Plans to work magic on Law Courts Hotel

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Law Courts Hotel owner Jia Liu is set to give his new business a magic makeover. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

A Dunedin hotel is set for a magical makeover.

Dunedin businessman Jia Liu will take over ownership of the Law Courts Hotel, on the corner of Cumberland and Stuart Sts, on Monday.

He had run many businesses in Dunedin and Queenstown – including a cafe, service station, mechanical workshops, a motel and a travel business for Chinese tourists – but this was the first time he had owned a business which comprised a hotel, restaurant and bar, he said.

The Law Courts Hotel appealed to him because of its central location and it was fully staffed with managers running the different arms of the business.

The hotel arm of the business was doing well, the 27 rooms running at about 85% occupancy.

The bar was running “nicely”.

However, the restaurant’s dinner service had untapped potential, he said.

“I can make it even better.”

The lunch service attracted regular customers, so he would continue running it as was.

The dinner service would be changed to attract more diners.

Magic shows would be introduced to the dining experience.

He was a trained magician – and a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians – and would perform and teach magic tricks to diners, launching the only magic-themed restaurant in New Zealand.

He hoped the shows would attract a broader range of diners, such as families and students.

The concept was proven to work, he said.

A decade ago, he ran a George St eatery – Alchemy Cafe – for a year.

In the cafe, he ran three magic shows at weekends.

When the shows were on, the cafe was busy and business was good.

However, business dropped off on days with no shows and the global financial crisis was biting, so he sold the cafe.

As part of the makeover, he planned to change the restaurant’s name from the Wig ‘n Pen and change the names of the food on the menu to have a magic theme.

The name for the restaurant remained up in the air but he had floated the name “Magic Kitchen” with friends and family.

He was open to suggestions from the public for a name for the restaurant.

He was friends with many magicians across New Zealand and the world and he planned to get them to perform at the restaurant.

Other long-term plans included training staff how to perform magic tricks, increasing the capacity of the restaurant from 80 diners to up to 120 diners and installing new carpet and brighter lighting in the restaurant and bar.

He planned to install illusion innovations in the restaurant, including a running tap floating in mid air and a plasma ball – a clear glass container filled with a mixture of various gases with a high-voltage electrode in the centre of it.

The restaurant would have puzzles and some magic-themed decor.

The red walls, dark wood panelling and historical photos in the bar and restaurant would remain.