Your first mission, should you choose to accept it: Find the Safe House restaurant. Stroll along an alley in downtown Milwaukee, and keep an eye out for a door marked International Exports Ltd.
Find the door? Step in—but stop there. Do you know the password? If so, whisper it to the Control Agent in the entry. If not, be prepared to prove that you are a trustworthy spy.
You might be asked to do the chicken dance or swing a Hula-Hoop. For our group of four? "Hold hands," we were told. "Now, sing 'Ring Around the Rosie' and dance in a circle!" (Note to those of you rolling your eyes: If you're not willing to be a good sport, you can get in anyway—but why come if you don't want to join the fun?)
We passed our silliness test, and an entrance disguised as a bookcase swung open, revealing a dark, mazelike series of rooms covered floor to ceiling with spy memorabilia and decor.
Safe House has been a haven for agents since the Cold War days of 1966. "Everybody was into the spy theme," founder and co-owner David Baldwin said in an interview with The History Channel. "It just seemed a natural thing that a spy-themed place would be something that everybody would want to go to."
David expanded an old jazz club, creating a labyrinthine restaurant and bar filled with trick mirrors, hidden passages and fun gimmicks. Nearly 50 years after its founding, Safe House remains popular with both tourists and locals—sometimes so popular that it's hard to get a table.
We didn't have any trouble getting in on a weeknight, however. The first thing we noticed: Monitors that broadcast the antics of those attempting to enter. Like I said: Why come if you don't want to join the fun?
The menu—and the Service Agents—continue the good-natured spy spoofs. We ordered Quantums of Solace (an appetizer platter that includes "Squeak-Easy Cheese Curds"), The Infamous Spyburger, Better Stop Meating Like This (a veggie burger) and a salmon special.
No need to make idle chitchat while waiting for your meal! A Spy Mission sheet lists 10 challenges that lead around the restaurant. One example: "Crack the Code: I spy a green ceiling and what's on the wall, a famous Bond author reveals it all!"
We tracked down a C.I.A. cover phone, a piece of the Berlin wall, an original cell door from the East Berlin prison, and the famous Bond author, but then checked our table and saw our dinner waiting for us.
The gimmicks here are more memorable than the food (Did you solve the world's largest mechanical puzzle? Have you disappeared yourself in Studio 1?), but our meal was perfectly fine. When you're done, remember: A good spy never leaves the same way he or she came in.
In search of a secret escape route, we put a quarter in a phone. A nearby door opened. After a quick glance to make sure we weren't being followed, we tiptoed down a flight of steps. From there…well, I can't give all the secrets away.
Photo of Agent Provocateurs at the Safe House Interpol Bar courtesy of Safe House Control. Other photos by Ginger Crichton.
Want to receive weekly digests of the midCetera blog? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Subscribe."