[Historic Bars] The Safe House in Milwaukee

Posted on: January 23rd, 2015 by Katherine Flynn No Comments

 

What's more fun than a historic bar? A historic bar with a theme! And that's exactly what we're featuring in our next installment of historic bars -- establishments with kitschy, unusual, and unique calling cards. Next up: Milwaukee's Safe House

Moveable puzzle tiles on a wall in the Safe House’s interior rearrange themselves with the push of a button.

Moveable puzzle tiles on a wall in the Safe House’s interior rearrange themselves with the push of a button.

International spies. Secret missions. Espionage. Codes. Martinis that are shaken, not stirred.

If this all sounds like your idea of a fun Saturday night, head for Milwaukee’s Safe House -- but cover your tracks. The concealed bar and restaurant has been fulfilling patrons’ undercover dreams and serving up Wisconsin favorites like batter-dipped cheese curds since 1966, all under the guise of International Exports, Ltd. Ask a local for the password (you’ll need it after 8 p.m.) and go down an alley and through a nondescript door for a clandestine dining experience.

Once you’ve given the correct password and gained entrance through a secret passage, you'll be met in the Interpol Bar by a truly impressive collection of authentic spy memorabilia gathered by owner, David J. Baldwin over the years. A cell door from an actual KGB prison, a booth that hides diners from sight, and the Unique Martini -- a drink which is shaken (not stirred) by traveling 600 feet around the bar through a pneumatic tube -- are just a few of the distinctive features waiting to be discovered.

Visitors can explore the oak-paneled British Intelligence room and a red Hong Kong-themed section, with bamboo-hung booths modeled on fixtures that Baldwin saw at the Hong Kong Hilton Hotel. Framed James Bond posters line the walls, and signs that point toward “Agent Debriefing,” “CIA Cover Phone,” and other mysterious locations appear around every corner.

The Safe House entrance is marked by a sign that reads “International Exports, Ltd.” and located down an alley off of Milwaukee’s Front Street.

The Safe House entrance is marked by a sign that reads “International Exports, Ltd.” and located on Milwaukee’s N. Front Street, which is actually an alley.

Secret passages from the neighboring Newsroom bar, operated by the same owner, allow patrons to move between the two spaces undetected, and depictions of the restaurant’s official mascot YugYps (“Spyguy” spelled backwards) peek out everywhere, from menus to napkins. Keep an eye out for decorative architectural elements like doors, elevator gates, and ironwork that have been salvaged from demolished Milwaukee buildings.

No spy should ever leave a safe house hungry. Diners can choose from a selection of dishes with names like the meat-free Better Stop Meating Like This (arugula, radish sprouts, ripe tomatoes, roasted cucumber, zucchini and yellow squash, rolled in a tortilla and served with tomato vinaigrette) or, at the other end of the culinary spectrum, the Soviet Defector (beer-braised baby back ribs, basted in spicy barbecue sauce.)

The drink menu is laden with choices like the Penultimate (“never your last”); a mix of strawberry vodka, amaretto crème de cocoa, and cream; and the Moore’s S’more (a nod to James Bond actor Roger Moore); a beverage that promises to help you “fondly recall camp memories you never knew you had.”

Despite its best efforts to remain covert, the Safe House has gained a following and become a beloved Milwaukee landmark over the years. Scenes from the movie Major League were filmed there, and it's a perennial favorite on lists of must-do activities for Milwaukee visitors.

The Safe House exit door.

The Safe House exit door.

As if all of the secret agent allusions and espionage kitsch weren’t exciting enough, Safe House also plays host to a bartender-magician five nights a week who specializes in card tricks. Carousers pack the dance floor on weekend nights, and since no good spy ever came in and left through the same door, there’s a secret phone booth exit waiting for you (if you can find it) when you’re ready to call it a night.

Here are a few things you should know before hitting up the Safe House:

Location: 779 North Front St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun. 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.

You're having: The flame-broiled Sean Connery Steak, served with herb butter, onion rings and a baked potato.

Helpful hints: "North Front Street" is actually an alley located in the city's historic riverfront district.

According to the Safe House website, "Control never turned away agents on the run because they didn't know the password." However, if you don't know it, you may have to do something goofy before you'll be allowed in. This will be broadcast to those already inside the bar via closed-circuit television.

Best Yelp review: "I love the idea and the execution of this place, I feel like a kid who can blow bubbles in their chocolate milk and drink it too."

 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Katherine Flynn

Katherine Flynn

Katherine Flynn is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores and uncovering the stories behind historic places. Follow her on Twitter at @kateallthetime.

[VIDEO] Why Shockoe Bottom is Relevant Today

Posted on: January 22nd, 2015 by National Trust for Historic Preservation No Comments

 

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Between 1830 and 1865, Richmond, Virginia's Shockoe Bottom was the second-busiest hub of the American slave trade. The creek bottom that now sits near I-95 hosted auction houses, offices, and slave jails. Solomon Northup, whose memoir inspired the 2013 Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave, was held in Shockoe Bottom in 1841.

Since then, much of what was Shockoe Bottom has been lost to time, but the site still stands as a reminder of the suffering and injustice that took place there. It is also a symbol of endurance and resistance.

Today, the site is also threatened by the proposed construction of a minor league baseball stadium and other development.

In September 2014, the National Trust and Preservation Virginia convened local leaders and historians at President Lincoln's Cottage in Washington to discuss the future of Shockoe Bottom. They were asked why Shockoe Bottom is still relevant today, and what they would like to tell the mayor of Richmond about the development plans for the site. Here is what they said.

... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

[VIDEO] Why Shockoe Bottom Matters

Posted on: January 21st, 2015 by National Trust for Historic Preservation No Comments

 

Spotlight_SB_blog

Between 1830 and 1865, the slave trade of Richmond, Virginia's Shockoe Bottom was second in importance only to that of New Orleans. Auction houses, offices, and slave jails, like the one that held Solomon Northup, whose memoir was the basis for the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave, were scattered across a creek bottom that flowed to the James River.

Much of the site has been lost to time, but the place remains a reminder of the suffering and injustice that took place there. It also stands as a symbol of endurance and resistance.

But beyond the passage of time, the site is also threatened by the proposed construction of a minor league baseball stadium and other development.

In September 2014, the National Trust and Preservation Virginia convened local leaders and historians at President Lincoln's Cottage in Washington to discuss the future of Shockoe Bottom. They were asked why Shockoe Bottom matters to them, and how they would like to see the site used. Here is what they said.

... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Historic Places as Sites of Conscience: Shockoe Bottom’s Potential to Change Society

Posted on: January 19th, 2015 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 4 Comments

 

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By Rob Nieweg, Field Director, and Brent Leggs, Senior Field Officer

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Preservation Virginia convened local leaders and historians at a retreat to weigh in on why Shockoe Bottom matters as a Site of Conscience.

On the third Monday of each January, Americans are called to reflect on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. On this national day of service, we also are encouraged by President Obama to take action to make our nation a better place to live.

The stewards of historic places take action, of course, to document and conserve evidence of the past. They inform and engage visitors, and preserve our shared heritage for future generations. At their best, however, the historic places we work so hard to protect -- places like the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta, Dr. King’s birthplace, and the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis -- can serve as Sites of Conscience that raise hard questions, spark discussion of contemporary social problems, and inspire us to change society for the better.

Now, we are focusing on another historic and equally worthy place to join the ranks of these nationally significant Sites of Conscience: Shockoe Bottom.... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Historic Real Estate: Greek Revival Edition

Posted on: January 16th, 2015 by Jamesha Gibson 1 Comment

 

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Benachi House and Gardens was featured on the television series "Orleans" and "The Big Easy."

Benachi House and Gardens -- New Orleans, Louisiana

The Benachi House is set on the historic Bayou Road in a picturesque scene surrounded by oaks, sycamores, palm, and magnolia trees. Nicholas M. Benachi, Consul of Greece in New Orleans and lucrative businessman, built the house in 1848 in the Greek Revival style as evidenced by its bold symmetry, Greek Key doorways, and banded cornice moldings. The house has nine bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a carriage house, and a lot that holds parking for seven. The Benachi House was featured on Episodes of “Orleans” and “The Big Easy” and continues to be considered for possible film locations. Damages sustained by the house during hurricane Katrina have been completely repaired. Price: $3.995 million... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Jamesha Gibson

Jamesha Gibson

Jamesha Gibson is an Editorial Intern at the National Trust. She is passionate about using historic preservation as an avenue for underrepresented communities to share their unique stories. Jamesha also enjoys learning about other cultures through reading, art, language, dancing, and especially cuisine.