In my recent quest to visit spy related locations I’ve found that there is nothing better than being immersed in your subject. Milwaukee institution the Safehouse has done just that for decades. Looking like an abandoned warehouse on the outside and with “secret” entrances and exits, spy themed food and memorabilia throughout, on my visit a decade ago, it had a homespun feel that made it a truly unique experience.
Over the past several years, the restaurant has been bought by new owners who have set about refurbishing the old location and expanding the concept to other cities. On a busy downtown Chicago street, the Safehouse’s first expansion opened this past March. Knowing that restaurant experiences can vary widely from visit to visit, I stopped by a few times to make some observations and I wanted to give other spy fans a taste of what to expect.
It all starts with finding the place. Next to a hotel and escape room, it’s located behind a red door without any signage. Great fun can be had by those in the know as you watch many a bewildered person looking for the entrance during daytime hours before things really start to get busy in the evening and a line forms. From there you’ll enter what looks like a 60’s era office and if you know the password you’re in. Otherwise you’ll need to prove yourself through whatever test their doorman puts to you.
Rarely have I seen a restaurant use a space to its advantage like the Safehouse. A dim windowless basement is typically the worst location for a restaurant but with this particular theme it works perfectly in giving off the vibe of entering a secret Bond villian’s bunker. So many spy touches are found around the space. A piece of the Berlin Wall, James Bond memorabilia, spy pigeons, and middle control consoles all dot the restaurant and the lighting gives the vibe of Skyfall’s evening fight sequence.
Food is somewhat secondary to the experience and while it isn’t bad, it is priced for the tourist market. Even so, the decor and feel of the place more than makes up for the pricey food and drinks. Heck, they even have a “cone of silence” booth!
On your list of things to check out while your there is the back bar where a magician/bartender does tricks for the folks sitting there.
Unique concepts are rare in the restaurant industry and I would say they have pulled this one off pretty successfully. Sure, the shtick of the waitstaff calling you “Agent” and talking about your mission can get a little old, but if you are up for playing along you can have a lot of fun with it.
Every spy fan who ends up in the Chicago area should make it a point to visit the Safehouse once.
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