Virginia loves painting

Recently, site I tagged along on a tour of the Pfister’s incredible Victorian art collection led by artist-in-residence, Stephanie Barenz. Also on the tour was Virginia Shirley, an artist from Madison, Mississippi who was at the Pfister with her husband, who was in town for business.

Viriginia is a painter herself, site as well as a potter. Her work has been exhibited in more than 20 museums and commercial galleries, as well as numerous juried art competitions. Two pieces of her work are included in the permanent collection of the Cottonlandia Museum in Greenwood, Mississippi.

“I like to paint really large or really small paintings,” she says.

“So you like extremes?” I ask.

“I must,” she says.

We both laugh at this.

During the tour, Stephanie showed us dozens of paintings. Some had a romantic theme, including one with a cherub kissing a woman and another that featured many “hidden” abstract hearts. (Stephanie later reminded me it was called  “Admiration,” by Edouard Richter.)

I thought of this painting again and again when I was listening to my interview with Virginia and transcribing it so I could write this blog. I did not realize it when we chatted in person, but when I was intently listening to her recorded words, I noticed how many times she said the word “love” or referenced the concept.

The word did not pop out in our conversation; instead, it was softly woven into her lovely Southern-coated speak like the hearts in that painting.

It started when she told me when she fell in love with painting.

“Do you remember when you were in kindergarten and they put your daddy’s old shirt on backwards, buttoned it down the back, and put a paint brush in your hand and an easel with a big piece of white paper in front of you with some pots of tempera paint?” she asks me, her blue eyes shining. “They did it to me and I realized ‘this is it.’”

Then she told me she loved her community.

“I really love the people. They are really nice and welcoming. That helped us make the decision to move there. There are lots and lots of cultural activities in Madison for a small city,” she says.

And the more she spoke, the more her love for painting soaked through our dialogue.

“Painting lets me lose me. I will start working on a painting and suddenly hours have passed and the world has gone by and I haven’t worried about anything, I haven’t watched any news. All is good,” she says. “Painting gets me away from all that stuff I don’t really need to be worrying about anyway. And I’m a much nicer person to live with, if I paint every day. My husband will tell you that.”

And then she spoke of another part of the love: the pain of the process.

Recently, a young artist said to her, “Don’t you just love painting?” And she said, “I do.” And then the young artist said, “Isn’t it just fun all the time?” And she said, “No, it’s not really fun all the time.”

“I felt bad for saying it and started thinking about why I said that. I had two or three days of solid thinking and I realized it’s because if it’s fun all the time, I’m not challenging myself and I’m not growing and learning and painting better,” says Virginia. “At some point you’ve got to push it and it becomes very, very frustrating until you almost get to the point of it being done and finally, when it’s almost compete, you can breathe again. That’s what I love.”

Minnesotans, motorcycles and the Mall of America

A few years ago, sale I went to the Mall of America in Minnesota for the first time. I was surprised to see a kiosk featuring shirts that read “friends don’t let friends drive to Wisconsin” and merchandise embossed with other playful-but-rivalrous messages.

I turned to my partner, advice who is from Minnesota. “Minnesota doesn’t like Wisconsin?!”

I had no idea. I was aware of the peculiar tensions between Milwaukee and Chicago, but never once in my lifetime as a Cheesehead was I aware of any beefs our neighbor to the West had with Wisco.

Luckily, purchase Kelly and Adam, who are from a suburb north of St. Paul (and not fans of the Mall of America), don’t have bad feelings about our state. In fact, they own a cabin in northern Wisconsin – where they occasionally receive flack for being Vikings’ supporters – and they chose Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel as the place to celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary.

Adam has been to Milwaukee about 30 times for business, but it’s Kelly’s first visit.

“And this is our first visit to the Pfister,” says Adam. “I like the old school charm, the lobby. It’s nice to be Downtown.”

They are celebrating their last night with a pre-dinner cocktail at Blu. I cannot help myself and ask the cliche question that’s forced upon all long-time married people.

“What’s the secret to a long marriage?” I ask. (I really am curious. And divorced.)

“Go to Milwaukee every 22 years?” Adam says, chuckling. “I really don’t know. My parents have been married for 60 years.”

The couple spent three days in Milwaukee, and enjoyed the Lakefront Brewery Tour (a must for micro-brew lovers) and had a fun and meaningful experience at the Harley-Davidson Museum.

“My dad, aunt, uncle, aunt and various people in my life always rode motorcycles,” says Kelly.

The museum reminded Adam of his extraordinary grandmother, who passed away in 1945.

“I have this photo of her on a motorcycle in 1930 when motorcycles were, like, only 25 years old,” he says. “It was a ‘bad boy’ thing in the 30s, but there she is: my grandma wearing the goggles and the helmet.”

Kelly goes on to talk more about Adam’s grandmother.

“She married a man she wasn’t supposed to marry and they had four kids. Then he died of tuburculosis and she was raising the kids by herself during the Depression.”

To support her children, Adam’s grandma got a job at the bus station, where soon after she was hit by a bus and killed. Adam’s mother and her three siblings were orphaned.

“That’s one of the only photos ever taken of her,” he says. “As soon as we get home we need to find that photo.”

Adam, who rides a scooter, has endured a broken nose, broken ankle, stitches and many cuts and bruises during his 42 years as a hockey player. He is also the hockey coach of the team his 10-year-old daughter plays on, a daughter who also played tackle football.

“Sounds like you and your daughter got some of your grandma’s feistiness,” I say.

Later, I think again about those silly T-shirts at the Mall of America and it occurs to me that Milwaukee’s motorcycle history connected some Minnesotans with a piece of their own family history.

Maybe friends should let friends drive to Wisconsin, as long as they’re on Harley Davidsons?

The dancer, the drag queen and the mystery woman

Recently, discount I had my first mohawk spotting at the Pfister Lobby Bar, and so, naturally, I had to chat with the man rocking the spiky hairdo.

“So how long have you had a mohawk?” I ask him.

“For forever,” he says. “I just got it redone yesterday. I’m a drag queen so I need a hairstyle that lets me fit a wig over it easily. I can show you a picture of what I look like as a woman.”

“OK, cialis ” I say, pulling up a chair and deciding to order another cocktail immediately.

It turns out the mohawk-ed man’s name is Nelson and he started performing as female impersonator,  “Nataja Mahal,” in November. He particularly enjoys lip synching to Donna Summer and Cher songs. And he makes a drop-dead gorgeous woman.

Nelson was at the Lobby Bar with his friends, Jayme and Alberto. If the three were in the ‘80s teen film, “The Breakfast Club,” they might be labeled “the drag queen,” “the dancer” and “the mystery woman.”

Alberto, “the dancer,” started ballet as a child and later landed the lead role in a high school production of “Footloose.” He graduated from UWM’s dance program and works with different local groups, including the Wild Space Dance Company.

“So how are your feet?” I ask him.

“Gross,” he says. “I have some serious callouses.”

Alberto lived and worked in LA and New York for a while, but prefers Milwaukee where he is also a server at Cubanita’s.

“In LA, you struggle just to get a random gig where you dance to a Justin Bieber song. That’s just not my scene,” he says. “I enjoy slinging drinks and sweating on stage.”

Jayme the “mystery woman” – who was really just more of a private person – told me the trio was having a quasi, one-night staycation in Milwaukee after unexpectedly getting the night off from work. Nelson and Alberto sip “dirties” while Jayme nods in approval after tasting her frozen cocktail.

“People who live here don’t come to the Pfister just to have drinks enough,” says Nelson. “Especially the Lobby Lounge. It gets overlooked. People go to Blu or Mason Street Grill, but here, there’s actually a lot more traffic. It’s great for people watching.”

Nelson works at Potawatomi Bingo Casino as a slot attendant and he once doled out $140,000 to a slots player. I ask if the winner jumped up and down – freaking out like when a contestant wins a car on “The Price Is Right.”

“Actually, no,” he says and went on to explain that the winner had already spent thousands of dollars at the casino. “He was just winning some of it back. But it’s nice to see when someone wins and they are genuinely excited.”

As the Pfister Narrator, I meet and interview people from all over the world who are visiting the hotel for leisure, travel and family. I meet so many fascinating jet setters that it’s easy to forget sometimes that equally-as-interesting local people stop into the Lobby Bar or Blu “just for one.”

The three friends also reminded me of the diversity of the Pfister guests which is as beautiful as the hotel’s collection of Victorian art and part of Guido Pfister’s original vision. Guido’s intention for the Pfister (which was completed after he passed away in 1893) was to create an exquisite hotel in the heart of Milwaukee that was accessible to everyone. He wanted the Pfister to serve as “Milwaukee’s living room.”

The night I chatted with Jayme, Nelson and Alberto, it was a chilly, rainy June evening and we reclined in comfy chairs while the fireplace crackled. Indeed, it was a living room of sorts. I think this would have made Guido happy.

And I wonder what he would have thought of mohawks.




Talking art, storytelling and friendship

They weren’t sure if they wanted to talk to me and I don’t blame them. Their lives are busy and consequently they get to spend so little time together. And they don’t know me.

But slowly, carefully, Muriel and Susan opened up to me.

We talked about art, but mostly, about friendship. And like all cherished friendships, Muriel’s and Susan’s 22-year friendship is a mosaic of similarities and differences.

Muriel grew up in Wisconsin; Susan in Illinois. Today, Susan lives on the South Side; Muriel is in the North Shore. They have different marital statuses. Muriel is single by choice; Susan has been married for years.

But their similarities are plentiful. They both love visual art, writing, theater and …

“We both really like to have fun,” says Muriel.

On this particular day, the ladies are having fun in the Lobby Bar after a visit to the art museum. It’s become an annual tradition, one they usually do during Super Bowl season. This year, however, Muriel had family obligations and they had to postpone it.

They have other connections to the Pfister as well. They attended tea at Blu. They are also both fans of former Pfister Artist In Residence, Shelby Keefe, and visited her studio.

So what makes a good friendship? I ask them, after asking myself this very question a thousand times in the past three years when it came time in my life to reevaluate my relationships. (But that’s another blog.)

“Someone you can count on no matter what’s going on in your life not to judge you. Someone who is there to listen if nothing else, but even more than listen, to be responsive. It’s so basic. Just somebody you can count on,” says Susan.

“It’s really nice to have a girlfriend,” says Muriel.

“Especially when you’re married,” says Susan, laughing softly.

Somehow we start talking about the local storytelling group, Ex Fabula, and New York-based storytelling group, The Moth. We all attended storytelling events in the past – I actually competed in and won an Ex Fabula story slam earlier this year – and marvel at the newfound popularity of storytelling.

People are flocking to public spaces just to hear stories? This is wonderful, but a little suprising. Is it backlash to technology? Is it because people have forgotten how to really talk to one another? Is it because strangers, like us, don’t usually open up?

We live in a society based on asking forgiveness when we provide too much information and we watch reality TV but don’t want to disclose honest, personal information.

We post our breakfasts but not our fears on Facebook.

“I used to work here,” Muriel offers up at one point in our conversation. She goes on to share wonderful stories of working at the Pfister Cafe, then called The Greenery, in the late ‘70s. And then we share more stories, these were off the record. (Sorry.)

Oh, the things we learn when we listen. The things we say when we think someone is listening. Really listening.

How to be a lady

Elyse is only four years old and she’s sitting in the Pfister lobby with her grandparents, ambulance Irene and Keith Wells, learning “how to be a lady.” (Some of us are 40 and may or may not be clear on the details of lady-dom, but that’s another blog entirely.)

The Wells are from Sydney, Australia, but are here for their annual visit to the Midwest to visit their Chicago-based son, recipe daughter-in-law and two granddaughters. They brought Elyse, their eldest granddaughter, to Milwaukee via train for a two-day get-away.

Although staying at a nearby hotel, they chose the Pfister as their locale for brunch and lady lessons.

So what does it mean to be a lady?

“It means no feet on chairs. Sitting nicely in chairs. Not talking loudly. Not running in the halls. And keeping our fingers clean,” says Irene.

(Phew! Maybe there’s hope for me yet. I seem to do most of these things on a regular basis.)

But despite the “rules” involved in acting like a lady, the rest of their visit to Brew City is spontaneous and free spirited. The trio have enjoyed their time, going on “discovery walks” where they explore Downtown at their leisure.

So far, they have discovered, aptly, the Discovery World Museum, as well at the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, a Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra concert and the lakefront’s War Memorial. Consequently, Elyse is referring to her sausages as “soldiers.”

She is also quite fond of the “angels” on the ceiling mural in the Pfister’s lobby.

The Wells are in the United States for a month. Their son and his family visit them every year for a month as well.

“We do OK. We get to see each other quite a bit considering the distance,” says Irene. “And there’s always Skype.”

Keith and Irene’s son came to the United States on business 10 years ago. He met the woman who would later become his wife at church. However, his first visit to the U.S. was at age 15 when Keith and Irene took him to see the Sears Tower in, coincidentally, Chicago.

“Little did we know 20 years later our son would return and get married,” says Keith, a now-retired engineer who traveled to Milwaukee in 1992 on business to study the control systems at Rockwell Automation.

Keith went on to ask me a bunch of questions I could not answer about the Rockwell Automation four-sided clock, called the Allen Bradley Clocktower as well as “The Polish Moon” to locals.

I told him even though I could see the clock from my front porch, I had to consult with Google to answer his inquiries. Keith, I hope you’re reading this.

His first question was whether or not the clock was still the largest in the world. I knew it was not, but could not remember the details and rediscovered it was the largest in the western hemisphere until Abraj Al Bait Towers was built a couple of years ago in Saudi Arabia.

He also asked me the dimensions of the clock tower, which I did not know, either. But, alas, Google later told me it’s 281 feet tall.

Keith didn’t seem too bothered by my lack of information. I offered to look it up on my phone immediately, but he chuckled and shook his head softly. Elyse climbed on his lap and rested her head on is chest. He took a sip of his orange juice.

“I’m living the easy life now,” he says.

New Orleans is in the house

I love New Orleans. I love the food, health the music, the architecture, but most of all, I love the resilience of the city. From a fire in 1788 that burned down the French Quarter to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, New Orleaneans are survivors. And this spirit of overcoming hardship combined with the rich history, Cajun/French/Creole/Haitan influences and indulgent decadence of the culture creates a fascinating, generic free-spirited group of people.

So when I was sitting at the Lobby Bar one Friday evening and overheard that the gentlemen next to me were from NOLA, I was ready to throw down mint juleps like we were on Bourbon Street for Mardi Gras.

Or, at the very least, sip a Miller Lite and listen to their stories.

David and Jay came to Milwaukee on business, treatment specifically to visit Johnson Controls. It was not their first time in Milwaukee, but their first stay at the Pfister.

“I like the ambiance here,” says David. “The people are great.”

Jay has lived in New Orleans for 14 years and David is a lifer.

“I’ve lived in New Orleans for 54 years, my entire life,” says David. “Born and raised.”

I ask them what it was like to live in a place so deeply affected by weather. High-profile hurricanes and malfunctioning levees have ravaged the city throughout history and some now wonder why anyone would live so close to a large, moody body of water.

“Well, you could freeze to death here,” says Jay.


“I would be more afraid of tornadoes, like in Oklahoma,” says David. “In New Orleans, you have plenty of time to get out.”

Both David and Jay lost a home to Katrina. Today, they have new homes in the city. Jay lives in suburban Old Metairie and David lives in Lake Vista, about 100 yards from Lake Pontchartrain.

Both of them spend time in the French Quarter, which is arguably the heart of New Orleans but certainly the heart of the city’s tourism. David says he goes to the Quarter frequently, about once a week, but Jay, who still has young children, makes it there about once a month.

For visitors, they recommended Restaurant Stella, Bourbon House and Dickie Brennans, the birthplace of the flaming bananas foster dessert. For drinks and jazz, they like the Davenport Lounge inside the Ritz Carlton, the Absinthe House (also known as “The Pirate Bar”) for something different, and the Carousel Bar inside the Hotel Monteleone which features a vintage, 360-degree rotating, real carousel as the main bar.

“They should put a carousel bar in the Pfister,” says David.

Where’s the suggestion box around here?

I then ask them if Mardi Gras, which brings in hundreds of thousands of tourists to the city every February and March, gets annoying to the natives. They both say no.

“It’s a part of life, a part of the culture,” says Jay.

Jay participates every year in a parade with a group called the Krewe of Endymion, one of only three Super Krewes involved in Mardi Gras. A Super Krewe is determined by celebrity Grand Marshals for their spectacular floats. Endymion’s parade is also the largest of the 80-plus parades that take place during the celebration.

As a member of the krewe, Jay has to “mask” (wear a costume, including a mask that covers his face) at all times. The mask changes every year, depending on the theme of the parade, but are always made of a durable material in case someone throws something at your face.

“You have to be masked or you’ll get in trouble. No one can know who you are, it’s part of the Mardi Gras tradition,” says Jay.

A birthday celebration sparks good conversation with a banker

During my first month as the Pfister Narrator, I have already spent a lot of time hanging out at the Lobby Bar, Cafe and Blu, talking to guests and hearing what brought them to the hotel.

Recently, for the first time, I went to Mason Street Grill. It was my birthday and it seemed like a fun, celebratory place. Plus, a couple I interviewed for my second Pfister blog said it had the best happy hour in the city.

I do not take such words lightly. And so I went.

I ended up not taking advantage of the great happy hour deals which offer everything on the bar menu for $5, but sat in the restaurant side instead. You know, ‘cuz I was the birthday girl and all.

I’m not one to photograph my food for social media, but I was in cell phone shutterbug mode during my entire meal. The lobster and salmon were incredible and the barbecue shrimp appetizer – which was recommended to me by former Pfister narrator Jenna Kashou – looked like an art piece. The drizzle design reminded me of an intricate henna design an Indian bride might have adorned on her hands or feet the night before her wedding.

Somehow, after my meal, I found a small window between gluttony and food coma, and struck up a conversation with Mason Street regular and another happy hour enthusiast, Tracy Meeks.

Me: So what brings you here tonight?

Tracy: I’m here for happy hour. I love the food and the drinks here. And the music. I come once or twice a week.

Me: Do you work Downtown? (He’s wearing a very nice suit and tie.)

Tracy: I work at Seaway Bank.

Me: I know where that is. Next door to the Fondy Market, on Fond du Lac. So did you move here from Chicago two years ago when Seaway took over the space? (It was formerly Liberty Bank.)

Tracy: You know your history. Yes, I did move here two years ago from Chicago when the bank opened.

Me: How long have you been in banking?

Tracy: Since 1989.

Me: So why should someone consider banking at Seaway?

Tracy: It’s a small community bank. We’re friendly. We know our customers. And you will always get a person on the phone.

Me: So do you ever go to the Fondy Market?

Tracy: Every Saturday in the summertime.

Me: You a vegetable person?

Tracy: Yes. I love squash, cabbage.

Me: Do you like to cook?

Tracy: I do. I like to make lots of things. Especially crab cakes with asparagus and a glass of beer. Not wine. I’m a beer drinker. And I like Scotch.

Me: How was your transition, moving from Chicago to Milwaukee?

Tracy: It’s been good, Milwaukee’s nice. I call it a very northern suburb of Chicago. I love my lake view here in Milwaukee. I love the people of Milwaukee. It’s a northern city with southern hospitality. It’s a diamond in the rough. A lot of people who live in Milwaukee don’t know what Milwaukee really has to offer but those of us who come in from the outside really see it.

Me: What do you miss about Chicago?

Tracy: I still go there often. I miss the night life. Chicago is a fun city to enjoy yourself. But in Milwaukee you can really relax. And there’s good music here, too.

Me: What else do you like to do when you’re not banking?

Tracy: I like running, riding my bike at the lake. I like music a lot. Jazz, Blues. And I like to vacation. I’m not much of a sightseer. I like islands and resorts where I can lie on the beach and relax. I also have a 19-year-old daughter who’s a college student in Iowa. She’s staying with me this summer. She’s out with her friends tonight. And so I’m here.

Me: Do you like sports?

Tracy: I love sports. I’m a Bears fan, of course, but I bought season tickets to the Bucks. Great season. Ended too soon, but still a great season.

Me: Where did you grow up?

Tracy: I’m from Waterloo, Iowa.

Me: Do you still have family there?

Tracy: I was just in Iowa two weeks ago for Mother’s Day. Saw my mother and my grandmother and had some good home cooking.

Me: What kind of home cooking?

Tracy: Soul food. Duck, turkey. A lot of greens. Dressing.

Me: What’s one thing your mom or grandmother taught you that you’ve carried through life?

Tracy: Be respectful to your elders.

Me: What is one of your life mantras?

Tracy: Get out and have fun. You only live once. You might as well enjoy it.

Conversing with Joe about Latin American music, Playboy Bunnies and the days of yore

“I’ve learned a lot from people, thumb ” says Joseph Charney, who has been a regular at the Pfister since the ‘50s and still visits at least three times a week.

Charney, who is semi-retired from the real estate business, is usually at the Lobby Bar, drinking a coffee and reading his paper. But the drink and the news are just time-fillers between conversations.

“Wisdom does not come easily and wise people always look for good conversation,” says Charney. “When you’re living, pharm you’re always learning. It doesn’t stop in college or after college.”

If the Pfister awarded honorary degrees in conversation, Charney would deserve a doctorate. He has clearly met many, many people over the years inside the hotel and has forged long-term friendships with the concierge and bartenders.

“Have you seen her plaque?” he asks me, nodding at the bartender.

“What plaque?” I ask.

“Valerie,” he says. “Where’s your plaque?”

“It’s over there,” she says, pointing to a corner.

“It’s no good over there. Show her your plaque,” he says.

I look at the plaque. It’s a Best Bloody Mary In The City type plaque.

“Nice plaque,” I say, then turn to Charney. “You ever drink cocktails?”

“I’m not interested in drinking,” he says. “Until after 6 o’clock.”

“What are your favorite cocktails?” I ask.

“In essence, it could be anything from an Old Fashioned to a mint julep in summer. It varies so much. It’s what hits you at the time. I’m not one of those people that has a set way of eating. ‘It’s Tuesday and therefore I’m eating chicken.’ No, I’m not that way. Whatever comes up, comes up,” he says.

Charney is the same way with people. Whoever sits next to him at the bar is a candidate for conversation. He tells me about a couple who were at the hotel waiting on the completion of a railroad car they purchased.

He also spoke of a man who had recently switched careers.

“He had been working for a great diamond conglomerate, and they were always watching everyone. They would watch the person sent out to do the job and another person was watching that person. It was a very secretive corporation and they were rather stringent, always checking everyone all the time, and it got on his nerves and he finally left the company,” says Charney.

The man went to work for a large beer company and told Joe he had just returned from Russia, where he bought some breweries.

“Beer? In Russia? I thought they only made vodka,” says Charney, chuckling. “But even more interesting is he told me the hairs on the back of his neck weren’t raised up anymore because there wasn’t anyone watching him all the time.”

Charney grew up in Whitefish Bay and Shorewood. After he graduated from high school he went on a work study program overseas and traveled through Europe where he developed a deep appreciation for art and architecture.

He started coming to the Pfister in his twenties.

“I enjoyed the place immensely. They had real musicians rather than DJs. The Crown Room was on top of the hotel. I saw an up-and-coming Joan Rivers. And Jack Jones. So many great singers and performers. It was glorious,” he says.

Charney got married in the later sixties – his wife is now deceased – and the two often ate in the English Tea Room. Charney has one son who was married at the Pfister’s Imperial Room a few years ago.

“It was beautifully done. It was impeccable,” he says.

A couple hundred guests came from all over the country and they were surprised by the sophistication of Milwaukee, the beauty of the Pfister Hotel and the size of Lake Michigan.

“‘I thought you lived on a lake?’ a guest said. “But you live on an ocean!’ They couldn’t get over that they couldn’t see the other side of the lake from the shoreline,” says Charney.

Before Ben Marcus bought the Pfister Hotel in 1962, Joe tells me it was operated by a couple of businessmen from New York. Apparently they asked Joe, who was known for his savvy business practices, for entertainment ideas.

“The winter was terrible that year and I got a call from them and the snow was coming down and they said, ‘what can we do to bring people into this hotel and to liven it up?’”

Because Latin American music was very popular at the time, Joe suggested they go to Mexico and hire a great band with a dynamic lead singer and bring them back to the hotel. So they did.

“The group came here and the biggest snow storm hit the city you ever saw and nobody came to the first show,” he says.

A week later he got another call from the owners.

“We don’t have enough waitresses! We don’t have enough bartenders! The place is mobbed!” they said.

At one point in his life, Charney says he was offered the job as head of entertainment at a hotel in the Bahamas. He declined because he already had a successful real estate business as well as a family.

“It turns out they then sold that hotel in the Bahamas to a man. His name was Hugh Hefner. That was the time of the Playboy plane and the bunnies and he would take his staff and clientele and fly them down to his hotel in the Bahamas. Guess I missed out on that,” Charney says, smiling.

Then he stops talking and looks at me for a few seconds.

“You are going to be awed by the people who show up in this place,” he says.

I look at him for a few seconds. “I already am,” I say.

Jackie and Jim’s last hurrah

The Pfister has always served a special role in Jackie and Jim Green’s life. Mainly, pilule as a place for them to escape their kids.

The Greens live in Arlington Heights, a suburb just outside Chicago, and they have four children – two girls and two boys – ages 22, 21, 20 and 19. They are all in college – or about to attend college – in the Midwest.

I ask them what it was like when they were all teenagers.

“It was horrible, cialis ” she says. “The girls suck up a lot, they know how to play it. Actually, our two nicest kids are the ones we never hear from. Well, unless they need money. And our youngest – we can’t wait until she leaves. She’s a real pain in the neck.”

I tell her my kids are 10, 10 and 9 and I’m starting to feel a little unsettled about the years ahead.

“I wish I could tell you it’s going to be great,” she says, sipping her drink. “Sorry.”

“It’s refreshing to talk to someone who’s honest about parenting,” I say. “And I’m officially terrified.”

“I’m pretty realistic,” she says, laughing. “We’re actually here because they’re all coming home for the summer on Wednesday. This is our last hurrah.”

The Greens plan to go on a family vacation to Florida this summer. But they’re leaving two days before them to get in some kid-free time first.

Jackie and Jim first heard about the Pfister from friends who had their wedding reception in the Rouge Ballroom.

“How long ago was that?” Jackie asks Jim.

“100 years ago?” he says.

“25 years ago,” she tells me. “They told us about it and said we should try it. By the way, your dress is really cute.”

“Thanks,” I say. “My coworker said it looked like something Mrs. Roper from ‘Three’s Company’ would wear.”

“Oh, no! I noticed it right away and thought it was cute. And then I saw your face and I thought, ‘How do I know that girl?’ and then I remembered you from my iPad! I read about you on the Pfister web page on the car ride up here and then: here you are,” she says.

The Greens come to the Pfister twice a year, usually in the spring and the fall, and they spend most of their time inside the hotel. However, one year they went to see Aerosmith, and the night of our interview they were going to Ward’s House of Prime because they had a Groupon.

But most of their weekends are centered around the on-site bars and restaurants.

“We plan our entire day around going to Blu. If you get there too late, you can’t get a seat. You need to get there when it opens. At 5,” she says.

“Go early, stay late?” I ask.


The Greens have a lot of Pfister memories. Jackie celebrated her 50th birthday at the hotel. They also came last January when a burst pipe led to flooding in some rooms, including theirs.

“So we hung out in this bar for six hours until we could get into our room. It was crazy. It was fun. We love this bar,” she says.

I ask her if she’s enjoying her sea breeze cocktail.

“It’s very good, but have you tried the Bloody Mary?” she asks me.

“No, but you are the second person today to tell me I have to,” I say.

“It’s amazing. Wait, I have a picture of it, on my phone. You have to see this,” she says, scrolling through the photo log on her cell phone. “Is it sad when you’re showing someone a picture of a drink on your phone?”


“Oh, here it is!” she looks at it fondly. “The cheese. The pickles. The sausage!”

I like these people. They are easy to talk to; they are real. And I’m always happy when Chicagoans see beauty in Milwaukee. Certainly there are attractive old hotels in The Windy City: The Palmer House, The Drake. So why The Pfister?

“It’s the history. We love it here,” she say. “It’s the only reason we come to Milwaukee. Well, other than to get away from our kids.”

Seven sisters, seven crazy hats and one Irish blessing

It took me a Google search to remember this, pharm but “seven sisters” is the common name for the Pleiades, a star cluster named for mythological characters. Last night, I witnessed a version of this astronomical phenomenon when I walked into Blu and immediately was drawn to the seven Murphy sisters who were clustered in a cozy corner section of the lounge, shining.

Susan, Pat, Ann, Mary, Rita, Ruth and the “baby,” Jane, hadn’t been together in the same space for two years and they were clearly enjoying each other’s company.

There was so much laughing and talking and interrupting, sildenafil I imagined it must have resembled their dinner table growing up decades ago. Except for Jane (who will later bestow an honor upon me), I can’t even tell you who said what: there was so much banter that it melded together into one collective Murphy sister conversation and laugh fest.

Every two years, the sisters meet in the city of one sibling and catch up, reminisce and wear crazy hats. (More on this later.) This time, it was taking place at the Pfister. The sisters rented two adjoining rooms with a salon and they paired up in beds with their childhood sleeping partner. This meant the youngest who, as the seventh and the “odd Murphy out,” slept on a rollaway bed.

“Well, it makes sense because she was always the one in the crib,” says a sister.

In three short days, they would again part for another couple years and that reminded me of this Irish blessing:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields and,
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Although they are a mix of nationalities, the sisters identify with their Irish roots, particularly because of their Irish last name. Jane’s oldest daughter married a full-blooded Irishman and her other daughter lived in Ireland, so she considers herself more Irish than the others.

I told them I am not even one percent Irish, but because my name’s Molly and my beer of choice is Guinness, I’ve often considered myself an honorary Irish gal.

“You’re in!” declares Jane.

“Hooray!” I cheer.

The sisters started the tradition of the biannual reunion more than a decade ago when they got together for their dad’s 80th birthday.

Their dad – to whom they lovingly refer as “not much of a speller” and the reason why they all have such simple names – passed away a couple of years ago, but their mom, who will turn 88 next month, still lives in Racine.

The family grew up in Racine, but now live all over the country, from California to New Mexico to Illinois.

The sisters also have four brothers.

When they were young, their dad owned a grocery store, which helped immensely with expenses, and later he owned a meat market, but they also remember their mom ordering four gallons of milk every other day and routinely baking four loaves of bread at a time.

“We were never rich but we we never went without. Dad always made sure the house was big enough for everyone,” says a sister.

There is a 16-year age gap between the oldest and the youngest sister and because of the age difference, half the sisters grew up in a different generation. At one time, the range of ages might have distanced the sisters, but today it just enriches their perspective.

And like all siblings, even though they lived under the same roof, they interpret family events in completely different ways.

“It’s fascinating,” says a sister.

Within five minutes, I felt temporarily absorbed into the large clan of ladies. And because I grew up with only one sister, I had a zillion questions.

Me: Did you share clothes? 

Sister: No, she stole my clothes. (Points at Jane.)

Me: How many bathrooms were in your house?

A few sisters in unison: Three! (Phew!)

Me: So Jane, as the youngest, were you spoiled or ignored?

A sister: She was spoiled. 

Another sister: She was fussy. We used to ask our mom to put her in her room at meal time.

Jane: I was neglected and abused consistently.

A sister: You got ice cream for breakfast!

But despite growing up in a very large family, and all of the sibling camaraderie, most of the sisters went on to have no more than two children.

“We did a lot of mothering growing up. Especially the first four of us,” says a sister.

“I changed her diaper more than anyone,” says another sister, pointing at Jane.

On the first night of their reunions, the sisters always have an opening ceremony where they “honor their elders.”

And then there’s the hats.

The now ornately-decorated hats started out years ago as naked straw hats. When they’re apart, the sisters add adornments and, when they reunite, they explain the new additions. Basically, the hat decorations represent changes, achievements or struggles in their lives and serve as a vehicle to share information that might have been missed or glossed over during phone or email communications.

Plus, the hats are really fun to wear. Especially when wearing pajamas and drinking wine.

One time, the ladies let their brothers attend a reunion. The guys loved it – they even decorated cowboy hats to be a part of the hat ceremonies – but they’re most likely not going to be invited again.

“They’re jealous, but we gotta keep it a sister thing,” says a sister.

“A sister is as close as you can get to anyone,” another sister chimes. “It’s a true friendship.”