Internet Dating

I’ve been skulking around the Pfister for some time now. While I always meet great travelers, sickness the reason I’m able to engage such happy, amenable, excited people is because of the seamless service that surrounds them. My job isn’t to write about the staff, but the staff are the best kept secret at the Pfister.

When they’ve done their job well, you don’t even notice. Which is why perhaps my first question when I heard the café was closing for renovations was “what happens to the staff?” I find it worth noting that management at the hotel made a point to consider what it would mean to wait staff if they couldn’t work for six weeks. Shutting down the café was required, but shutting down the quiet magic that satisfies guests wasn’t.

The relocation to the Rouge Room meant that servers kept their hours just as much as it meant I kept my oatmeal and morning routines. In this particular moment in our culture where “the economy” and “jobs” are key words in any conversation, relocating staff rather than putting them on hold is quite notable.

But it’s not just how easy the hotel makes it for staff to feel appreciated that makes it so fun to skulk the hallowed halls of this historic hotel. It’s how well they’ve married technology to history that helps us recognize that the Pfister is paying attention in more ways than one. While at Mason Street Grill tonight, a guest was wooing a woman. Whether they were business partners, old friends reuniting or a second date, I saw the ace up his sleeve long before she did, but it didn’t make the reveal any less impressive.

“Well, do you want to eat?” he said, as they finished their cocktails. “Sure, where? We probably need a reservation to eat here,” she said.

“Yup, but I have one.” Boom. Card on the table, victory in hand.

He revealed that he just hopped online today during a dull meeting (let’s hope his boss isn’t reading) and noticed he could reserve a seat online and just did, hoping she’d like to join him.

An age-old tradition—wooing your date, paired with a modern convention—online reservations at the drop of a mouse–and here’s the secret marrying of great, invisible service setting the stage for (here’s hoping for you, man) great customer experiences.

Now that I’ve seen the cushy chairs and the heard the tales of days gone by, I’m ready to indulge in the complexities of what keeps history contemporary and service exceptional at the Pfister.

For Love of the Bean

I had no idea what my lead for this blog could be. I jolted my friends with “Guess what I got to do today?” To my boss I percolated “I need the afternoon off to take part in a very urgent experience.” To my steering wheel, to which I sang on my way over to the Pfister, I brewed “I’m walking on sunshine, whoa-oo-oo.”

But for you, I think I’ll pour it out with just the facts. I. Got. To. Go. To. A. Coffee. Tasting. Today. I don’t know if I’ve made it obvious or not, but I really love coffee, in a problematic please-don’t-speak-to-me-until-I’ve-had-some kind of way.

I walked into what seemed to most to be a conference room, but to me seemed some sort of torture cell. Before us was a beautiful table, pleasant staffers, even a tray full of tasting treats…but no coffee. I felt teased, like a mean, taunting version of Candid Camera. I was sure Ashton Kutcher was around the corner with decaf. You see, I had fasted all day for this. I was asleep on my feet and cranky in my caffeine withdrawals.

Then, Dave, the Starbucks rep started talking. I sat a little easier when one of his first sentences seemed to acknowledge my pain, right there in front of everyone. Some sort of sales mumbo jumbo about how to pick coffee for the new Starbucks at the Pfister and customers this and guests that, then he said “they’ll come to get their favorite fix.” I swear on “fix” he looked right at me. I might have been salivating.

First, as you know, the Pfister is remaking, reshaping its café. I love the café. It’s one of my favorite new morning routines. And, though I love the baristas at my Starbucks, I very much loved the coffee to go that I got at the café. To see it shrouded in protective plastic while it transforms makes me sad, but to hear that post-transformation, a triple grande white chocolate mocha will be part of the big reveal, I immediately came on board with the project.

Then, he did it. Dave poured us our first tiny cup. Immediately the room smelled rich and full. And as I sat there, around a table with others, feeling very confessional about my problem with coffee and seeing the knowing nods of other lovers of bold flavors and dark roasted beans, I felt all warm and fuzzy (and only slightly jittery). I tasted the Breakfast Blend and Sumatrans and learned about where the coffee grows and how it’s roasted until it’s caramel-colored (Oh! To talk candy amid the coffee, this place was heaven). Dave took us on a coffee journey as he talked about the journey my dear beans had been on. I made up words like “roastier” and learned that to love coffee, you have to be a romantic.

The beans come from exotic sounding places in mountains and fields far away. Dave explains geography is a big part of the flavor and about how you fall in love. The roasting is done with care and watchfulness. He even describes how the Starbucks Company brings their product and service to communities through a variety of business models using descriptors like “we’re just dating you” to “oh, now we’re married.” You’re not just a coffee lover, you have to be a lovah to get into this stuff (says the Libra).

I’m a coffee lovah, for sure, and cannot wait to hear the grinding rumble of the espresso beans in the machine, the frothing buzz of the steamer and sit back and watch the amazing reaction on guests’ faces when they, too, get to meet my lover…right there in public, in front of everyone at the Pfister Café.

Coffee Tasting: A little slice of heaven.

As a side note, look to the Pfister Facebook page for some pictures of the experience and opportunities to vote on what the house blend should be!

Embracing Change

I know people say change is good, patient but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

One thing I love about the Pfister is early mornings in the café. There’s a perfect rhythm to the staff, the guests, the light, the breakfasts and the coffee.

So, ask hearing that the café would be closed for renovations I had my “change is bad” reaction. Where would I have breakfast? Where would I listen to business people rehearse their presentations and have those all-important morning meetings? Where would I see travelers relaxed in sweat pants?

The good news is breakfast is still on. The café’s system, its buzz, is now in the Rouge Room, which is a great benefit to me. It’s the formality of Sunday Brunch, but with the regularity and gentleness of weekday breakfast. Ok, I decided, two spoonfuls into the oatmeal, I’m willing to try out change.

Same oatmeal, same coffee… same servers! I realized, with the soft carpet, higher ceilings, the more vast space of the Rouge Room, that the quiet buzz that I’m so fond of in the café is more like the humble rumblings of your alarm clock set to a talk radio station, chatting you into awakeness in the Rouge.

As I looked at the art on the walls, I realized I could really play the part of Rich and Famous and pictured this as my fancy dining room where instead of having a big night out to be treated to this kind of elegance, I simply was able to eat in this space whenever I wanted, even for breakfast. (Next time I may come in pajamas just to push the point!)

One of the things I noticed my first time in the Pfister Café was the staffers who snuck in quietly and put fresh flowers at every table. I looked at my big, drapey tablecloth and there it was—the same small vase of fresh flowers. This was the bridge of familiarity I needed to secure my morning routine. Same oatmeal, same coffee, same servers and…same flowers.

The space is so open; I don’t feel like I’m sneaking around to see which section of the morning paper my fellow diners are reading. Instead, we’re all kicking off our day together. It’s a hint of what’s to come in the café. The tall booth backs will no longer shelter us from one another, but rather be remodeled to open up the possibility of the day.

Sure, the tablecloths are softer than the vinyl of the booths; the space is bigger and unusual to us regulars. But the opportunity to pretend that every day’s breakfast is a fancy brunch while you wait to get back to your favorite space, well, that’s a part of the change process I can embrace.

What to Watch For

I like this job because I’m a people watcher. I earned a degree in Sociology simply because it meant “the study of people.” I have learned, ampoule too, that the best people to watch and study are those who do the same thing. I sat in the lobby bar and met Val– cosmopolitan wasn’t just her drink, it was her way. She had the most fantastic haircut and as I talked with her, I finally understood what “day-to-evening” wear meant. In a word, hospital she was fabulous.

She mentioned she was waiting for a traveling friend and generously added that he often was late. She was always prepared for his travel tardiness, however, and knowing he may be as much as an hour late (braving rush hour traffic through Chicago as he reached the city) she pointedly chose the Pfister for their reunion. “I told him to meet here because I knew I’d enjoy sitting here having a drink while I waited for him, purchase you see, I knew he’d be late.”

I laughed because I’m always that person people plan around. I had to reveal this to Val, but I don’t think it ruined our new friendship. What secured our bond is that Val, too, is a people watcher. In addition to the far too comfortable couches, Val chose the Pfister because, as she says, she likes to guess why everyone is there. “There are always so many things going on, I like to watch people and pair them up, see which group they might be with.” And that’s when I introduced myself as the Narrator, saying “Why, that’s my job!”

Val has had many an adventure. From the “Cruise from Hell” to lots of incredible dining recommendations, she’s who I’m hoping to be—someone well-versed in all Milwaukee has to offer.

As the applications are being accepted for the next Pfister Narrator, I can’t help but feel excited for the next people-watcher they recruit. Especially because they’ll get to be a part of the next phase in the Pfister’s life: The remodeled Pfister Café. Last week’s luncheon there when I ran into so many people I knew, was my last in the former space.

Last night, I gave up people watching for vision. Joe Kurth, the hotel’s manager, took me on a tour of the space mid-transformation. We were pointing at walls and walking out distances, swinging our arms and conjuring up what will be the future look of what I had formerly thought was one of the best people watching spaces in the hotel…and it came with a tuna sandwich named after our state senator and killer oatmeal. I rest assured, now, though, as I blinked into the future, that it can only get better.

I was people watching, but only as a gypsy fortune teller. I saw the line for coffee, I saw the pleasant barista who serves the business traveler, I saw the wedding party members, perhaps battling the remnants of a great party the night before, stopping in the gift area for a remembrance of their time in Milwaukee, I saw the laptops buzzing quietly on soft chairs in the café window. The best view in the whole house, and I can’t wait to take my seat.

Love and Pizza

I saw a lot of bouquets on desks yesterday. That’s the nature of the beast, right? What I really wanted to see, however, was adoring couples and cute gestures and candle lit dinners. So, I went to the Pfister.

I found out that Hallmark needn’t intervene; the Pfister is like your Valentine. I was met with badges, not bouquets. Haggard business folk still wearing their I.D.s from the conference happening upstairs stumbled around the hallway. It dawned on me that this is a fairly common visage and that each of these beleaguered it’s-been-a-long-day-‘ers was working on Valentine’s Day. Sure, most of us worked, it’s not quite that kind of holiday, but knowing the company they were with was a sweetheart of sorts to Milwaukee’s economy it really felt like perhaps celebrating Valentine’s Day at the hotel for work is a bit like courting commerce and to some degree, that’s a good thing.

Also to my surprise and delight, there were a few singles in the lobby bar. Sure, their fingers caressed merrily the keys of their smart phones (for one is never alone with a smart phone) but it was nice to see the independence and irreverence for hearts and flowers taking place.

One single bellied up to the bar and it was clear she had been her own Valentine. A large bag from WellSpa and a terribly refreshed look about her matched her fancy cocktail and made it really feel like love, or at least relaxation and me-time, were in the air.

Just as I was about to give up hope that I’d see any red and pink-clad couples, one walked in…and headed straight for David, the bartender. They were regulars and friends and complete with sparkly red heart-shaped necklace, announced that they were making a special point to stop by and wish him a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Maybe it’s not the holiday so much as what you do and how you assess where your relationships are. I liked being at the Pfister for this holiday for part of the evening because I realized that lots of things woo you and court you in a hectic life. Business or regular people you encounter daily or even you can be your own valentine.

But before I sound too jaded (because I’m certainly not), I have to tell you about the couple, Chris and Heather, who came into the hotel and nestled in at the sofas by the fire (which was, of course, roaring). A glass of wine and a clear glow about them (I learned later they were fairly recently engaged), the pair was the delightful storybook romance I was hoping I’d see.

They made my Valentine’s Day fantasy even more complete when they broke out a deck of cards and started playing a game with each other. As if that gesture of simple, casual closeness and clear interest in one another isn’t enough, when talking to them, I’d learned they had originally planned to be at a local pizza establishment that serves heart-shaped pizzas–now that’s my kind of fancy. The wait for this delicacy was two hours, so they retired to the comfortable atmosphere of the Pfister and the fire to simply…be.

Neither of them was wearing red or pink. There were no frothy fancy drinks between them. Their work-casual apparel didn’t sparkle. But, their easy togetherness in front of the fire set the perfect scene and I have to say, Hallmark couldn’t have captured it if they tried.

The Pfister Crossroads

I come from a very small town. Pick just about any country music ditty and the lyrics describe something I grew up with. What’s inevitable about a small town is the odds of bumping into someone you know anywhere you go. My luck was always just after I’d thrown on grubby, see weekend clothes, I’d run into people in the grocery store.

When I first moved to Milwaukee, however, I longed for these moments of happenstance—it’s a sign you’ve lived and circulated somewhere long enough to actually have people to bump into.

The Pfister Hotel is its own small town. On a weekend, seek walk in through the parking garage and see the mounted windows advertising all that you can buy or eat at the hotel. Walk past the artist-in-residence’s studio and see Katie there with an art tour and passersby just popping in, viagra interested in why the group is gathered. Walking past the curious lunch crowd, you can absorb the Gilmore Girls’  Stars Hollow or even imagine one of the Ingalls’ girls about to come running up with saved pennies for candy at the mercantile.

Stop into the café and sit down to eat, and there it is, your happenstance. Someone from somewhere else in your life is having brunch with their family—you’ve “bumped into.” Of course you’d run into them here, who isn’t at the Pfister?

But it’s no longer a small town mercantile when you’re in the café. While you chat with your colleague from weekday work, you’ll notice the table of international businessmen next to you and the young athlete being recruited to our city at the tables in the window. The Pfister has mastered the small town pedestrian mall feel within its hallways, and then once your nostalgia and comfort kicks in, you realize you’re in a worldly place, as big and far-reaching as you can imagine.

Stroll out from lunch to the lobby to see what the weekend hustle and bustle brings. Convention goers, with their nametags and lanyards tangling in their winter coats, are zooming through the hotel, absorbing its wares and there it is—the ultimate “I really live here” moment. You’ve heard all along one of your work colleagues is a cherished and frequent guest of the hotel. She comes in often to enjoy its amenities and the staff. They all know her by name, by her class, grace and polite sophistication. And as you breathe in this world within a world, a weekend marketplace, a city unto itself, you bump right into the honored lady enjoying her brunch in the lobby bar. Here is your old acquaintance chatting with your new one (Valerie). Sit down, have a toddy to celebrate the winter thaw and work out whether this nexus of characters means you now really live in Milwaukee or at the Pfister.

Picture Perfect

When I travel somewhere, site I take endless photographs, but that typical scenic shot—the Grand Canyon, Big Ben, anything in Yellowstone—I don’t even try to capture. I know someone before me has put a lot of time and energy into crystallizing the feeling of the place in perfect lighting, at just the right moment, with all the pieces falling in line with the close of the aperture. I buy their postcard.

The Pfister Hotel at the lunch hour is just such a postcard. I’ve tried to understand the place at all hours of the day, and have to confess, lunch seems to be the time where the convergence of staff prowess, culinary smells and the right pace in the traffic of guests helps crystallize the hotel.

All the businessmen lunch in the café in the window seats. Rather than the near naked morning meetings where they’re baring only shirtsleeves, jackets slung over chairs, they are fully suited and highly engaged in the goings on of their world. The beauty is in the buffer the blinds seem to provide between the business and the street. Freezing, bundled passersby hurry into the frame, but seem a world away.

In the lobby, society women confidently move through and into the hotel—all with the perfect hat (oh, how I love the hats!), many with shopping bags and even laptop cases. The bellmen converge on their station, impeccable in their uniforms, but smiling and chattering to one another awaiting a client in the lull of noon hour check-ins.

There’s a buzz, a motion, but not a hectic quality. It’s a well-oiled machine. The uniforms, the business of it all, the shoppers and those just passing through remind you of its formality and history. But the oversized, over-inflated mylar balloon boldly wishing a long gone celebrant a “Happy Birthday” that bounces against the cherub in the high ceilings of the lobby helps bring the present to mind.

If this wasn’t postcard enough, this glimpse into the routines and grace of the Pfister, married with the whimsy of the lost balloon, the next guest I encountered sealed the image for me. A woman confidently entered the scene with a Boston Store dress bag slung over her shoulder, her hair whooshing as she moved past. Her new dress, purchased for an evening event, instantly makes me smile and suggest she seems like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

And then it’s all fit for a frame: my postcard is an image of the Hollywood glitz of the Regent Beverly Wilshire and Julia Roberts’ broad grin when she conquers the hotel guests with her charm. Peter, the concierge, is my Barney (Hector Elizondo) as he spots a mother and her daughters—someone he may have helped the night before—and he surveys their liking of the place thus far, their review of his recommendations.

Maybe I watch too much TV, or far too many movies, but when I had a Pretty Woman moment right there in the Pfister, and that woman understood it with me, that’s when I captured the perfect snapshot (and hit the elevator to see if I could catch Richard Gere in the equivalent of the penthouse suite…).

Strangers on a Bar Stool

Here’s what I like about Mason Street Grill…the vibe. It’s not just the cool jazz in the corner or the hushed lighting at the bar. It’s the eagerness of the patrons. They don’t have the “whew, no rx it’s over” aura of other happy hour revelers. In fact, I watched as businessmen gathered for a meeting as late as 7 p.m. As one trench-coated executive was mentioning his flight had just arrived and his colleagues greeted him quickly as a matter of task, unhealthy  I said to the man sitting next to me “Wow, they’re here to work?” and after a glance at their portfolios, he nodded, “yes.”

But it isn’t just that there’s still an eagerness and energy to the bar rather than a winding down. It seems to be full of secrets. The men chat each other as easily as the women do, but there’s something to the cast of the light that implies a spy novel is about to erupt. Or maybe a murder mystery… no, I’ve got it wrong, it’s noir. The entire space is a crackling film noir… this woman is clearly meeting her connection, that man has been jilted here before and the bartender keeps many secrets.

It takes more than clients to create such an elaborate dark, mysterious novel. The staff works like ninjas. From nowhere our food appeared and our drinks never emptied. Like Val at the lobby bar, Josh works quietly, hurriedly and with an efficiency unmatched. But he, too, seems to have an undercover quality. Edges of tattoos peek out from his collar and shirt cuffs. The two girls checking coats walk formally to the closet, but once inside, they grin and chat in hushed whispers to one another—another life, another side of the hotel becomes hidden among fur collars and wool.

I’m happy to steal a peek at what may lie beneath. It adds to the allure. Service is always impeccable at the Pfister and whether I’m wearing the tell-tale I-may-be-writing-about-you nametag or not, not a single staff member has ever missed a beat. But when the jazz filters in, the married ladies get to talking after the husbands relieve them at the bar, and dinner guests start departing for their tables while the cocktail drinkers saddle up…that’s when the vibe envelops you. And that’s when I like to see the staff reveal a glimpse of stocking.

I like knowing that they watch; I like the slippages that reveal they’ve seen it all before—bad pick up lines, first dates, love affairs, incredible business ideas left behind on cocktail napkins. I think they’re checking on me while I perform the duties of a Friday night out, making sure I play the right character in the movie and help move the plot forward.

Postponing Monday

I read as much as I write. Books invade how I see the world and lately, sovaldi I’ve been reading authors who describe characters writing letters or the letters being read. I often join my literary world with my visceral world at the Pfister, each time I sit down, I feel as though I should pen a letter.

The setting is perfect for it, of course. I’ve told you before about the endless soft chairs and nooks and crannies. Yet, rx in my travels through the hotel, I’ve only met one woman so far who was writing in a journal or notepad. Blackberries and iPhones are the tablet of choice for those constructing sentences, but there is a romance in the halls of the hotel that people (and their pens) just aren’t taking advantage of.

If I were to pen a letter to my friend about tea this week, I’d have to start with descriptions of the hum. There were two beautiful women waiting for their party when we arrived and though they very clearly were chatting with each other, their softened tones created only a hum in the air. Surely the soft upholstery of the furnishings also absorbed whatever gossip they were sharing, but the peaceful quality of knowing they were fully engaging each other without forcing us to be a part of what they were saying was refreshing. I dare you to find that the next time you’re in the grocery store line behind someone arguing on a cell phone.

When the rest of the women’s party arrived, it was clear a family function had begun. More than eight women gathered and listened intently to the presentation of tea. This is my favorite part, all the history and story and recipe making of the teas themselves and it was clear one woman in the party was mesmerized. To say she was well dressed is not fitting. If I were to describe her, in this unwritten letter to some friend or sister far away, I’d have to say she embodied winter. A crisp ivory fur hat met its match at her dangling earrings that sparkled and made for perfect snowflakes. Her coat, bangles, rings and sweater were all ivory and full of softness and sparkle and she didn’t flinch—not a single muscle—as she listened to John describe her teas.

This calm fascination, respect, peacefulness is one of the best parts about the tea service. But it’s not the only one. As my friends and I caught up on our gossip over the comforting beverage, a threesome joined the event. They stood out in their dress, clearly not expecting high tea, but rather, a quick escape and cup of coffee. They laughed as they sat themselves in the seats next to us, but then slowly gauged what was going on around them. Asking for coffee, they were told tea was the menu for the afternoon and they chose to stay.

That decision came after the woman in the group turned slowly and eyed our array of delicacies. Though we were willing to describe them to her, she never asked and we couldn’t bear to interrupt because she visually consumed each treat on the elaborate tray one by one and mirrored the same fascination our lady Winter displayed only 30 minutes before.

It’s these simplicities that the Pfister cultivates, but more should recognize. It’s the craft of penning an elegant letter and the slow, careful strokes of neat handwriting. It’s the artful description of leaves in a jar and careful arrangement of snacks on a tray. Simply admiring these elements slows you down, gives you the pause life often begs you to take.

Sure, there’s call for a snow day in Milwaukee. Many are thankful for the “free pass” from work or life events. It’s a mid-week postponement of everything. But each time I take friends to tea at the Pfister and share the event with others who understand, I get to postpone my Monday at my choosing, not Mother Nature’s.

Playing Dress Up

We’re having tea again this weekend. I am on a mission to expose everyone I know to this amazing day out. I was told yesterday, look however, that I am to dress up. One of the friends has bought a new dress just for the tea outing.

It’s important for me to tell you, I see all kinds in the Pfister—and that’s the best part. All are welcome. While the hotel is always dressed in its best (which is impressive) and the staff are impeccable in their uniforms, cialis guests and patrons don garb that ranges from jeans to sparkles (lots of sparkles).

It is not a requirement that you be fancy, well-dressed or even clean-shaven to have a drink, online go to a meeting or dine at Mason Street Grill while at the Pfister. In fact, the most enveloping part of the hotel is ancient photographs of the hotel in its infancy, Milwaukee history all around you, incredible formal service and people in jeans and Uggs talking to you about how “cool” it feels to be in the hotel. These layers of style, ways of being and eras make the experience so complete.

So when my friend bought a new dress for our outing, I realized that though the Pfister allows for all kinds, just like many places in the city, what it does best is make you feel special and important. I regularly spend weekend mornings at Alterra writing. Though I’ve frequented the coffee shop in work out clothes and business casual, I never feel like I have to up the ante to up the experience there.

At the Pfister, I sit up straighter. At the Pfister, I smile wider and I have actually caught myself flipping my hair just so (embarrassing to admit, but true). Every single piece and person in the hotel accepts jeans, your light beer drink order and your snow and salt-stained winter boots.

What makes this local gem such an amazing escape from the everyday, is when you wear your fancy dress for high Victorian tea and don your grandmother’s jewels, no one treats you like you’re playing dress up. It’s not the range of options in mood and appearance that the hotel does so well that makes it worth the adventure. It’s that it is one of the only places that, when you want to feel fancy, swings its doors wide open and lets you.