Although it’s still one week from Valentine’s Day, there is love in air at the Pfister Hotel tonight. Romantic love, Milwaukee love, Latin music love.
“Guajira,” scrape, boom, swoosh, “Guajira,” scrape, boom, swoosh…It’s the type of sound that crawls under your skin and tickles until you dance. Two people are wildly gyrating in front of the window at Blu about four counts faster than the music. It looks like an African tribal dance of sorts. They are the only people dancing in the room, but they couldn’t care less. It’s hard not to notice her, wearing a red shirt and her braid whipping slices through the heavy conversation in the air. He’s wearing a sweater vest and thick-rimmed glasses. His movements are stiff and jerky, but his chin stays up as he concentrates on repeating the same footsteps.
A woman courteously invites me to share her corner of the room as we remain innocent bystanders to their unabashed spectacle and soak in the energy radiating from the room. We agree that it’s a crime if you’re a local and you don’t know about this great place. We both also agree that De la Buena is a fantastic band, even paired down to a quartet. She introduced herself as Bonnie Schafer. Her husband John returned to their table and they nibbled on a brightly-colored assortment of cheese cubes as we continued to gush about all the different things we love about Milwaukee – live music, Blu and views of the lake top the list. As more and more guests trickle in from the Heart Ball (more on that later this week) I decided to relinquish my coveted spot near the band and head downstairs.
At the lobby bar, I found Ted and Victoria unwinding in the company of two Kettle One martinis, straight up. A single olive floated in their glasses like a buoy.
They excitedly greeted Ellie, the cocktail waitress, a familiar face. “How long have you been working here?” asked Victoria. “32 years,” proudly replied Ellie. “That’s about as long as I’ve been coming here,” admitted Ted.
Ted went to Marquette University from 1964-1969. He visited the Pfister Hotel for the first time when his parents were dropping him off at school and it quickly became a family favorite. “They continued to stay here every time they came to Milwaukee to visit me,” he said. Now living in Chicago, Ted and his wife Victoria make it a Valentine’s Day tradition to stay at Pfister Hotel. “I know it’s a little early, but we wanted to come in for the Marquette basketball game today,” says Victoria. “We like to make it back a few times a year for the summer festivals or to cheer on Marquette.”
I urged them to head upstairs and hear De La Buena. Victoria’s ears perked up like a bunny when I said Latin music. “Will there be dancing? she asked “I do ballroom and Salsa dance.”
“You will not be the only ones dancing,” I promised. “And if you know ballroom, you’re two steps ahead of the rest.”