As Chicago thaws from the winter, or at least folks residents into thinking the season is finished, it appears the Cold War is over in River North. SafeHouse Chicago, a spy-themed bar and restaurant that embraced a kitschy, campy version of Cold War espionage, is closed after six years at 60 E. Ontario Street, ownership announced Monday.
“Dear Agents, SafeHouse has completed its last mission in Chicago,” they write in a dispatch on its website, keeping in spy character. “It has been an absolute pleasure to welcome and serve spies from around the globe... We wish you continued safety out in the field.”
A Wisconsin import, SafeHouse arrived in Chicago in 2017 with a six-section complex of multiple bars, a lounge, a dance floor, and “spybrary.” But its over-the-top approach — complete with a hidden entrance and Get Smart-inspired cone of silence — is a nostalgic reflection of its founder, late spy memorabilia collector Dave Baldwin, who opened the venue in 1966 in downtown Milwaukee. Baldwin sold the original restaurant to Wisconsin-based hospitality company Marcus Corporation before his death in 2015.
The original SafeHouse remains an institution in its hometown but in Chicago, its brand of unabashedly goofy enthusiasm and menu of familiar pub fare with punny spy names (think Fried C4 Cheese Curds and SMERSH Burgers) was met with mixed results following its debut. For some, it channeled the best of silly, family-friendly ‘90s-era theme restaurant mania; to others, it felt like a hard-to-find honey trap. And in the geopolitical milieu of 2023, some of the design — including a black-and-white photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin overlaid with the words “control is watching” — took on a more sinister tenor.
A rep declined to elaborate on the reasons for the closure, though numerous Downtown bars and restaurants continue to struggle with diminished foot traffic. The pandemic has hurt downtown attractions, particularly ones with interactive elements where visitors mingle with other parties and touch objects that just sit in the public’s main sight.
Despite SafeHouse’s exit from the Chicago market, the news isn’t a burn notice. Fans can still eat Licensed to Kill Mac and Cheese, drink signature Spies Demise cocktails, and play spy games at the original Milwaukee location.