2019 Cheers BevX Award Winners
Best Innovative Independent: SafeHouse Chicago
When you think of a secret agent cocktail, the first thing that probably comes to mind is James Bond’s signature Martini—shaken, not stirred. SafeHouse Chicago takes the spy theme to a whole new level, especially with its creative specialty cocktail menu.
The Chicago restaurant and bar, which opened in 2017, is an offshoot of the original SafeHouse launched in 1966 in Milwaukee, WI. The spy concept is integrated into virtually every aspect of the guest experience, beginning with locating the secret entrance and being asked for a password at the door.
SafeHouse incorporates table missions, secret code names, and puzzles into each visit. “Secret agents” (the servers) use spy talk when interacting with guests, and the theme also carries over into the menu.
Guests can select from food items such as the Bourne Identity Salad, Goldfinger Grilled Cheese, and Mission Impossible Burger. The signature cocktail menu also reflects the spy theme, with drinks such as the Spybowski, Espionage and Man with a Copper Mug.
“The whole restaurant was designed in a way not to be kitschy, but to be super cool,” explains SafeHouse food and beverage director Tim Baker (also known as Agent Blackbeard). “Our cocktail program was designed to match that.”
Baker and his team make sure to keep the drinks current, “but we’re careful not to be too trendy,” he notes. “We’re known for being experimental, but also for offering solid cocktail options for our guests.”
The spy theme builds its specialty cocktails around specific spy characters and other references from spy culture. Drink ingredients and presentation reflect these homages, as do the cocktail names.
Baker’s favorite cocktail on the menu is the Sterling Archer (Bulleit bourbon, pear liqueur and lemon), named after the main cartoon character in the absurdist comedy show Archer.
The most popular drink on the menu, the Spy’s Demise, is described as “a covert tropical mission.” Crafted with Malibu rum, lemonade, pineapple juice and topped with Myers’s rum, the drink is a unique take on a Mai Tai that packs a bit of an extra punch.
Baker makes it a point to ensure that every specialty cocktail can be made quickly and is listed at an affordable price point ($12 to $14.25). Four varieties of “Mission Impossible” (shareable) cocktails are offered for $40 each.
SafeHouse serves all beverages in their own uniquely designed and branded glassware; guests can purchase the glasses as a souvenir.
Additional beverage offerings at the restaurant have both spy and local undertones—the Code Beer, billed as “a top-secret amber ale,” is made by the Chicago-based brewery Motor Row.
Baker plans to continue experimenting with additional spy-themed drinks in the future, particularly those that are bourbon-based due to their growing popularity and complex flavor profile.
Overall, he says, “we’re doing everything we can to create a unique and enjoyable experience for our guests in a way that’s unavailable anywhere else.”