Saturday afternoon I was hanging out in Shelby’s studio watching her work on a painting of the Milwaukee Art Museum. She was searching to find her way through the piece. A stroke here, a stroke there. Step back, consider. Wipe with a moist towel, then determine another stroke. Having this rare intersection between a writer and a painter makes me feel like we’re living inside of Frank O’Hara’s poem Why I Am Not a Painter.
While I was seated on the couch a guy in his twenties walked in to the studio for a closer look at Shelby’s works on the wall. He announced that a painting based on a porch concert with a jazz 3 piece was his favorite. Shelby explained that it was from a series of three and brought out the other two to complete the set. The young man explained that he played guitar, bass, and drums.
We exchanged names and handshakes. His name was Stefan and he went on to tell us that he was visiting from Ohio. One of his favorite bands is from Milwaukee and they’d played a reunion show the previous night at Turner Hall Ballroom. I had to chuckle that he was staying at the Pfister to see a Milwaukee band called The Promise Ring, when the next day the hotel was hosting it’s annual Milwaukee’s Magnificent Bride show. Stefan had a full plate of plans, after touring Shelby’s gallery he planned to go across the street for dinner at the German restaurant Karl Ratzsch’s. After that it was off to see To Kill a Mockingbird at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.
Stefan took off for his night’s festivities and I roamed the halls for a little while. The 7th floor was poised to serve a wedding and reception for 400 guests. The entire floor was the quiet calm of glass drying, garnish preparation, finishing details of table settings. On the other side The Imperial Room was already prepared for the following day’s bridal show. Booths stood quiet and lit only by the wintertime windows of Wisconsin Avenue.
I wandered up to the 23rd floor Blu and, while drinking a raspberry ginger mojito, listened to the flamenco guitar of Evan Christian. As things wound down in Mason Street Grill and the Jonathan Wade Trio played their last songs patrons started to find their way to the top floor lounge. The feel of the the room was like a big cushy adult playground looking out at the sparkling skyline. The night sky was so much a part of the ambience it may as well have been Evan’s backing band. After the wedding ended around midnight guests in suits, gowns, and tuxedos found their way up to the top. It was rather interesting to see several different parties taking place concurrently, spilling over into one another. Formal and informal. The young and the experienced. Nuzzling couples neighboring groomsmen. Jazz aficionados focusing intently next to country girls gulping shots of tequila. From my one bar stool I ended up conversing with a tango instructor, a jeweler with inventor aspirations, an over-the-road truck driver, a software engineer, and a history teacher.
By Sunday morning the 7th floor was completely transformed. I walked around the bridal show in astonishment. Less than a dozen hours earlier 400 people enjoyed a lavish meal with drinks to match. For hours after dinner a DJ taught the dance floor How it’s fun to stay at the YMCA, and The way you look tonight. By morning there were dozens of purveyors, musicians, automobiles even, in place of where there had been a huge party just a few hours earlier. I walked downstairs and told the concierge, Roc, about how I couldn’t believe how quick this space had been completely transformed. It was like the wedding the night before had never even happened. “Oh, sure,” Roc explained, swatting gently at the air with his open palm, “We host events like that on a regular basis.” He chuckled, amused with my sophomore astonishment. “I’ve witnessed four weddings take place here simultaneously. That, my friend, is what we do at the Pfister.”