by Josh Taylor
Back in 1996, world renowned illusionist David Copperfield was venturing out of the realm of magic and into the role of being a restaurant owner… at least that’s what we were all told. Copperfield went public with the announcement to open a chain of restaurants with his name attached called David Copperfield’s Magic Underground and two locations were to be located right outside of Orlando, Florida at Walt Disney World.
As a magician, nobody was bigger and better than David Copperfield in the 1980s and 1990s. He had numerous television specials, sold out touring shows, and performed some of the most well known illusions and stunts there have ever been. He was once engaged to supermodel Claudia Schiffer even. He was on top of the world during the 80′s and 90′s, so why not try his luck as a restauranteur? He had several choices for locations. The first location to open would be near Times Square in New York City and the second and only other location to open during phase 1 of the restaurant chain is at Walt Disney World in Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) and at Downtown Disney’s Pleasure Island. (Now sadly extinct)
Copperfield had always cited Walt Disney as a role model growing up so it was an easy choice to strike a deal and open at least one location at Walt Disney World. In 1996, he met with Michael Eisner and the Disney board to pitch the idea for the restaurant. The board and Eisner said that it was a fantastic idea and green-lit the Magic Underground to open in the Summer of 1998. Billboards were put up just outside of Disney-MGM Studios, as well as just inside the park, and on the walkway of Downtown Disney.
The restaurant itself was something familiar yet unique in its own way. Much like Planet Hollywood or Hard Rock Cafe, the walls of the Magic Underground would have one of a kind artifacts from Copperfield’s shows as well as other unique magic tricks from other famous musicians of the past and present. The more interesting theme to this eatery is the New York City dock look based on Copperfield’s famous vanishing of the Statue of Liberty with replica pieces of the Statue itself along the walls. Even the logo was the torch of the statue, as seen in the picture. On top of all the decor would be a stage featuring illusions done by the in-house magicians. The menu was yet to be named, but could be assumed that it would be comparative to that of a Planet Hollywood or Hard Rock Cafe.
So what happened to David Copperfield’s Magic Underground? During 1996 and 1997, New York’s restaurant building was almost complete with the install of the interior underway before it was shut down due to funds. With the creative team and the financial investors at odds, and the project already way over budget, investors were uncomfortable with the project and killed the New York project. At Walt Disney World, with things spiraling out of control and funds drying up in New York, Disney decided to cancel the lease for Copperfield and the billboards that once advertised the upcoming restaurant opening were taken down without an announcement made. Copperfield didn’t have any money tied to the restaurant so he continued his illusionist career without a dip and Walt Disney World didn’t have anything beyond the lease agreement so both parties walked away without a scratch. (Except for a few investors who lost a few million dollars but whatever.)
Would Magic Underground have succeeded had it opened at Walt Disney World? It’s possible that both the Hollywood Studios and Pleasure Island spots would have flourished, but I could have seen the Pleasure Island location closing with the rest of the area, and with the lack of Copperfield specials and a fading star, I could see the restaurant chain as a whole slightly suffering. As an optimist, I would have loved to have seen this place open on Sunset Blvd. and make that area of the park a bit more magical. (Get it?) Especially with only shopping and counter service along the walkway to the Tower of Terror and Rock and Roller Coaster, it would be a great addition to the parks already great restaurant selection. I would have enjoyed seeing someone like Criss Angel come in and put his name on the product as well, giving it a new energy and new life if possible.
Leave your thoughts. Would you have eaten at the Magic Underground? Could you have seen it as one of your favorite spots to grab a bite or would you pass on it for the Sci-Fi Dine-In instead or eating at the T-Rex Cafe at Downtown Disney? Thanks so much for reading and take care.
Be sure to follow Josh Taylor on Twitter at @kidredo. You can read more from Josh at www.disneyparkhistory.wordpress.com