I come from a very small town. Pick just about any country music ditty and the lyrics describe something I grew up with. What’s inevitable about a small town is the odds of bumping into someone you know anywhere you go. My luck was always just after I’d thrown on grubby, weekend clothes, I’d run into people in the grocery store.
When I first moved to Milwaukee, however, I longed for these moments of happenstance—it’s a sign you’ve lived and circulated somewhere long enough to actually have people to bump into.
The Pfister Hotel is its own small town. On a weekend, walk in through the parking garage and see the mounted windows advertising all that you can buy or eat at the hotel. Walk past the artist-in-residence’s studio and see Katie there with an art tour and passersby just popping in, interested in why the group is gathered. Walking past the curious lunch crowd, you can absorb the Gilmore Girls’ Stars Hollow or even imagine one of the Ingalls’ girls about to come running up with saved pennies for candy at the mercantile.
Stop into the café and sit down to eat, and there it is, your happenstance. Someone from somewhere else in your life is having brunch with their family—you’ve “bumped into.” Of course you’d run into them here, who isn’t at the Pfister?
But it’s no longer a small town mercantile when you’re in the café. While you chat with your colleague from weekday work, you’ll notice the table of international businessmen next to you and the young athlete being recruited to our city at the tables in the window. The Pfister has mastered the small town pedestrian mall feel within its hallways, and then once your nostalgia and comfort kicks in, you realize you’re in a worldly place, as big and far-reaching as you can imagine.
Stroll out from lunch to the lobby to see what the weekend hustle and bustle brings. Convention goers, with their nametags and lanyards tangling in their winter coats, are zooming through the hotel, absorbing its wares and there it is—the ultimate “I really live here” moment. You’ve heard all along one of your work colleagues is a cherished and frequent guest of the hotel. She comes in often to enjoy its amenities and the staff. They all know her by name, by her class, grace and polite sophistication. And as you breathe in this world within a world, a weekend marketplace, a city unto itself, you bump right into the honored lady enjoying her brunch in the lobby bar. Here is your old acquaintance chatting with your new one (Valerie). Sit down, have a toddy to celebrate the winter thaw and work out whether this nexus of characters means you now really live in Milwaukee or at the Pfister.