Strangers on a Bar Stool

05 Feb, 2011

by Julie Ferris

Here’s what I like about Mason Street Grill…the vibe. It’s not just the cool jazz in the corner or the hushed lighting at the bar. It’s the eagerness of the patrons. They don’t have the “whew, it’s over” aura of other happy hour revelers. In fact, I watched as businessmen gathered for a meeting as late as 7 p.m. As one trench-coated executive was mentioning his flight had just arrived and his colleagues greeted him quickly as a matter of task,  I said to the man sitting next to me “Wow, they’re here to work?” and after a glance at their portfolios, he nodded, “yes.”

But it isn’t just that there’s still an eagerness and energy to the bar rather than a winding down. It seems to be full of secrets. The men chat each other as easily as the women do, but there’s something to the cast of the light that implies a spy novel is about to erupt. Or maybe a murder mystery… no, I’ve got it wrong, it’s noir. The entire space is a crackling film noir… this woman is clearly meeting her connection, that man has been jilted here before and the bartender keeps many secrets.

It takes more than clients to create such an elaborate dark, mysterious novel. The staff works like ninjas. From nowhere our food appeared and our drinks never emptied. Like Val at the lobby bar, Josh works quietly, hurriedly and with an efficiency unmatched. But he, too, seems to have an undercover quality. Edges of tattoos peek out from his collar and shirt cuffs. The two girls checking coats walk formally to the closet, but once inside, they grin and chat in hushed whispers to one another—another life, another side of the hotel becomes hidden among fur collars and wool.

I’m happy to steal a peek at what may lie beneath. It adds to the allure. Service is always impeccable at the Pfister and whether I’m wearing the tell-tale I-may-be-writing-about-you nametag or not, not a single staff member has ever missed a beat. But when the jazz filters in, the married ladies get to talking after the husbands relieve them at the bar, and dinner guests start departing for their tables while the cocktail drinkers saddle up…that’s when the vibe envelops you. And that’s when I like to see the staff reveal a glimpse of stocking.

I like knowing that they watch; I like the slippages that reveal they’ve seen it all before—bad pick up lines, first dates, love affairs, incredible business ideas left behind on cocktail napkins. I think they’re checking on me while I perform the duties of a Friday night out, making sure I play the right character in the movie and help move the plot forward.

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  • Kate Borders

    This makes me want to grab a glass of wine and hunker into the couch at Mason Street and make up my own stories about the guests. This is one of my favorite places in the city and you are right, Julie, there are a lot of stories to be told – or created with the right imagination!

About the author

Julie Ferris

Julie is a devout Iowa Hawkeye fan despite her new Wisconsin roots, loves to read and is a sucker for good creme brulee and bad puns.

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