The Work Behind the Wine

Heather doing what she does best: offering the right bottle of wine.

What is the meaning of life? I do not know and I’m quite sure many people are closer to having a conclusion than myself. The best I’ve managed to piece together is finding something you love and devising a way to make it pay your bills. Individuals who have successfully accomplished that have always fascinated me.

As an example I offer the sommelier. Their job is to become a walking wine database. How does one do this? Naturally, drinking wine is a large part of the job. But one can’t just become a lush and start wearing the expert cap. Uncountable hours of studying wine history and culture go into understanding not only wine but the very important aspect of pairing it with cuisine.

Heather Kanter-Kowal is Mason Street Grill’s in-house sommelier and assistant manager. For her wine is a way of life and a way of work. Last week Heather had a few minutes to sit down by the Mason Street Grill’s fireplace and tell me about the work behind the wine, her years getting to know the grape, and some of the exciting wines waiting for you at Mason Street. Click to listen below now or download for later.
The Work Behind the Wine by Ed Makowski

What’s in a birthday?

One day I was sitting in the lobby lounge waiting for something to happen. It can be a strange feeling to think qualitatively about conversation, hoping for a moment of random brilliance to spring from a happenstance stranger. This random Tuesday evening my mind started drifting for all the typical reason’s one’s mind wanders from the task at hand while working. Bills, or maybe errands forgotten or neglected. Maybe the current song grabbed my attention and reminded me of another song which presented a memory of an old friend and I pictured the car they drove which stranded us outside of the Boundary Waters in Ely, Minnesota. My thoughts had drifted somewhere up near the Minnesota/Canada border.

While my mind canoed past several islands a gentleman sat down next to me.

We exchanged hellos and pleasantries and went on to talking about how our day was going. I asked what he was doing at the hotel this particular evening. He explained that he was visiting to celebrate his birthday. Given the four restaurants inside the Pfister there are probably people celebrating birthdays every meal of the day. I’ve even had 31 of them. But this wasn’t any typical birthday. This man’s 52nd was an especially unique year. A birthday of gilded proportions. Not as in golden birthdays, but golden that despite extreme health issues he’s lived this long.

The gentleman’s name was Daniel and he graciously allowed me to record the story of how he arrived at the age of 52. I’ll let him tell you for himself  in the audio clip below. It’s an intimate life story and I’d rather let him speak for himself than give away any details. For me it was a great reminder of not only how lucky we are to breathe every day, but that we can never know how special another person’s day is- until we ask. Without further ado, here is Daniel’s story.

Daniel talks about why 52 was such a big year for him by Ed Makowski

Family Dinner in Mason Street Grill

 

Saturday afternoon I swung in to Mason Street Grill. The restaurant wasn’t open and jazz played quietly while the fireplace crackled to an audience of empty bar stools. This Saturday was a sunny thaw of a day which followed a sudden Friday snowstorm. Roads now cleared by snowplows and sunshine generally forecasts a busy night for bars and restaurants. I was hoping to sit down and speak with Heather Kanter-Kowal, the restaurant’s assistant manager and sommelier. A sommelier is certified as a wine expert and anyone who has been able to pursue a field they love and convince the world to pay them for it is a person I want to know a little better.

It turned out Heather wasn’t available, but I noticed something curious. Nearly the entire restaurant staff was in the dining room seated at the counter. Everyone appeared to be eating and talking with one another. It was about 4pm, an hour before the ‘Grill opens for service. I happened to catch the bartender Ryan prepping the bar for the evening. 

I asked Ryan what was going on in the dining room. He took a brief look back through the clear glass behind the bottles and didn’t notice anything out of place.

“Oh, you mean our family meal?” he asked.

“If that’s what you call it, yes. What’s that all about?”

Ryan went on to explain that every evening before the restaurant opens the staff sits down for family dinner. This is the time when everyone gets to eat a meal before they plan to work around food for the next several hours. They are also able to try the evening’s specials to accurately describe them to diners. If wines are added to the restaurant’s palette, or changes in cocktails, or new menu additions this is when the staff is able to sample them in order to relay informed observations to customers. Managers Ed and Bradley take time to list all ingredients in case guests happen to have any aversions or allergies.

After the day’s specials were covered the managers brought out customer comments. When compliments were announced the appropriate employees received recognition. If there were criticisms everyone tried to pinpoint which day the guest may have visited, any issues that arose that specific evening, and how the guest’s experience could be improved upon. The two managers explained that to be successful the crew had to run smoothly as a team and to always strive to make their guest’s visit extraordinary.

I’ve worked in a few restaurants and I couldn’t help but marvel at the logical simplicity of such an idea. Feed your staff and they will be satisfied and smiling. It’s silly to think that anybody half hungry will be able to focus when in such a delectable environment. Then give them the tools to assertively explain to guests their dining and drinking options throughout their meal. Allow them the time to ask questions and voice any concerns. Then give them a few minutes to speak with one another as colleagues, friends, and family before they spend the next several hours concentrating on the needs of their guests. A staff requires down-time to communicate with one another before they can hope to perform successfully in the fray of a busy Saturday night. I stood quietly in the background listening to everyone. If a staff doesn’t have time to feel like a family, how can they welcome guests as warmly as one? It made so much sense I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself.

Family dinner struck me as an obvious metaphor for the Pfister ethos I’ve learned about up to this point. It starts by employing the best possible staff. Whether they’re a piano player, a dishwasher, or a wine expert, pay them well and fill their bellies. Then provide them with the tools they need to excel in their field. Keep the staff happy and they will make guests happier. Then open the doors and turn them wild at what they do best.

 

The Midwesterner

A friend once told me that when she moved to Portland, Oregon she had a difficult time finding a job. Portland has become a bit of a mecca for young liberal folks looking to live the relaxed western life. However the city is a famously difficult place to find employment. She encountered this problem, but only until she informed potential employers that she was from Milwaukee. “Oh, you’re from the Midwest?” One possible employer said during an interview, “We’ll figure out a position for you. No problem.” It seemed she had cracked the code.

I was reminded of this story after having breakfast with a gentleman this morning. His name is Bill and while he may currently work in the produce business, not so long ago he was buttoning up a three-piece suit for 60+ hours a week in Nevada. But why don’t we start this from the beginning…

Not entirely fulfilled as a high school science teacher Bill decided to go back to school to become a lawyer. He was accepted to the University of Wisconsin’s program in Madison. Long hours studying paid off for Bill as he found himself writing for Madison’s Law Review and eventually graduated near the top of his class. Madison has a highly regarded program and after graduating Bill received several requests for interviews.

On the top of his list was a firm in Nevada, the largest in the state at the time. After a job-fair style interview in Madison the firm’s head partner requested an interview with Bill at their office in Las Vegas. Living in Beaver Dam at the time, Bill was shocked that they offered to pay his airfare, picked him up from the airport in a limousine, and took him out for a lavish steak dinner “interview.” “I was just a farm boy from Burnett, Wisconsin and it didn’t take much to impress me.” Before leaving Vegas the firm made Bill an offer which made him fly straight home and start packing boxes.

After working at the firm a few weeks Bill was called in to the Accounts Payable office.

“William I can’t seem to find your moving expense receipts,” explained the head of Accounts Payable.

“Well, I provided an itemized list of receipts for gas and my portion of the U-Haul,” Bill explained while developing sweaty palms and a sudden dry throat.

Bill moved across the country with two friends and thought it made sense that he only charge the company for his third of the cost of transportation.

“U-Haul? William, what are you talking about?” she asked, “You drove a U-Haul yourself?” The woman started chuckling, and picked up her telephone. She rang the head of the firm and told him he needed to come down to her office right away. “You’ve got to hear this for yourself,” she said, through laughter.

Until his boss arrived Bill assumed he was in serious trouble. He could have sworn they told him moving expenses were included. The young barrister started wondering where he was going to get his next job. Had he squandered a great opportunity? He’d moved across the country, canceled his lease in Wisconsin and hadn’t even had time to un-box his life in Nevada. He started considering the varieties of part-time work he could get in Vegas while planning his next move.

The elevator opened and Bill’s posture straightened as his boss approached.

“Get a load of this, Wisconsin William here packed himself and rented a U-Haul and drove himself clear across the country!”

The two erupted with laughter. Bill chuckled a little, nervously, waiting for the joke to become funny.

“That’s never happened!” explained Bill’s employer. “In all my years nobody has ever thought to drive their own moving truck. Most of these kids here come from law school already from a family with money. None of them would ever lift a finger to carry their own boxes. They all hire moving companies. William from Wisconsin moves himself! God, I love you Midwestern boys…”

The big boss patted him on the back while Bill sighed and chuckled with relief. Walking back to the elevator his superior kept shaking his head incredulous, “…moved himself…Wisconsin…what a guy…”

“Hire a moving company?” Sophomore Bill thought to himself, “Why would anybody pay to hire a moving company?”

Within a few years Bill realized the high stress world of three piece suits and professional debate was not for him. Although he found success with the firm and they loved his Wisconsin work ethic they couldn’t convince Bill to stay. He came back to Wisconsin and for several years has worked as a broker for Amish farmers in western Wisconsin.

“From courtrooms to farming? Why such a dramatic switch?” I asked.

“It’s about the people, and about how open they are. I think the land makes a person honest. You can’t talk your way into growing a crop. Either you do the right things to have a productive farm or you don’t. The old phrase about reaping what one sows is definitely true. In the field, in relationships, in life. The farmers are one big community, they’re happy to share their tips and experience with one another. Their take on life is that if we share our information everyone can prosper together. In law it was the complete opposite. You’re always trying to withhold information from the other party, your adversary, so you can throw it at them in court. Catch them off guard. You can’t catch the soil off-guard and convince it to produce zucchini. I appreciate that kind of honesty.”

The Weekend of Promise Rings

Saturday afternoon I was hanging out in Shelby’s studio watching her work on a painting of the Milwaukee Art Museum. She was searching to find her way through the piece. A stroke here, a stroke there. Step back, consider. Wipe with a moist towel, then determine another stroke. Having this rare intersection between a writer and a painter makes me feel like we’re living inside of Frank O’Hara’s poem Why I Am Not a Painter.

While I was seated on the couch a guy in his twenties walked in to the studio for a closer look at Shelby’s works on the wall. He announced that a painting based on a porch concert with a jazz 3 piece was his favorite. Shelby explained that it was from a series of three and brought out the other two to complete the set. The young man explained that he played guitar, bass, and drums.

Shelby's front porch series.

We exchanged names and handshakes. His name was Stefan and he went on to tell us that he was visiting from Ohio. One of his favorite bands is from Milwaukee and they’d played a reunion show the previous night at Turner Hall Ballroom. I had to chuckle that he was staying at the Pfister to see a Milwaukee band called The Promise Ring, when the next day the hotel was hosting it’s annual Milwaukee’s Magnificent Bride show. Stefan had a full plate of plans, after touring Shelby’s gallery he planned to go across the street for dinner at the German restaurant Karl Ratzsch’s. After that it was off to see To Kill a Mockingbird at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

Stefan took off for his night’s festivities and I roamed the halls for a little while. The 7th floor was poised to serve a wedding and reception for 400 guests. The entire floor was the quiet calm of glass drying, garnish preparation, finishing details of table settings. On the other side The Imperial Room was already prepared for the following day’s bridal show. Booths stood quiet and lit only by the wintertime windows of Wisconsin Avenue.

A few hours ago there was a 400 guest wedding in this ballroom. Now there's an Excalibur hanging around and dozens of other wedding-related sales booths.

I wandered up to the 23rd floor Blu and, while drinking a raspberry ginger mojito, listened to the flamenco guitar of Evan Christian. As things wound down in Mason Street Grill and the Jonathan Wade Trio played their last songs patrons started to find their way to the top floor lounge. The feel of the the room was like a big cushy adult playground looking out at the sparkling skyline. The night sky was so much a part of the ambience it may as well have been Evan’s backing band. After the wedding ended around midnight guests in suits, gowns, and tuxedos found their way up to the top. It was rather interesting to see several different parties taking place concurrently, spilling over into one another. Formal and informal. The young and the experienced. Nuzzling couples neighboring groomsmen. Jazz aficionados focusing intently next to country girls gulping shots of tequila. From my one bar stool I ended up conversing with a tango instructor, a jeweler with inventor aspirations, an over-the-road truck driver, a software engineer, and a history teacher.

Fred Astaire dance studios can choreograph a couple's first dance.

 

By Sunday morning the 7th floor was completely transformed. I walked around the bridal show in astonishment. Less than a dozen hours earlier 400 people enjoyed a lavish meal with drinks to match. For hours after dinner a DJ taught the dance floor How it’s fun to stay at the YMCA, and The way you look tonight. By morning there were dozens of purveyors, musicians, automobiles even, in place of where there had been a huge party just a few hours earlier. I walked downstairs and told the concierge, Roc, about how I couldn’t believe how quick this space had been completely transformed. It was like the wedding the night before had never even happened. “Oh, sure,” Roc explained, swatting gently at the air with his open palm, “We host events like that on a regular basis.” He chuckled, amused with my sophomore astonishment. “I’ve witnessed four weddings take place here simultaneously. That, my friend, is what we do at the Pfister.”

This was my favorite dress but I'm not sure if it's the right one for me.

“Not that kind of guy” (A post-Well Spa massage poem; as overheard)

 

“Not that kind of guy”

 

 

I don’t normally do this.

 

Any other

Thursday afternoon

this time of year

I’m in the office

until the sky is dark

walking to my car.

 

 

The glass of champagne

-well it was included.

Part of a gift certificate

my wife bought for me.

Birthday present.

 

I just came up from downstairs,

they have a massage parlor.

 

It’s not my kind of thing

but I had to use it

or her feelings would be hurt

and we would have wasted

all that money.

 

 

She’s always telling me

I should take some time away,

relax more.

Go on a trip.

I suppose we could go somewhere

for a week or two. Somewhere nice.

 

“Let the employees take care of it

-that’s why you hired them!”

she likes to say.

 

My wife comes downtown here

to get these massages

and they do things to her hair,

treatments on her skin.

 

-You ever had one of those facials?

I can’t believe how smooth my face feels,

like a bare ass baby.

Reminds me of our firstborn.

‘Course she’s all grown up now.

 

 

Those massages,

I’ve never had one before, always thought

that stuff isn’t for me.

I’m not that kind of guy.

You know what I mean, I…

 

I didn’t even catch your name, I apologize,

here I am

talking your ear off

like a space cadet.

If you tried one of those massages downstairs,

you’d know what I mean,

they have showers with something like…

4 or 5 jets of water

spraying all over your body.

All at once!

Who thinks of that?

 

Look at this. Unbelievable.

A glass of champagne.

A glass of champagne in the

middle of the afternoon?

The guys at the shop

would never believe it.

I’m glad they include it

with the massage

because I never would have

sat down here

and ordered one.

Now I understand it-

why she comes here all the time.

 

Maybe we should take a trip soon,

somewhere warm.

Somewhere with a beach, maybe on an island.

One where you can ride around on

those little motor scooters.

 

 

Pardon me, Bartender?

May I have another?

 

 

24 Hours: Family at the Pfister

Ok, here’s the plan. (Trumpets, please.)

24 hours. The whole family. Take on as much of the Pfister as we possibly can. Take pictures and let you share in the fun.

 

Ready…

Set…

 

Wait…not just yet!

 

OK…

 

GO!

 

 

Outside the elevator doors inside the parking garage there are cards. These cards state which floor you're on to remind you of where your car is parked. This entertained the kids to no end.

 

Checking in under the grand murals of the Pfister lobby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Una learns how to operate the keyed elevator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our chalet for the evening.

 

 

Shortly after we checked in there was a knock at our door. Everyone was excited to have dinner challenged by milk and cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bye bye milk, on to getting dressed for dinner.
But not before we learned how to lock our valuables in the safe. Toothbrush, socks, the last cookie...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is this thing on? We encouraged everyone to take pictures, even 4 year old Edmund.

 

 

 

 

Getting ready for dinner...hang on...you've got an eyelash...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All dressed up and ready to go.

 

 

While the lobby lounge and Mason Street Grill are spectacular places to eat we didn't think they'd be the most fitting place for a 4 year old. So we took a walk...

 

 

 

 

 

 

...and found ourselves at Sake Tumi. Sushi=finger food. Perfect!

 

 

 

 

Where's the mom of this brood been the whole time?! (Susan is usually behind the camera, which is her preference.)

 

 

 

 

 

Sensei and Una taking a moment to be silly between trying to figure out the ancient art of chop sticks.

 

 

 

 

 

Where to now?

 

 

 

 

"Well I have to find some excuse to wear this robe..."

 

 

 

 

What else is on the 23rd floor?

 

 

 

 

The beach!

 

 

 

 

Well, ok, maybe the beach is a mural. But there is a pool!

 

 

 

 

And the winner is...

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's a tie!

 

 

After swimming we came back to the room to write letters (more about that tomorrow) and watch the movie In Time- from our beds!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone else decided for another round of morning swimming. (while I slept in)

 

 

 

Don't worry about that snow, it sure is nice in here...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sensei and Edmund splashing about.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Una penciled in a workout before breakfast.

 

 

Is this the right way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Ah, that’s how the camera works. I ordered Susan one of Valerie’s special Pfister Bloody Marys with breakfast, but unfortunately it was gone before we could get a picture!

 

 

 

Did you know that there is a mail chute at the Pfister? Did you know it starts at the 7th floor and you can see letters drop all the way into the box?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh yes, we dropped those letters and took turns watching them arrive safe in the lockbox.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strike a fire. Then a pose. Vogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there was one more surprise in store...

 

I CAN'T BELIEVE WE'RE HAVING AFTERNOON TEA IN BLU!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Una concentrates on pouring steeped tea while contemplating the harp.

 

 

"See that Northwestern Mutual building to the east? It was built on a swamp called Lake Emily using wood pilings..." blah blah blah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sensei's tea was incredible, hints of orange and chocolate all at the same time.

 

"To become one with the haute chocolate one really needs to properly capture it's scent," explained Edmund after coming up for air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I ordered that herbal tea just for color composition, I swear.
All this activity lead to a sleeping toddler. Which leads to...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

...smiling parents! I hope you enjoyed joining us for the ride, we all had a great time. Tell us about your Pfister adventure!

Shelby Keefe reflects on her time as the Pfister Hotel’s resident artist

Shelby Keefe has been the Pfister’s resident artist since April 2011. As all great things eventually come to an end, her studio torch will be passed to Timothy Westbrook in April 2012. Shelby and I had been trying to get together and talk for a few weeks and it turned out to be a good thing we couldn’t meet until this past Monday. When I walked in to her studio Shelby was standing in front of a painting. She had her hands on her hips and kept shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Then she’d cross her arms, and “hmm,” before returning the hands to her hips.  Her head tilted slowly from side to side, and alternated between looking above and through her glasses. The painting she contemplated was the largest I’ve seen on her easel.

It turned out she was at work on her legacy piece, the one which will join the Pfister Hotel’s vast permanent collection. The painting was complete, but was the painting FINISHED? Was it ready to be signed? The artist was still deliberating. I don’t want to ruin her unveiling by telling you what the piece looks like, but I will tell you the unveiling party is scheduled March 27th (more details to come). Until then you’ll have to stop by and try to figure out which canvas in her studio will rest for all time next to works by Reginald Baylor and Katie Musolff.

While Shelby contemplated the piece we talked about her time as the Pfister’s resident artist, and by the miracle of modern technology you can listen in to our conversation. Simply click the Play button below. She discusses her process of creating a painting, how she knows when a work is finished, and her experience while working as an artist on display.

If you’d rather download the piece and listen on your mp3 player, smartphone, etc. simply click the DOWN pointing arrow on the right side of the player and the Download option will appear.

Shelby Keefe reflects on her time as Pfister Hotel resident artist by Ed Makowski

For St. Valentine’s Day, and every other day of the week

Years ago when I was fumbling through my way through working in computers. Our department traveled to sites across the country to perform computer installation and repair. When traveling most of our coworkers liked to eat at big restaurant chains, I gather the familiarity brought them comfort. Being 19, all this traveling was exciting (even if it was paired with 16 hour work days). But one of my coworkers liked to find out of the way restaurants unique to the location, and this quickly made him my favorite guy to travel alongside. While somewhere out East (Maryland possibly?) we stopped in at some corner bar and grill and were offered to try a steamed burger. Steamed burgers? Oh yes, and it was ridiculously good. Incredibly juicy, but at all not greasy.

The steamed burger was great but more than anything I remember something my coworker told me. I was just out of high school and he was probably in his forties. The meal had extra excitement for me because I wasn’t yet accustomed to sitting at a bar. I mentioned something about a date planned for Saturday night with a girl I’d recently met. He grinned, finished the bite he was working on and replied, “Never marry someone based on Saturday nights alone. Because, if you do, you’re always hoping for Saturday night, and there are 6 other days in the week where you’ll have to live with that person.”

Like I said, I was 19 at the time. Marriage? What’s this crazy old guy talking about!?

But every time I began dating someone new, after a few dates, it would cross my mind. We’d be dancing at someone else’s wedding, or I’d be walking away to get her another drink, or during the concert I’d think, “Is this just a Saturday night thing? Will I even want to know this person during daylight in the middle of the week?”

My coworker was, of course, talking about all the things that fill a person’s week. The schedule and habits which become your life. Realistically you’ll spend more time doing laundry, or cooking, or driving in the car, grocery shopping, or reading books or magazines next to one another than sipping champagne while the music plays. Then, if some day you have children, you’ll wistfully remember those times when you were able to spend time doing the laundry together, or grocery shopping, or reading books… 😆

We recently spent a night at the Pfister, and we’re composing a photoblog I’ll be posting soon. While visiting I recalled a poem during a brief moment in our room. We were getting ready to go out for dinner and in the mirror’s reflection I happened to notice where the bars of soap sat along the marble walls of the shower. I grinned at the poem while brushing my teeth. A type of love poem regarding the seemingly inconsequential things we do for or with one another so that our lives make smooth sense. Dinner already prepared. Snow already shoveled. Clothes ironed, kids dressed. The other 6 days of the week which make us want to spend Saturday night with that same person. Happy Valentine’s Day folks.

The rubber band of love

more than flowers

 

every day

I place

 

the soap

on the

plastic wire dish

 

hanging

 

from the shower head

instead of

the edge

of the tub

 

because I know

that is where

you would want it

 

 

Reflections of Remarkable Milwaukee

Last Monday January 28th an event was held at the historic Pabst Theater,which is just a stroll down the avenue from the Pfister and Intercontinental. The evening was titled Remarkable Milwaukee and gathered many of Milwaukee’s innovative business leaders, successful creative types, and championing envisionistas. The group relaxed on stage while seated on Victorian couches to discuss their visions for our city’s future over coffee and cocktails. The occasion was also a fundraiser for Historic Milwaukee, a non-profit whose goal is to both increase awareness of Milwaukee’s architecture and preserve our built environment.

In front of a packed house the participants discussed issues and positives within our city. Many issues which are not unique to Milwaukee. Ways to maintain our unique existing architecture while making it fit inside the box of modern use. How to attract and retain both businesses and skilled labor to the city. How do we make productive space out of industrial buildings which may no longer house the industry they were built by (This always makes me think of our enormous Cold Storagewarehouses sprinkled along the riverbanks). The urban education elephant in the room. How to rebuild any city’s areas of urban blight. The discussion was a unique gathering point for intellectuals who wanted to do more than demonize cities with a fast attack of scary soundbites. I gathered that they viewed cities were a gathering point of culture, art, work, and living and there was no need to work in an environment miles away from where one lives. That this city is a great trove of activity and history, which is and will be as fantastic as we decide to make it. Our quilt, per se. Within the hour of conversation nobody arrived at rushed conclusions, and I don’t think it was the goal.

The Pabst Theater was an entertainingly appropriate location to discuss Milwaukee’s health and future. Before existing as The Pabst the venue had been called The New German City Theater, and had been built by Frederick Pabst. However this structure burnt down in 1895. When word reached Captain Pabst he wrote back from a European vacation, “Rebuild at once!” and within a year the Pabst Theater stood.

It seemed serendipitous that exactly one week later I met a couple named The Williams’ from Philadelphia. We were sitting in the Pfister lobby lounge and a conversation struck up about beer. Talk regarding microbrews between a bartender and two fans of what made Milwaukee famous pours easy and quickly spills over into other topics.

They were well-versed in restaurants around the Downtown area, microbreweries, the East Side, Bay Vew. This lovely retired couple was already familiar with nearly all over my favorite corner establishments. I finally asked how they’d become so acquainted. “Oh we own a condo over near Brady Street. We come here several times throughout the year for a week or two at a time. Milwaukee’s our retirement city.”

I asked what drew them to Milwaukee as a retirement town. They don’t have any family ties and neither of them had spent much time working in Wisconsin. It was more simple than I might have guessed. They’re big baseball fans so they come in to watch games and like to ride their bikes to the stadium. From Brady Street they can take the Lakefront trail through Lakeshore State Park (the park between Discovery World and Summerfest grounds) and bounce around to connect with the Hank Aaron Trail just across from the Harley Davidson Museum, which heads straight by Miller Park.

Ms. Williams explained that they’d shopped around in Florida and Arizona but they found that although those states offered Baseball’s Spring Training the climate was too harsh for any daytime activity other than sitting and watching baseball. Plus, when they do have to get in the car Milwaukee is an easy and quick place to navigate.

In addition we have restaurants and night spots offering a level of quality to which they’ve grown accustomed on the East Coast. Galleries, museums, other sporting events, music festivals. Culture, I suppose, if you want to boil it down to one word.

After shaking hands and saying good night talking with the Williams’ made me chuckle. It seemed they epitomized many of the points this discussion panel had been trying to touch on the week previous.

In the early 1960’s the Pfister Hotel reached a crossroads. After years of neglect and mismanagement the landmark was scheduled for demolition. To the chuckling whispers of many Ben Marcus purchased the Pfister. He saw the value in this building and decided to not only save the structure, but invested in the future of the location. To him the Pfister Hotel was more than a stack of bricks and a number on paper. It represented a potential. Now here I am sitting in the lobby lounge. Talking with a couple of transplants who enjoy remarkable Milwaukee as their retirement playground.

All these years later it appears that if you build it they will come.