I looked at my husband, eyes wide.
"Oh, we have so got to go there," I whispered. The couple left ~ they did look a little shady, now that I thought about it. I raised an eyebrow and cocked my head. The bartender came over.
"I couldn't help but overhear," I lied, sotto voce, trying to look like someone who could be trusted with a secret. "What is this place you were telling them about?"
"You'll love it," he said. He repeated his instructions.
"Can we walk from here?"
Leaving, I tried to buy a postcard with a picture of Buck Bradley's beautiful bar. With a wink and a nod, the barman insisted instead on giving me a few.
"I love Milwaukee," I told my husband.
"I know, dear," he replied.
Safe house: "A seemingly innocent house or premise established by an intelligence organization for conducting clandestine or covert activities in relative security."
~ CIA intelligence Officer Glossary
We came to the door marked "International Exports Ltd" and entered. Inside we found ourselves in a narrow entryway about the size of an 19th century elevator, surrounded by dusty bookshelves and the assorted paraphernalia of several decades ago; an old phone, an ancient cash register. I think there was a leather chair. I looked at Turk.
"I have no idea," he said. Gazing upward, we looked for a lever hidden somewhere amid the books.
Just then the door opened behind us and a man in a blue baseball cap with a boy of about 6 years of age in tow entered. Walking immediately over to the cash register, he pulled the handle and one of the bookcases swung open, revealing a narrow, winding staircase.
I clapped my hands delightedly. "I used to work here," he said a little sheepishly. Ascending, we entered a parallel universe; one as envisioned by Ian Fleming with a little help from the imagineers at Disney. And maybe a cocktail or two.
Rife with jokes and heavy on visual puns, The Safe House* is a fully realized tribute to the fun and frolic that was the James Bondian version of the Cold War. You either love this sort of thing or you don't. It should come as no surprise to anybody that we are firmly entrenched in the former category.
As we slid onto bar stools, entranced by the map of the world circa 1962, with it's blinking lights and bank of international clocks, the pretty blond bartender tossed a cocktail napkin before us and asked, "What can I get you?"
Looking down, I found myself staring into the smoldering dark eyes of a youthful Sean Connery. "Well, I guess I have to have a vodka martini! Shaken, not stirred," I chirped happily. And immediately regretted it. The chirping, I mean, not the martini. Spies do not chirp. Mata Hari did not chirp.
The pretty blond laughed just as heartily as if she'd never heard it before. That's what I love about the people here. Everyone is just so nice.
We wandered around enjoying the vintage memorabilia ~ heavy black phones, telegraph machines, original art and photographs.
"I want my house to look like this," I told my husband.
He eyed the somehow cheerful clutter. "I think it already does," he replied.
I climbed another narrow stairway, passing a couple of other bars on separate landings to find the Ladies' room.
One should never be discovered laughing all alone in the ladies', so it's probably a good thing that I wasn't. Discovered, I mean.
Behind a red door labeled "Mata Hari's changing room" or some such thing, I stepped through to find myself standing on a tiny enclosed balcony. Pressing a button marked '2 way mirror', I had a clear view of all the goings on in the Magic Bar below ~ a marvelous way to keep an eye on the action. Or your date.
Did I mention that I love this place?
Back in the darkened bar, we realized that the black and white televisions in the corner were projecting images from a surveillance camera trained on that enigmatic little foyer. We watched as, time and time again people entered and stood, mystified, until a light went on in the bar, the bartender would press a button and the bookcase would swing open to the surprised delight of the newcomers. A minute later their heads would appear at the top of the stairs, laughing like kids at Disneyland. I could have stayed there all day.
"I want to live here," I said to my husband.
"I know, dear," he replied. He nodded to the smiling barmaid. "I believe we'll have another round."
*OK, I love it, but seriously ~ how wrong is it that a safe house has a web site? I'm just sayin'.