It’s summer in Milwaukee. Finally. We know the calendar has said it’s summer for some time now, but the weather simply hasn’t cooperated, as evidenced by the city’s wavering between the wet, cold of March and the hottest, most humid dog days of August. Not only has the mercury risen and the sun come out to tan the hides of hundreds of folks cavorting on Bradford Beach, but the clearest sign of the season has begun: the fireworks have been shot off, PrideFest has passed, the festivals are here!
Boasting large cultural fests like the Lakefront Festival of the Arts, Festa Italiana and Irish Fest, street festivals like Locust Street Days or Summer Soulstice, and numerous church festivals across the city and its suburbs, Milwaukee’s self-appointed (and well-earned) nickname is the “City of Festivals.” And, currently in full swing right now, is the biggest festival of them all: Summerfest.
Centrally located to the Summerfest grounds means the Pfister is packed to the Jason-Mraz-fedora-brim with fest-goers. They group together with friends, and the children tag along behind their moms. Coolers are being dragged or carried, backpacks are stuffed with sunscreen. The ladies are (mostly) tanned and adorned in skirts and heels, summer dresses and wedge sandals, capris and flip-flops with glittery sequins or earthy embroidery. The men in tees and plaid board shorts, jeans and tanks, sunglasses (some still wearing them inside), but especially: hats. Besides the numerous summer straw fedoras made popular by the aforementioned visiting musician, there are black glittery cowboy hats, jaunty leather types, paddlesport visors, and fitted baseball caps. The variety in fedoras, however, is particularly astounding, and those wanting in on this fashion can find some splendid samples at the Brass Rooster, newly opened in Bay View.
The abundance of exposed skin also results in a revelation of tattoos: colorful flowers on a lady’s back, a line of stars down the back arm of a man, a girl in a yellow dress with a variety of black & white/gray landscapes and portraits – one on her shoulder is a particularly stunning Marilyn Monroe.
There is a strong juxtaposition of summer attire with Roc’s tails and vest or Peter’s grand mustache and wide tie. This only makes the traditional, formal dress of the concierges stand out even more, creating an air of elegance that is nearly theatrical, were it not for their easy-going laughter or kind directions on how to take the trolley loop around downtown.
Of course, it’s also the Fourth of July weekend and guests have arrived from all over to spend their holiday here. There’s one guy who managed to bring all the summer fashions together. He stands at the check-in desk wearing all of the above: the t-shirt, plaid shorts, flip-flops, straw fedora, backpack AND has a cooler! I meet a fabulously flamboyant male ballet dancer from San Francisco who is here on a mini family reunion of sorts, a beautiful redhead from Tucson celebrating a hometown birthday with her longtime friend (and artist-in-residence) Shelby Keefe, and a couple from Illinois who has fled domestic festivities in favor of a holiday weekend away with their sweet, adorable 2.5yr old Basset Hound named Gertrude.
Gertrude is a charmer: her giant paws with exercise wristbands of wrinkled skin bunching around her ankles, pumpkin-fed soft fur, long and unbelievably silky ears, gorgeous tri-color markings, and those soulful eyes make a deadly combination. Her “parents” are thrilled to be able to bring her with them on their getaway. They even took her up to the seventh floor where, vacant of any conferences or group bookings, they found a veritable playground where they could play fetch with Gertie*, who normally would take off (as hounds are wont to do) and not come back as she followed a scent outdoors someplace. They loved that employees would walk by and smile, nod, say hello, maybe give Gertie a belly rub and go on their way. “It’s so wonderful to stay in a place where we can walk around with her inside, or play a little in a big, empty space and it’s okay!” Gertie shows her gratitude by licking my bare toes.
I think how it’s too bad that Gertie won’t be allowed in the one place everyone else is sure to be tonight between 11pm and 3am: in the Café at the Pfister, enjoying their inaugural ‘Summerfest Late Night Buffet’ for only $19.95. Who am I kidding? Gertie will be so tired from galloping around her new playground, she’ll be fast asleep on a big, fluffy bed next to a bigger, fluffier bed while the rest of Milwaukee listens to music, drinks, dances, and eats long into the holiday night.
*Gertrude has no idea how lucky she is, as she shares her nick-moniker with Milwaukee’s most famous animal: a duck, also named Gertie, whose bronze statue stands by the river, a symbol of hope.