Bunny Tales

Meet seasoned Pfister staffer Valerie…

Ask any seasoned staffer at the Pfister to talk about what they’ve seen, but only if you’re prepared to be awed. Some of the greatest moments include an era where “clubbing” took on a different notion than it does today. Balking at a $5.00 cover charge to see the infamous Joan Rivers is something Valerie, a seasoned bartender of more than 35 years, remembers. Valerie started at the Pfister when she was just 18 and by 19, she was behind the bar, “critiquing” (her favorite word for quality assurance) her drinks and cocktails until each was perfection.

Valerie’s work ethic is the first thing you notice about her. During our entire conversation, she never stopped moving, yet, she’s never hasty. Step by step she assembled the famous Pfister Marys that she says are as local as you can get. “Klement’s sausage, Wisconsin cheddar, Miller Lite chaser and sometimes even the local Rehorst vodka.” Valerie doesn’t tire of each patron who responds, “This could be my dinner!”

An assemblage of vegetables and snacks adorn the glass, but the contents of the cocktail are what go unmatched. Valerie pulled jar after jar of ingredients from her secret stash below the bar. The small round jar was filled with her special mix, the base, as she calls it. “But if you want it more spicy, I have these infusions…” and she reveals to me various samplings of flavors, spices (including the most recent with habanero peppers). I ask her, “Valerie, will you make a book of all your recipes and secrets?” Without hesitating,  she replied, “I don’t know, will you write it?”

She moves methodically, but never misses a beat. The equivalent of a former Playboy Bunny who worked at Blu before it was Blu, (“We had the collars, the cuffs, the same sort of outfit”), Valerie has seen celebrities come and go. Over time, however, her exactitude for her product hasn’t waned.

It’s not just the drinks Valerie takes care of. In the course of a hectic evening, I watched her attend to guests who were undecided on what to order, guests who were return clients, guests who needed to talk, reminisce and confide, fellow workers who had questions on drinks, patrons who may have left with their tab and me, prying with all sorts of questions. She did it all flawlessly and while in constant, careful motion.

Earlier this month, another list of Milwaukee’s top/coolest/hottest people emerged and the list was heavily sprinkled with bartenders. I remember working in the restaurant and hotel industry and always encountering new hires who wanted to be a bartender—they all thought pouring the booze and making the tips would be a great gig. What they didn’t understand is the panache, grace and sense of duty it requires. All fledgling bartenders should have a seat at Valerie’s lobby bartop to watch and learn how to be a “people-tender.” 35 years of service is hard to replicate, but the lessons it offers are plentiful.

The Pfister Bloody Mary from PfisterHotel on Vimeo.

Embodied History

 

Each time I walk into the Pfister, someone in front of me is stumbling around, slack jawed, gazing up at the beautiful ceilings. But it’s not just the carpets and paintings that create the pomp of the Pfister. It’s the rich history the staff preserve simply by being present, available and ready to share their stories. Customer service isn’t just about getting guests where they need to be; at the Pfister it clearly includes cataloging moments that add to the opus and depth of the soul that passes through the hotel.

For this reason, I’ll be publishing the stories the staff at the Pfister are so willingly sharing with me.  Just as these tales didn’t occur in a moment, neither will their retelling. As the staff are each a segment of what makes the Pfister whole, here, too they will be presented in segments. I cannot capture a Valerie or a Roc in one blog, so watch for their rich remembrances over time, helping to make this tale whole.

Not So Lonesome at the Pfister

* Note: At the Pfister, we typically do not disclose the identity of entertainers who stay at the hotel. In this case, we’ve received express permission to do so.

There are many memories I have of my dad that keep me close to him.  Lonesome Dove, the character-driven cowboy novel I read at my dad’s direction, is one of my favorites. We were in love with Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall’s perfect portrayals of the lead wranglers we’d befriended.

I thought of dad Thursday night in the Lobby Bar at the Pfister where I watched the crowd wind up for the weekend. The infamous Gus McCrae (Robert Duvall) walked through. He embodied the same calm, calculating pace of his characters. I wanted to shake his hand and tell him how much he meant to me—he breathed life into a character that linked a teenage girl to her father at a time in life when daughters and fathers lose touch.

He ended up on a couch next to me and this man, who to me symbolizes so much, proceeded to discuss where to find a great steak (and to the Pfister’s credit, noted that Mason Street Grill was a top pick). I was mesmerized with this larger than life character living as a regular man—a patron waiting for his table.

More impressive was how we, the Milwaukee community, sitting in the lobby having our drinks, respected this legend. No one caused a stir. Many recognized Mr. Duvall, but most seemed to recognize him as a fellow client of the hotel, they were in good company and that was enough.

When I later told friends about the encounter, everyone had a connection to the actor. A best friend even explained the funeral of a grandfather buried with the Lonesome Dove VHS.

I am thankful for the night’s education. I learned that there is a character to the Pfister and when you join the crowd, you become a part of making that character real. It’s a classy character, one who observes but doesn’t disturb. It’s a character who knows its value and merely nods politely to its parts.

My adventures with Mr. Duvall and his group also confirmed for me that everyone has an impact. The retelling of the tale affected so many close to me that it reminded me how important we are to one another—and we often underestimate that. You can never fully realize how much meaning you have as you pass through and I am fortunate to have been there to capture it.

To the Brim with Potential

I used to be a morning person, emphasis on past tense. But, rumor has it, I can have breakfast with Herb Kohl if I’m up early and at the Pfister Café. In a Herculean effort, I made it there early and was rewarded with coffee but no Kohl.

I have to say, that I thought I’d encounter a quiet morning with few people around, but I was wrong. Apparently, the world is a morning person and takes up arms at the Pfister on a weekday. A series of low rumblings and coffee cups clinking equated the slow hum of a delicate alarm clock rather than the surprise and excitement of happy hour.

The men in the next booth were rehearsing for a presentation. A silver fox sat facing his three colleagues, who circled him as he coached. If it were dinner, if the lighting weren’t as bright and if they had their suit jackets on, I’d wonder if we were filming The Godfather 4. But it was breakfast and based on the presentation they were part of the conference upstairs.

The other curious image of the Pfister in the morning is men’s shirt sleeves. They’re out there for the world to see. Collections of businessmen all gathering for their day left their dark, imposing jackets draped in the backdrop. Instead, the restaurant and lobby were filled with vulnerable, crisp white shirt sleeves.

In my current job, the first time I came to the public budget hearing was overwhelming. The Common Council chamber was filled with hundreds of firefighters, all there to speak on how the budget affected them. Though that was indeed an appealing site and a set of calendar images waiting to happen, the morning view at the Pfister is just as invigorating. Singles everywhere claim they’re “tired of the bar scene” so I would encourage them to try a new tactic. Coffee at the Pfister Café is the businessman’s version of the firefighter calendar waiting to happen. The professional men, their guard (and jackets) down, seemed to ooze out of every hallway and booth.

But it wasn’t just the well-dressed men that made it appealing. Everything is fresh and new. Quinn, a front of house staffer at the hotel, joined me in surveying the day’s roster. Who would be in, what conferences were happening, what would the hotel see today—the raw potential of the day seemed to host an energy for guests and staff alike.

Morning at the Pfister is a far cry from the bar scene, but its energy, potential and opportunities are well worth the sleep you may give up to experience it. I felt guilty taking coffee to go knowing I was cheating on my regular baristas…until I bumped into an assistant coach for a professional basketball team on my way out of the café. Sorry Starbucks, no espresso can kick off a morning like this.

The Pfister Narrator Julie Ferris: The Celebration of Family

Following is Julie Ferris’s first entry as Pfister Narrator. It was selected as the winning sample blog post by The Pfister Narrator review panel, who chose her for this position.

The Celebration of Family

The rowdy din of the Pfister lobby on a Saturday night is electric. The crowd is a collage of wedding guests, diners and those reluctant to return to their rooms for fear of missing the excitement.

The wedding groups bring an array of generations, elaborate garb and intoxicating anticipation. A beautiful chorus of older women, bedecked in colorful suits that would put Coco Chanel to shame, were beaming in the lounge and I had to be a part of their magic.

I sat next to the gorgeous octogenarian in teal and she welcomed me with a pat on my hand and started talking. She’s the great aunt of the groom, visiting from Michigan, and there to support her niece. The groom’s mother had lost her husband far too young six years ago and needed familial support. I was honored to hold these intimacies with Jalilah; sharing her personal concerns for her family made me feel like an old friend. As she continued to explain her family, she said firmly, “we support each other.”

“We” was the Arabic culture from which she hailed. The family’s roots were in “The Old Country”– Palestine. Watching these four elderly aunts waiting for the next step in the festivities was infectious. They had the ease and carefree character that come with age and wisdom. No one picked at her suit, adjusted her hair or checked her make up. They knew it was impeccable and they knew, in the long run, it didn’t matter.

“We’re waiting for the party bus,” Jalilah announced. Another aunt, who couldn’t hear over the excitement, nodded vigorously. “I don’t know where they’re taking us,” Jalilah said, “but it will be fun, I’m sure!”

It was important to Jalilah that they traveled for the wedding. “We like to party. This wedding is only three days; in the Old Country, we party for a week!” She never stopped smiling and it was clear that it wasn’t just that she shared excitement with me, but wanted to impart a kind of wisdom—family supports one another, family travels to be there, family celebrates.

As the time came for the aunts to board the bus, Jalilah patted my hand and held my arm and told me to enjoy my night. I wished her safe travels and a good wedding and in that moment, she was my great aunt, too.