” Mr. Larsen said. “Dick is 93 now. We get along OK. It’s always fun.”
Mr. Larsen also plans to organize another “Pizzazz!” show in 2022 at the Lobero Theatre. His annual presentation of magicians at the Santa Barbara theater was put on hold by the pandemic.