Magician Steve Cohen seated on an ornate couch holding a deck of cards in a Manhattan hotel

Presto! Meet the Master of High-Class Hocus-Pocus

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For decades, NYC magician Steve Cohen ’93 has amazed well-dressed audiences with his mind-boggling, up-close illusions

By Joe Wilensky

For Steve Cohen ’93, one of his fondest Cornell memories is the time he stole the president’s watch. The scene of the “crime”: a student breakfast hosted by Frank H.T. Rhodes. Cohen—already an experienced magician—asked Rhodes if he could show him a trick, putting a silver dollar into his hand and asking him to move the coin around.

After a dramatic pause, Cohen asked Rhodes for the time.

Publicity poster for Steve Cohen’s ongoing “Chamber Magic” show in New York City

The president was astonished to see that they’d swapped watches: his timepiece was on Cohen’s wrist, and vice versa.

“My word!” Rhodes exclaimed, in his courtly British accent.

Today, Cohen is widely admired as NYC’s “Millionaires’ Magician.” For decades, his “Chamber Magic” show has wowed audiences with close-up illusions in intimate, sophisticated performances reminiscent of a 19th-century salon—a style known as parlor magic.

In May 2024, Cohen received one of his field’s most prestigious awards: a fellowship from Hollywood’s Academy of Magical Arts (colloquially known as the Magic Castle).

“I’ve given over 6,000 performances in the most competitive theater city in the world,” Cohen said in his acceptance speech.

“Over half a million people have come to visit, which is a lot when you consider my audiences average about 50 people. One man has seen the show 17 times—each time with a different girlfriend.”

At Cohen’s shows, coins and cups vanish and reappear; chosen cards defy repeated shuffling (and, seemingly, the laws of physics). Audience members’ wedding rings magically link together; $1 bills turn into $100s in his palms.

Steve Cohen performs his “Chamber Magic” show in the ornate surroundings of a private suite in the Lotte New York Palace
In his element at the Lotte New York Palace.

“What Steve Cohen does is flat-out impossible,” raved NPR host Peter Sagal. “Don’t believe me? Then go see him—and don’t believe him yourself.”

Cohen performs four times a week in a suite at Midtown Manhattan’s ornate Lotte New York Palace. Tickets start at $175; in keeping with the setting, attendees are expected to wear cocktail attire.

As New York Magazine gushed: “Dressed to the nines, Cohen is likely to leave you feeling that the black arts could be high art as well.”

One of Cohen’s signature tricks is called “Think-a-Drink.”

After audience members jot down their favorite beverages, Cohen conjures them—dramatically pouring each one from a single teapot, whether it’s bourbon, orange juice, a margarita, or even hot chocolate with mini marshmallows.

Steve Cohen performs one of his signature tricks, “Think-A-Drink,” pouring requested beverages from a single teapot
“Think-a-Drink” in action.

“People tend to think that we have to be spectacular in order to capture attention,” Cohen observes. “But my strategy has always been to go smaller. There’s no denying that what you see is true when it’s only a few inches from your eyes.”

Cohen’s many famous fans include Warren Buffett, Martha Stewart, Katie Couric, Seth Rogen, Michael Bloomberg, Cate Blanchett, Tracy Morgan, and John Williams.

There’s no denying that what you see is true when it’s only a few inches from your eyes.

He has appeared on the “Late Show with David Letterman” and been profiled in the New York Times and on CNN.

In 2017, to commemorate his 5,000th performance, then-mayor Bill de Blasio declared October 6 as “‘Chamber Magic’ Day” in the city. (That number is now north of 6,300.)

In May 2024, Forbes included his show on its list of 12 experiences to try in NYC.

Steve Cohen appears on the “Late Show with David Letterman” in 2010
Fooling David Letterman in 2010.

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A native of Chappaqua, NY, Cohen took up magic at age six; at 10, he began performing at birthday parties.

“I had to get really good really fast,” he recalls. “Anyone can get hired once; the idea is to get hired back.”

On the Hill, he majored in human development in Human Ecology—with the express purpose of improving his magic skills by studying the psychology of misdirection, persuasion, and illusion.

A 14-year-old Steve Cohen does card tricks at a family party as his great uncle, Nat Zuckerman, looks on
Performing at age 14.

He made a name for himself on campus via paid gigs at residence halls and Greek houses.

One winter break, he received what he thought was a prank phone call—but it was, in fact, famed astronomer Carl Sagan, asking him to give a presentation on the science of magic and to perform for a group of visiting astrophysicists.

Cohen got a standing ovation.

“They often say, ‘the smarter they are, the harder they fall,’” he says. “With magic, really smart people don’t know what hit them, because I know their thought processes, and can therefore fool them better.”

After graduation, Cohen studied in Tokyo and married fellow alum Yumi Morishige, MA ’94. Returning to New York, he worked as a Japanese translator and performed magic at a hotel bar and at private parties.

Audience members surrounding Steve Cohen react as cards fly into the air during a trick
Cohen's act is up-close and in an intimate setting.

He launched his first regular show at a friend’s Greenwich Village apartment, eventually landing a residency in the Waldorf Astoria’s Duke of Windsor Suite. (After more than 15 years there, renovations prompted him to relocate to the Lotte.)

A 2008 segment on “CBS Sunday Morning” brought him increased fame and a growing number of private gigs around the world.

With magic, really smart people don’t know what hit them.

Cohen starred in the History Channel special “Lost Magic Decoded” and has authored several books including Win the Crowd: Unlock the Secrets of Influence, Charisma, and Showmanship.

When the pandemic closed down live performances in NYC, he penned a biography of one of his heroes, legendary magician Max Malini; he also produced a coffee table book, Confronting Magic.

Steve Cohen performs a trick for Warren Buffett, left, and Walter Scott at a private party in Omaha, Nebraska
Performing for billionaires Warren Buffett (left) and Walter Scott in Omaha in 2008.

As film director Guillermo del Toro writes in the latter’s foreword: “A multitude of wonder-infused audiences … have all been enraptured by Steve’s storytelling—his ability to set up a delightful framework for each illusion and then deliver it in ways that seem impossible, improbable, and perfect.”

Top: Photo by Clay Patrick McBride. Recent performance photos by Nico Moreno; all others provided.

Published July 10, 2024


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