Local movie money moguls Marcus Corporation announced late last week their purchase of perennial tourist bar Safe House for an undisclosed sum. With nerd bars popping up all over the city and kitsch theme pubs as close as your nearest hotel/water park/fun arcology, this spy-themed hangout has lost some of its luster in the past few years. Marcus says it’s only going to change the menu for now, but chances are once the busy summer tourist season is over, and pink-skinned Chicagoans have left their FIB revenue up here in exchange for a stupid t-shirt, the company will start changing Safe House with a mind to franchising. Before the Marcus suits spend oodles hiring outside consultants to suggest re-branding it “Gastro-Spy” or some shit, Milwaukee Record has some suggestions for ways to improve upon the Safe House.
1. Embrace the tourist menu
The most recent menu shied away from punny names and copyright challenging jokes to try and make the bar seem like it was trying too hard to replace safe with steak in its name. People go to the Safe House for the experience, not the food, so make the food part of the experience. If you’re gonna charge $12 for a burger, make sure it parachutes onto the table or some other go-go-Gadget bullshit. It’s okay to be the place where people take their relatives for a crazy burger they have to eat blindfolded.
2. Update the website from 1997
Places like this thrive on word-of-mouth and being looked up online. While it’s noble that the tribute to Geocities is so well done, the Safe House website should be loaded with info on the bar, pictures of people from it, celebs that ate there when Gen Con was in town, and a Web store so people can hit up the merch they forgot to buy while they were 3 Yug Yps in. Most people only hear about this place from locals who vaguely remember it from the ’80s, or people who remember it fondly as the central bar to the Gen Con experience. Time to get the word out to a new generation of nerds willing to collect all the glasses.
3. Dinner and a movie, should you choose to accept it
One of the hot trends at comic-cons right now is experiential showings of films. Not just watching a screening of Weekend at Bernie’s, but doing so in a luau setting with one of the actors showing up to sadly wonder exactly how it’s come to this. Something like this seems like a perfect match for Marcus already, and the Safe House is already 80 percent of the way to making patrons feel like extras in a movie. Surely Timothy Dalton could be lured out to Milwaukee for a weekend. Or maybe Darrell Hammond can dress up like Sean Connery and lob out a few half-hearted “Suck on it, Trebek”s for a marginal check and some chicken fingers.
4. Change the password
This could be a great way to relaunch the bar. Rather than hiding the password inside, relying on one of your less-dickish friends to let it slip, or simply Googling it (which you can totally do with no effort at all, by the way), Marcus should turn it into an online treasure hunt. The hazing ritual the first time around is fun and watching it from the secret monitors would be all the more frequent, leading to more fun…for everyone except those who don’t know the password.
5. Cosplay, cosplay, cosplay
If there’s one thing cosplayers like more than having their picture taken, it’s having their picture taken in unique locations. That guy dressed as Colossus wants to get a shot next to the chunk of the Berlin wall. That girl dressed like Black Widow wants to point at the signed Roger Moore poster and laugh. The entire crew dressed as Archers’ cast wants to get blackout drunk and throw up all over the room with that weird puzzle thing. Better yet, run specials for customers who come in donning spy attire.
6. Unique locations
Chances are Marcus bought the rights with an eye to franchise it like they did with Zaffiro’s pizza. Full-on replications of the Safe House experience seem unlikely, but why not nod to the spy theme and have different locations be safe houses in different areas? The restaurant bits could be the same, but instead of the hidden door up front, it could be a crappy hotel in Budapest or something. Who knows, maybe one could have the theme of being a normal bar/restaurant with an emphasis on good food and unforced atmosphere over gimmicks. It might just be crazy enough to work.