Dating back to the 1920’s, certain restaurants and bars have required that their customers say a password before entering. It started during prohibition to avoid police but since then, restaurants have done it for many different reasons. Some do it to make sure the right clientele is entering, some do it to make the establishment exclusive and build a reputation of “The Hardest Restaurant to Get Into in (insert city name here)”, and others do it simply for the fun and theme. The SafeHouse restaurant in Chicago, Illinois is the latter.
The original SafeHouse is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and opened in 1966 during the height of the Cold War between the US and Russia. This was at a time when the concept of ‘spies’ reached the foreground in movies, particularly with the 1960s inception of the James Bond series, and it surprisingly even emerged in cartoons with the character of Natasha Fatale in Rocky and Bullwinkle. With the spy theme in full swing, the restaurant followed suit.
The Chicago location opening in 2016, exactly 50 years later. Neither restaurant says what their password is and it is rumored that it changes for each guest. Sometimes, instead of saying a word or phrase, you must complete a ‘mission’ such as waddling like a penguin for 30 seconds. It is all in good fun and well worth the few seconds of embarrassment.
While the Milwaukee location decorated with spy memorabilia from movies, novels, and secret intelligence from historic world events, the Chicago eatery went with an underground, spy headquarters vibe. Even the website is designed to resemble a spy headquarters layout. This location looks more upscale than its Milwaukee counterpart and features a lounge, dance floor, multiple bars, and a full restaurant. A spy-themed escape room can also be found here.
The space transforms into a nightclub after dark and includes a burlesque show on Sunday nights. There is even a laser maze on the way to the restrooms if you wish to test your flexibility.
The menu consists of typically American cuisine but all of which is creatively named. With signature appetizers, burgers, desserts, and cocktails, there is something on the menu to please most everyone, including vegan and vegetarian options. The handmade sandwiches and entrees are quite pleasing to the palette and prices are on par with restaurants serving the same type of food. Appetizer prices are between $10 and $17, entrees range from $14 to $29, and if you are the type to indulge in dessert, expect to pay between $9 to $20.
We recommend starting your meal with the restaurant’s famous Fried C4 Cheese Curds, moving on to the Spy Burger, and ending your visit with a slice of Bourne’s Blackout Cake. We also cannot hype the Cold War cocktail enough. Delicious!!
SafeHouse is definitely the place to go for families during the day and early evening before the transformation to a club scene. This is also a great spot for young adults and couples. However, we don’t recommend taking anyone who doesn’t have a sense of humour given the shenanigans that happen at the front door. Also, be warned that there is a secret escape hatch which you must pay $1 to exit.
You’ll have a “license to eat” at The SafeHouse restaurant and we suggest you use it!