There are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t take your kids to the Safe House, 770 N. Front St. The kids’ menu is limited, the place tolerates smoking and it’s as much of a bar as it is a restaurant. But despite these potential red flags, take them anyway. The Safe House is a slice of classic Milwaukee and the campy spy theme is a sure hit with agents of all ages.
In the evenings, the Safe House is a lounge / dance club, so take the little spies for lunch on Saturday or Sunday. The Safe House starts lunch service at 11:30 a.m. on weekends.
The Safe House opened in the late ‘60s, and since then, very little has changed. Some of the special effects may seem tired or outdated to adults, and the decor could stand to be freshened up, but kids won’t notice any of this. To them, the Safe House hides somewhere between magic and technology.
On a recent visit, a friend and I took our 5-year-olds, and they were believers before we ducked into the place. The Safe House is located on the hard-to-find Front Street, which is basically an alley that runs one block west of Water Street between Wells and Mason Streets. The building -- adorned with a few flags -- does not have a Safe House sign, but does have a small placard that reads "International Exports Ltd."
After trying two other locked doors, the boys finally found an unlocked door that led them into a very small room with a large book shelf. At night, guests are greeted by a person -- playing the role of "Ms. Moneypenny" from the James Bond films -- who asks for the password. During the day, however, a voice pipes through a speaker (this is a new feature) and asks if you know the password.
I shared the password with my kid before we got to the Safe House, but it might be fun not to share it. The password has not changed in four decades, but if you do not say it exactly right, you are asked to take a special "spy test" proving that you are indeed a spy who deserves entry into the Safe House.
At night, the spy test can get a bit sassy, but when kids are involved, the test is G-rated, requiring those that don't know the password to like act like a monkey or hop on one foot. Video cameras are hidden in the wall of the Safe House entry way, so unbeknownst to the new guests, diners are watching their antics on television screens inside the restaurant.
If you whisper the password correctly into the speaker, or once you pass the spy test if you didn't know the password, the faux book shelf opens like a door and allows you to walk down a hallway to the bar / restaurant.
Once inside, the staff does a great job hamming it up for the kids. My son was invited to sit on a bar stool that "magically" went up and down, and he was asked multiple times if he was a secret spy. Plus, he loved running around the restaurant, checking out the massive carnival mirror that made us appear short and squat, the oversized keyhole with a surprise video inside, the moving walls and the telephone booth.
The gag telephone booth features a pay phone that, once you put a quarter into it, tells you to dial three numbers which result in one of the walls sliding open to reveal a flight of stairs that lead you outdoors, next to the building.
Because my son is only 5, he still goes with me into the ladies’ restroom. Parents should know that inside the little girls' room there’s a large poster of a naked Burt Reynolds with a metal heart bolted over his little Burt. If you touch the heart, an alarm goes off throughout the restaurant so everyone knows you tried to sneak a peak. My son, of course, remembered this aspect of the Safe House more than anything else.
The Safe House’s food is consistently good, and although the kids’ menu is limited, it will most likely appeal to any youngster. Kids choose between mini corn dogs, a hot dog or chicken strips, which come with fries, chips or a fruit cup, for $5.95. Also, the menu also has a variety of desserts, including the Top Secret SPYcial Dessert that’s so covert they don’t print the ingredients and suggest you quietly ask your server for the details.
The adult lunch menu features burgers, sandwiches -- including a rueben and vegetarian focaccia -- as well as wraps, soups and salads. Most items cost between $8-9.
The Safe House’s drink menu includes a collection of spy-themed concoctions, some of which can be made into non-alcoholic, kiddie cocktails. We ordered a short version of the Spies’ Demise -- sans the booze -- and still got a glass Safe House tumbler to take home.
We spent more than two hours and about $20 at the Safe House -- the perfect activity on a chilly, rainy Saturday afternoon. My kid asked multiple times if we can return, and we will, because the Safe House is more than just an eatery with a unique gimmick. It’s an iconic Brew City establishment with history and mystique.
If you can find it, that is.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.