16 Nov, 2010
by Julie Ferris
Meet seasoned Pfister staffer Valerie…
Ask any seasoned staffer at the Pfister to talk about what they’ve seen, but only if you’re prepared to be awed. Some of the greatest moments include an era where “clubbing” took on a different notion than it does today. Balking at a $5.00 cover charge to see the infamous Joan Rivers is something Valerie, a seasoned bartender of more than 35 years, remembers. Valerie started at the Pfister when she was just 18 and by 19, she was behind the bar, “critiquing” (her favorite word for quality assurance) her drinks and cocktails until each was perfection.
Valerie’s work ethic is the first thing you notice about her. During our entire conversation, she never stopped moving, yet, she’s never hasty. Step by step she assembled the famous Pfister Marys that she says are as local as you can get. “Klement’s sausage, Wisconsin cheddar, Miller Lite chaser and sometimes even the local Rehorst vodka.” Valerie doesn’t tire of each patron who responds, “This could be my dinner!”
An assemblage of vegetables and snacks adorn the glass, but the contents of the cocktail are what go unmatched. Valerie pulled jar after jar of ingredients from her secret stash below the bar. The small round jar was filled with her special mix, the base, as she calls it. “But if you want it more spicy, I have these infusions…” and she reveals to me various samplings of flavors, spices (including the most recent with habanero peppers). I ask her, “Valerie, will you make a book of all your recipes and secrets?” Without hesitating, she replied, “I don’t know, will you write it?”
She moves methodically, but never misses a beat. The equivalent of a former Playboy Bunny who worked at Blu before it was Blu, (“We had the collars, the cuffs, the same sort of outfit”), Valerie has seen celebrities come and go. Over time, however, her exactitude for her product hasn’t waned.
It’s not just the drinks Valerie takes care of. In the course of a hectic evening, I watched her attend to guests who were undecided on what to order, guests who were return clients, guests who needed to talk, reminisce and confide, fellow workers who had questions on drinks, patrons who may have left with their tab and me, prying with all sorts of questions. She did it all flawlessly and while in constant, careful motion.
Earlier this month, another list of Milwaukee’s top/coolest/hottest people emerged and the list was heavily sprinkled with bartenders. I remember working in the restaurant and hotel industry and always encountering new hires who wanted to be a bartender—they all thought pouring the booze and making the tips would be a great gig. What they didn’t understand is the panache, grace and sense of duty it requires. All fledgling bartenders should have a seat at Valerie’s lobby bartop to watch and learn how to be a “people-tender.” 35 years of service is hard to replicate, but the lessons it offers are plentiful.