It seems to me that almost everyone I meet has a story about the Pfister Hotel. Take Don Sefton, for example.
Don lives in Seattle with his husband and works as a senior event manager for Thomas Douglas Catering. I first contacted him this summer because I am writing an article for OnMilwaukee.com about an iconic Downtown Milwaukee apartment building called The Norman that burned down in the early 90s.
Don and his partner at the time lived in The Norman and he graciously and articulately shared his story with me about his devastating experience during and following the fire.
Through our conversations, which took place on Facebook and over the phone, I learned that in the early ‘90s Don worked at the Michael Lord Gallery, which used to be on the ground floor of the Pfister Hotel and, consequently, had a deep connection to the place.
“I always loved watching the designers decorate the main lobby for the holidays. Always so festive and tasteful,” says Don.
Don has a lot of stories from those days, but his most touching Pfister story is connected to the fire.
The morning that the fire broke out, Don was sitting on his couch reading the New York Times Cookbook when he first smelled smoke. Don lost the book along with everything he owned in the fire. He also lost two cats.
Even though he knows he was lucky to make it out alive – four people in the building did not – the fire still changed his life and his outlook on life forever. It also had a big impact on his decision to leave Milwaukee.
But before he did, he was working at the now-defunct Minutemen Press Downtown, and a few of his favorite customers worked in the Wisconsin World Trade Center, which was also in the Pfister building at that time.
“After the fire, the ladies went around their office and took up a collection for me in an envelope. One of the women and I always bonded over cooking, and so she bought me a new copy of the New York Times Cookbook with a private message on a card,” he says.
It was a gesture that has stuck with Don for two decades.
“I still think of their kindness, generosity and consideration,” he says. “And every time that I use the book, I think of the bond that I have shared with so many special people over food and cooking, and it is like so many small movies clicking on at once. I appreciate it so much.”
Plus, cooking for others – particularly fire fighters – is one way that Don has healed his post-fire pain and stress.
Don gets back to Milwaukee about once every four years and he always stops at the Lobby Bar to have a glass of wine or cocktail before venturing out into the city.
“The Pfister has a classic elegance, but is not pretentious or overly stuffy. It is grand but accessible and anyone can feel welcomed and relaxed,” he says.
When I finally get to meet Don Sefton someday, I know exactly where I am going to meet him. And I’m buying.