Fancy coffee with a side order of of spoon bending?

Twisted Fork Cafe
Judith Woods tries out a kids magic workshop at the Twisted Fork cafe on Stoke Newington High Street Credit: Geoff Pugh/Geoff Pugh

The couple at the table in the corner of the café are displaying the awkward, ambivalent body language of a first date.

Smiles. Silences. Fleeting eye contact. Will they, won’t they? It’s been the same since time immemorial.

But then the coffee arrives and within moments there are gasps and even a clap or two, interspersed with peals of laughter.

It has nothing to do with the single-estate roast or the Uri Geller vegan sourdough sandwich. No, it’s the waiter who is, quite literally, playing tricks.

Welcome to the Twisted Fork, Britain’s – rumour has it, the world’s – first magic café. Here in the heart of the London borough of Hackney, illusions, cutlery bending and prestidigitation are always on the menu.

In true millennial style, the idea came to founder and Magic Circle magician Rich Clark as he lay on a beach in Thailand. The 35-year-old was travelling after graduating in film and TV studies and contemplating his future.

“I’d been working as a magician for years on and off and while I was in Asia I visited lots of themed cafés but there was none devoted to magic,” he says.

“A quick Google search revealed there wasn’t another in the world. And I thought this is what I need to do – if I don’t give it a go I’ll always regret it.”

Harry Potter started the trend for magic Credit: PA/PA

And so the Twisted Fork came to be. I came across it quite by chance, with my 10-year-old daughter, who was drawn by the rainbow bagels in the window. But, while we sat down for the snacks, we stayed for the spoon bending.

The Twisted Fork holds a range of activities, including hugely popular magic courses for children held after school and at weekends.

Evie Broadfoot, six, sees a future in magic. Her repertoire includes card tricks and making balls disappear from cups. “I like magic because it makes people really interested and they laugh and get excited,” she says.

“I used to be quite shy, but now I can stand up and do tricks.”

Crucially, the youngsters also learn the art of misdirection and a soupçon of patter that every magician needs to engage with the audience. But unlike acting classes – the more traditional route to building confidence in kids – it’s all about the tricks, not the performer.

Olivia Noble, mother of five-year-old Arthur, who is today wearing a wizard’s cape, says she took him and his baby sister into the café for a snack and he immediately “fell in love” with magic.

“What’s really sweet is the pleasure the children get from performing,” says Noble.

Magic may be a new addition to café society, but it is big business these days. Derren Brown is a household name. Bradford-born Dynamo has brought a hipster constituency to the art of illusion and is currently filming a new three-part international television special.

And let’s not forget pint-size impresario Issy Simpson, the hugely popular runner-up in the 2017 series of Britain’s Got Talent. Now aged 10 she has appeared both in Las Vegas and a sold-out run of shows in Abu Dhabi.

Meanwhile, here in Hackney, the Twisted Fork has hosted magic schools and shows, along with performances by members of the Magic Circle, including one of its former presidents, Scott Penrose.

The one I attended was packed with history and humour and a couple of fabulous 19th-century automata; this was more than just clever sleight of hand, it was top-class entertainment.

“My aim is to showcase acts I know will inspire imagination,” says Clark. “I’m a firm believer in P T Barnum’s famous quote, ‘the noblest art is that of making others happy’. I think magic is one of the few areas these days that unites people and represents escapism.

More magic at the Twisted Fork Cafe Credit: Geoff Pugh/Geoff Pugh

“There is something exhilarating and refreshingly childlike about people’s responses to magic and illusion – and given the current political climate we could all do with a break.”

After just a year at his Hackney café, Clark has his eye on expansion and is looking for a larger property where he can serve cocktails by night with a side order of magic.

He also plans to roll out the Twisted Fork brand to venues across London and beyond and has already succeeded in attracting the attention of spoon-bender extraordinaire Uri Geller.

Geller, who is setting up a museum in Tel Aviv, Israel, saw footage of Clark bending fork tines in every direction and was moved to quip, “this guy is better than me”.

Clark offers to teach me some entry-level tricks. I demur because I simply want to enjoy the spectacle – I genuinely have no interest in finding out the mechanics of card tricks or how to make objects disappear and rematerialise.

“I never thought about magic as something I would ever go and see, before I came here and it just took me by surprise,” says regular Steve Corrigan, 33. “Now I’m a convert and I’ve introduced all my mates to the idea.

“People like me want experiences on a night out and magic offers the kind of gateway into an evening that’s a bit more memorable that just another evening in the pub.”

The Twisted Fork also supplies magicians and illusionists for “close-up” or table magic, which is popular for corporate events and more recently at weddings, to break the ice among guests milling around while the official pictures are being taken.

“The unique thing about magic is that nobody can ever take offence at it,” observes magician Mr Tiz, whose balloon animals are in a class of their own. By way of proof, he deftly creates an extraordinarily detailed “mouse on a unicycle” while he chats.

“It’s not like hiring a comedian, where you might feel embarrassed about being picked on,” he adds. “Everybody loves choosing a card or shuffling the pack because they enjoy being involved in the trick.”

Mr Tiz is often called upon to keep guests’ children amused in a side room or marquee during wedding speeches. When they emerge, they are invariably fizzing with excitement.

“Magic never fails to cast its spell, agrees Clark. “It’s those feelings of sheer wonder and delight that make us human.”

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