Olivia turns 11 at the Pfister

The diversity of the guests at the Pfister always amazes me. I knew there were visitors from all over the world, look but prior to becoming the Pfister Narrator and spending so much time in the hotel, I didn’t realize how many guests were of different styles and ages, including children.

It’s certainly not Kid Central, but there are enough little people around to remind me how welcome they are at the Pfister. And they are always in awe of the hotel – including the lion statues, swimming pool, ceiling mural in the lobby and the chance to have a juice or soda in such a spiffy setting.

With this in mind, I decided to plan a Pfister birthday party for my partner’s 11-year-old daughter, Olivia.

She invited her dear friend, Indigo, and the girls started the celebration with a manicure at the Pfister Well Spa and Salon. They were thrilled with the massive selection of polish – Olivia picked “blue moon” and Indigo picked a silver sparkle – and they loved sitting next to each other, having their nails decorated and chatting with the really friendly nail techs.


After the manicure, because it was Olivia’s birthday, they brought her a fruit and custard dessert with two spoons and “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate on the plate.

This was followed by a one-hour Downtown carriage ride from Milwaukeee Coach & Carriage that left from the hotel. Coincidentally, I bought this ride as a Groupon prior to even applying for the Pfister narrator position. I’m not sure what the girls loved more: the ride itself or getting to feed and pet the horse, Wilson, after we got back to the hotel.

Then, we had finger sandwiches and pickles – Olivia’s favorite – and opened gifts.

Olivia received typewriter-shaped earrings made from Shrinky Dinks (she loves writing like her father and I), a tie dye kit, mesh Madonna-style gloves, a book of Madonna photos and a birthday book that provides insight into people’s personalities based on their birth date. (Of course she looked up Madonna’s birthday – which, for the record, is Aug. 16.)

I also gave her my skating Girl Scout patch that I earned when I was about her age. I have had the pleasure and the honor of watching Olivia transcend on the ice from wobbly to graceful, and so, as I told her in the card, she truly earned that badge.

At the end of the evening, Olivia gave me a hug and said, “Best birthday ever.”

This meant a lot to me. Being a “bonus parent” – I despise the word “step parent” and a friend suggested this term instead – is a fragile relationship. Much like ice skating, it’s a mix of wonderful and wipe out.

At the end of the evening, I was really pleased to have been able to provide her with a magical celebration for the magical age of 11 at a magical place like the Pfister.

In fact, the magic began on our way to the hotel.

Driving down Humboldt Boulevard, we saw seven or eight green balloons floating down the sidewalk. We had presents, cupcakes, kids’ champagne, cute napkins and plates – but no balloons. So my partner pulled the car over and much to her excitement and surprise, told her it was OK to get out of the van and chase down a few balloons. So she did.

“And green is my favorite color!” she exclaimed, beaming, holding an armful of emerald air-filled balloons.

A birthday present from the universe – on our way to the Pfister.


Interview with a Pfister lion

A couple of years ago, I interviewed the Bronz Fonz statue on Milwaukee’s Riverwalk for OnMilwaukee.com. As usual, the Fonz was super cool. So cool, he did not offer up a single word. Not even one “Ayyyyy.”


Tonight, I interviewed one of the regal Pfister lion statues in the lobby of the hotel.

I admit that the two-way communication was lacking, but I could sense we still had a very meaningful connection. Verrrry meaningful. See for yourself here or just watch it below.


Baseball, bratwurst and coincidence

Life can be uncanny. The coincidences are unbelievable at times.

I recently had an experience like this in the Lobby Lounge at the Pfister. I was hanging out, diagnosis reading a random article posted in my Facebook feed about the actress Jenny McCarthy and her latest thoughts on autism (her son is autistic), when suddenly a man in a baseball cap sits down next to me and we start chatting.

“So what brings you to the Pfister?” I ask, treatment my tried-and-true opening question.

“Baseball,” says the man, who I learn is named Erik. “And summer vacation. I’m a coach and teacher at a high school about 10 miles from Minneapolis.”

I ask him what he teaches and he says, “I teach in the autism program at our school.”

Huh. Interesting.

I tell him that I was just reading an article about autism and Jenny McCarthy. I hope I don’t come off sounding like some “dude, that’s totally cosmic” New Ager, but I have to acknowledge the coincidence.

Erik gets this. He smiles, nods. We talk about Jenny’s extreme beliefs about the cause of autism and he shares his thoughts.

“I have worked with a lot of families, and I think there’s definitely a genetic component,” he says. “It’s not that more kids have autism these days, but they are definitely diagnosing more autism.”

Erik says the numbers are rising. In his school, 30 out of 700 have autism, which is about 5 percent of the student population.

We then move on to lighter subjects. Like baseball, beer and bratwurst.

Erik tells me he’s in town to attend two Brewers games with a friend from Ohio. His friend is a Reds fan and Erik is a Twins fan, but Milwaukee’s Miller Park is a middle place for them to meet. Plus, the Brewers were playing the Reds, which was a bonus for Erik’s amigo.

“I just like going to Miller Park,” says Erik. “The retractable roof is nice. You always know you’ll see a game. We’ve had a couple of rained-out games this season at Target (Field).”

I notice he’s drinking a non-alcoholic beer and gingerly poke a little fun at him. He takes it well.

“You’re in Brew City and you’re gonna drink that?” I ask.

“Yeah, I’ll stick to these,” he says, chuckling.

Then I hit him up with the Most Important Question Of All: will he order a hot dog or a brat at the stadium?

“Oh, definitely a brat,” he says.”We have them at Target Field, but they taste better here.”

Right answer. Bartender, get this man another non-alcoholic beer.

Pfister pianist unearths memories through his music

On a recent Saturday evening, Cardinal Lemoine brought her children, Iris and Griffin, to the Pfister’s Lobby Bar to listen to Dr. Jeffrey Hollander play the piano.

Both of her children take piano lessons, but the main reason she wanted them to experience Hollander’s playing was because of her father / their grandfather.

Cardinal’s father, Bernard Lemoine, passed away on January 19, 2013.

He was Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg, VA. He taught piano and theory, focusing mainly on the 18th and 19th centuries, the period of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.

“He instilled in his students an appreciation for the Russian pianists, notably Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev,” says Cardinal.

One of Cardinal’s most amazing memories of her father was hearing him perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 2 at the University of Mary Washington.

Bernard studied at Oberlin College, the University of Illinois and Catholic University and wrote his dissertation on Franz Liszt. When Cardinal was 19, she accompanied him to Budapest for a Liszt convention, where she heard some of the most incredible piano playing.

“So when I read that Dr. Hollander had received his doctorate from Gyorgy Sandor who studied with Bela Barok in the tradition of Franz Liszt, I felt compelled to hear him play,” says Cardinal, who is a therapist and lives with her family in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood.

Dr. Hollander had also performed at the Franz Liszt Museum in Budapest, where Cardinal had been with her father nearly 30 years ago.

“What I miss most of all is my father’s quiet presence,” says Cardinal. “I felt such a connection to my father, as I sat with my children in the Pfister lobby, listening to Dr. Hollander play beautiful music on the piano. I know he would have enjoyed being there with us, and I felt in many ways that he was.”


“Project Runway” party planners rally for Timothy

When I saw Elyse Cizek, thumb Megan Zarnott and Alexis Rose sitting at the Lobby Lounge, I instantly knew they were up to something great. Not only were they dressed in fashionable and inspired attire, but there was a magnetic energy about them that I was immediately drawn to.

I quickly learned they were at the hotel to have a meeting about an upcoming event they were hosting in honor of Timothy Westbrook, sale the Pfister’s former artist-in-residence who was selected to be on “Project Runway” this season.

“We’re bringing Timothy back to the Pfister to honor his work and his success,” says Alexis, the driving creative effort behind the event. “We are doing a fresh, mod theme that was created by Elyse.”

Elyse, click a model and the creative director for the event, also has a business called Miche Made Up. Megan is a student and assisting in various ways from design to promotions for the event.

The event takes place Thursday, July 18, from 6 to 11 p.m., in the Pfister’s stunning Imperial ballroom. It will include a cocktail hour, fashion show, music by Thriftones and a screening of the premiere episode of “Project Runway.” The cost is $10 at the door. Find more details here.

Attendees are encouraged to wear “Timothy Westbrook inspired” clothing. Timothy is primarily a fiber artist who creates garments from recycled and organic materials. Prizes will be awarded for the top three outfits.

Timothy, who is originally from New York, stayed in Milwaukee following his Pfister residency. He is garnering much-deserved national attention for his exquisite work, and at the same time, is doing something extremely valuable for local artists.

In a town that sometimes struggles to molt the misperception that we’re subpar to larger metropolises, Timothy is investing in the city and believing in its potential. By doing so, he is encouraging and inspiring the local art community.

Alexis says the first time she met Timothy was backstage at a fashion show where she was a volunteer dresser. He noted her dedication and talent and walked up to her and asked, “Who are you?” She told him her name and he said, “You’re great!”

The rest is history; the two have been friends and working together ever since.

“He started mentoring me and bringing me under his wing and it’s just been experience after experience, show after show, love after love,” says Alexis.

Timothy had a similar swooping approach with Elyse.

“I first met him as a model. As soon as I walked into his studio, I thought ‘this guy is brilliant,’” she says. “He has such a dynamic personality and wants to make sure everyone who’s an artist, an expression, works together.”

The women are contributing to the growing creative network of Milwaukee artists by tapping many local artists and stylists for the event.

“We are pulling together a lot of people who are really inspired and want to be artists as their main gig,” says Elyse.

The three women look forward to continuing to work with Timothy and to support his work in any way they can.

“The three of us met through Timothy and we’ve grown together because of him,” says Alexis. “We’ve received so much inspiration from him and it’s amazing that now we get to put that inspiration into a show that’s honoring and showcasing him.”

Partyin’ with the boss

Imagine seeing your coworkers only once a year. Such is the case for Sue, pharmacy Nancy and Missy, who work in the banking industry from their homes in three different states.

Once a year they meet in Milwaukee, at the Pfister’s Lobby Lounge, to connect in person. Nancy lives in Florida; Missy lives in Pittsburgh and Sue resides in Milwaukee.

“We’re geographically challenged, cialis ” jokes Sue.

From a distance, they look like three longtime friends: laughing, snacking and drinking wine. No one would guess their 8-to-5 roles.

“Sue is our boss,” says Nancy.

“Maybe I should go to the bathroom so you can really talk about me, sovaldi ” says Sue.

“She’s a great boss,” says Missy. “We’ve had not-so-great bosses before, and Sue’s the best.”

Nancy says Sue is drama free and an excellent communicator who can detect and solve a problem before it happens.

We talk about how people sometimes says it’s difficult for women to work for other women. That hasn’t been true for Missy and Nancy.

“That’s because I’m actually a man,” says Sue. (The three of them explode with laughter.)

Working from home is not common in their industry, but it’s what her team of eight preferred, and so Sue agreed.

“I never have to watch them. They are so motivated and hard working. They are really smart and awesome. They can live in Siberia if they want to,” says Sue. “I just want them on my team.”

The best part about working from home, according to the ladies, is no commute, no parking fees and no interruptions. And no, they don’t work in their pajamas.

“I have to go through the motions to prepare for my work day,” says Missy.

Did they start working from home on a trial basis?

“No, Sue just trusted us. It’s really nice,” says Nancy.

The three spend a lot of timing talking on the phone and emailing.

“It’s good to get together in person,” says Sue. “Especially at the Pfister.”

Sue started going to the Pfister when she was about 8. Her grandmother played canasta with some women at the hotel and Sue and her cousin would ride the elevators for fun.

“I might do that later, for old time’s sake,” Sue says, smiling.

Sue also comes to the Pfister to have her nails done and eats in the cafe regularly with her husband, sister-in-law and father-in-law, who is 93.

“We always get a window seat,” she says. “I really love it here.”


Talking belly dancing and a second chance at love with a beautiful bride-to-be

We all know life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. We can make plans and decisions, buy but sometimes we still don’t have control over what happens. Sometimes we have to throw away our maps and charts, unfurl our sails and go with the flow.

Sophia gets this.

For her second marriage to her soulmate, Jim, she didn’t try so hard. She didn’t follow anyone’s rules. She let it happen organically.

She didn’t even use a pattern to design her dress.

“I sewed it right on the dress form. My only pattern was an image in my head,” says Sophia, who worked in fashion before opening her own business, Wisdom Wellness.

She tried to fit into a pre-made dress, but nothing was quite right.

“Everything was so puffy. I’m 5-foot-2-inches and a size two. I looked like a circle bobbing along,” says Sophia.

She looked everywhere for the perfect dress – including Chicago – and finally bought silks and laces in New York’s fashion district and went to work creating something unique that was right for her.

“I had no back up plan for the dress. I just went for it. It was the same with our ceremony,” she says. “It was outdoors, and we had no rain plan.”

Sophia and Jim got lucky in many ways, including the weather. It was one of the few perfect, sunny, rain-free days in June. Had it rained, it would have been a soggy affair, but instead, it was ideal.

The couple got married in Kadish Park, overlooking the Milwaukee River and with a fantastic view of the Downtown skyline. Their reception was at Casablanca, a Middle Eastern restaurant on Brady Street.

Sophia and Jim hired a belly dancer who did a “crazy sword dance” for the entertainment, and then they surprised their guests with a belly dance of their own, choreographed by Sophia, who wore traditional belly dancing garb complete with a henna design on her midriff.

“We danced to Selena Gomez’s ‘Come and Get It,’” she says. “It even had ‘Dancing With the Stars’-style lifts.”

The couple spent their wedding night at the Pfister Hotel.

“To me, the Pfister is the most elegant hotel. It’s world class and gorgeous,” she says. “We came here, scoped it out, had cocktails by the fireplace and said, ‘this is exactly what we want.’”

The day after their wedding, Sophia and Jim traveled to San Marino for their honeymoon. Sophia’s mother lived in the small, mountainous micro-state that’s surrounded by Italy until she was 8. Sophia has dual citizenship and has spent her life living and studying in both San Marino and the United States.

“I am so excited to show San Marino to Jim,” she said, beaming. “It’s gorgeous and means so much to me.”

Sophia and Jim met through friends and, later, Jim rented half of Sophia’s duplex. Their relationship quickly evolved from tenant / landlord to something much more intense and heartfelt.

“He swept me completely off my feet,” Sophia says. “Suddenly we were doing everything together. It was breakfast, lunch and dinner dates. Everything clicked into place.”

The couple both have kids from previous marriages. Sophia has a 3-year-old daughter, and Jim has two sons, ages 3 and 6. All of the kids were a part of the wedding. The 3-year-olds were the flower children and the 6-year-old was the ring bearer.

During the wedding, the couple had a butterfly release and expressed words about how they had been caterpillars who had to cocoon for a while, but emerged freer versions of themselves.

“We’re living life differently. We’re doing what makes us happy, what feels right for us,” says Sophia. “For us, this renewal of self through second loves is really, really empowering.”



Pfister artist paints Pfister bartender’s life story

Joe D’Acquisto – who has tended bar in the Pfister’s Lobby Lounge for six years – has deep roots in Milwaukee. He travels often, but has lived in the city his entire life and plans to stay in Brew City forever.

Although only in his early 20s, Joe recently bought a house in Bay View and is also a collector of local art. For a while, Joe wanted to acquire a piece of art that symbolized his past, present and future in Milwaukee.

“I really like urban art, if you can call it that. Street art,” says Joe.

When he walked into Stephanie Barenz’s studio – Stephanie is the current artist-in-residence at the Pfister – he immediately knew she was the one to create his visual life story.

“At first, I was surprised. I never had anyone that young buy a painting from me,” says Barenz. “But I thought it was really cool how energetic he was about wanting to buy one of my paintings. He was really personable and interested in my process.”

Joe wanted a painting that described his rooted-ness to the city as well as a piece that conveyed his continual growth. He plans to own a bar by the end of the year which will have a huge impact on his life and identity.

The five-by-two-foot painting is based on imagery sprouting from a twisty roots system. The roots connect all of Joe’s favorite activities – cycling, nature, fishing, traveling, celebrating with friends and beloved Milwaukee establishments – the Pabst Theater, art museum, Palomino – and signage like the marquee from the now-defunct Grand Theater.

“I love everything Milwaukee. I like unique Milwaukee gems that other cities don’t have,” he says. “This painting is a reflection of that. And of my life.”

The painting also includes a scene from a Sicilian boating village because Joe is Sicilian.

The piece, created from acrylic, ink and pencil on wood panel, took Stephanie between 40 and 60 hours to complete. The color palette is very neutral: yellow, ochre, light blue, burnt sienna and cream.

Joe also commissioned former artist-in-residence, Timothy Westbrook, to make him a vest.

Originally, Joe says he was going to hang the painting above a futon in his office, but changed his mind once it was finished and wanted to put it somewhere he could see it more often.

“I think I’ll hang it halfway up the spiral staircase. My room’s at the top of the stairs, so every time I go in or out of my room, I’ll see it,” he says.

Wait. Stop the press. He has a spiral staircase in his house?

“It’s incredible. It sold me on the house,” he says, beaming. “Actually, art is like buying a house. I looked at plenty of houses and knew right away when it was the one. That’s how I felt when I walked into Steph’s studio.”

Talking homebrewing and craft beer with Memphis attorneys

I could tell from across the Lobby Lounge that Rob and Stephanie were on vacation. They looked relaxed, a little tired and were drinking beer during the day. My kind of folk.

I approached them, and after a few minutes, I learned they were attorneys from Memphis, Tenn., who had to get up insanely early to catch their flight, experienced landing delays due to bad weather and were just happy to have arrived safely in Milwaukee so they could celebrate a cousin’s wedding.

Turns out, the only other time they were in Brew City was almost exactly two years ago, for another wedding at the Pfister.

Stephanie said she found Milwaukee very clean and Rob said he liked that it was less humid then Memphis. This is why I love talking to people from other places. I never thought of Milwaukee as particularly clean and just earlier that day, I had been “liking” posts on Facebook dissing Milwaukee’s cold, rainy weather and here were two people from another place who were grateful for it.

Maybe the grass is truly always greener. (Especially when it rains a lot as it has in Milwaukee this summer.)

I noticed Rob was drinking a Wisconsin-brewed New Glarus and he mentioned the last time he was in Milwaukee they went on the Lakefront Brewery tour. Spontaneously, I asked him if he was a home brewer.

This question caused both Stephanie and Rob to laugh. Slightly uncomfortably, though. Uh oh.

Me: Do you brew beer, Rob?

Stephanie: He talked incessantly about brewing his own beer about two years ago and so I got him a very nice home brew kit and a gift certificate to a supply store that’s still in the closet, unopened, so the answer is no.

Me: So what’s your excuse for not brewing, Rob?

Rob: (Laughing) Just laziness.

Stephanie: Every time I want to throw it away, he  says he wants to hold onto it.

Rob: I feel guilty.

Stephanie: It’s expired. There’s not reason to hold onto it.

Me: Was this a birthday present?

Stephanie: It was a Christmas present. (Rob nods.) Actually, it was a birthday present. That was a trick response.


But this was not an uncomfortable conversation, because it was the kind of banter that is exchanged between intimately-connected people. It was truthful and flawed and endearing – like all of us can be – and once again I was just honored to bear witness to such a personal story about a real relationship.

The conversation then lightened and shifted to the local brewing scene in Memphis and they informed me that it’s growing quickly. Ghost River Brewery was the forerunner on the scene, but a fourth craft brewery is going to open by the end of the year.

Two brothers are planning to open Wiseacre Brewing Co. in the heart of the city’s art district. Through research, I realized there is a Midwest connection here: one of the owners, Davin Bartosch, was a student at the oldest brewing school in the country, Chicago’s Institute of Technology.

Memphis is also home to High Cotton Brewing Co. and Memphis Made Brewing Co.

The next time I am at Discount Liquor in Milwaukee – a South Side liquor emporium with the best selection in town (a liquor store with shopping carts!)  – I am going to track down a sixer of Memphis-brewed beers so I can toast my new Memphis acquaintance-friends.

And Elvis, of course.

Visiting the grave of Guido Pfister

I grew up going on drives with my grandparents that sometimes involved stopping off for custard and always included a spin through the cemetery. Sometimes we would get out of my grandpa’s Buick and put flowers on graves, shop other times we would just ride around in silence. A few times we had a picnic.

I have been fond of cemeteries ever since and make a point to visit them in every city I visit. I have been to cemeteries in Amsterdam, Italy, Prague, England, Guatemala, Vancouver, New Orleans, Detroit, Atlanta and plan to visit a couple in Virginia and Washington, D.C. this summer.

My favorite cemetery, however, is Forest Home Cemetery on Milwaukee’s South Side. It is incredibly large – 200 acres – and extremely beautiful with lots of plantings and green space. It’s also very old – the first burial took place in 1850 – so the grave stones are particularly interesting.

There are many famous Milwaukeeans buried at the Forest Home Cemetery, including beer barons Jacob Best, Joseph Schlitz and Frederick Pabst. Former Milwaukee mayors Frank Zeidler and Byron Kilbourn are also buried there, along with many other former mayors.

Our favorite grave site is that of Christopher Latham Sholes, the inventor of the modern typewriter. My family of writers visits Sholes’ grave often, usually after making a stop at Leon’s for custard first.

I recently learned that Guido Pfister, the man who made the Pfister hotel a reality in Milwaukee, was buried there, too. This thrilled me, and so we dressed up in our best blacks and went to pay our respects to Guido.

Guido is buried between his son, Charles, and his wife, Elisabeth. There are numerous other Pfisters buried in the section, along with some Vogels. Guido Pfister and Frederick Vogel were cousins and business partners.

Carl Landsee, who worked for Guido and Frederick for 46 years, is also buried in the family plot.

I brought a bouquet of flowers to Guido and thanked him for the opulent and yet comfortable Pfister Hotel on behalf of Milwaukee as well as for setting the stage to make jobs for the often under-employed creative class. (The Pfister hires both resident artists and writers.)

And then we sat in the windy peacefulness, alone with the birds and the spirits, feeling grateful, craving custard.