Milwaukee: The Best Deal In Chicago

The view from the 7th floor East on Wisconsin Avenue.

Ah, big brother Chicago. Just two hundred years ago we were part of the same Illinois territory.

People come to Milwaukee for many reasons. Business. Dinner. Conventions. Celebrations. Sporting events. Art openings. Museums.

Visitors ask certain key questions which lead me to conclude they’re not from Milwaukee. This line of conversation usually takes place after someone says, “So how do I get a cab around here?” or “This place is great, where else should I visit?” Or they call the water drinking oasis a fountain instead of a bubbler.

I’ve noticed a trend of Chicagoans visiting us just for fun. Upon discovering this I always ask what their impressions are. Being a life-long Milwaukeean I’m curious to hear how our city is perceived.

Below are some of the most common observations of Milwaukee followed by explanations I’ve been able to piece together.

* “It’s so inexpensive here.”

That’s true, part of the reason is the sales tax “Down South” is 9.5%, compared with our 5.6%. But also being a smaller city things are just cheaper in Milwaukee. Smaller population=more resources to go around.

* “That art museum on the lake is incredible!”

You’re right, we are lucky to have had our most recent addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum designed and built by Santiago Calatrava. But years before that the art museum has an interesting story. The core of the museum’s pieces were donated by Frederick Layton, also the namesake of Milwaukee’s Layton Boulevard. Mr. Layton, along with John Plankinton, their fortunes in cattle and pigs. The Layton School of Art was started shortly after his death and when closed in 1974 was listed in the country’s top 5 art schools.

Just to the North of the Calatrava addition is what Milwaukee residents refer to as the War Memorial. After World War II an architect from Finland named Eliel Saarinen was commissioned to build a Veteran’s Memorial. Despite Eliel’s passing in 1950, his son Eero took over to complete the project on Milwaukee’s Lakefront. With construction supervision by Milwaukee architect Maynard W. Meyer and Associates, this floating building was created. The building appears to hover above Mason Street on geometric legs of reinforced concrete.

Completed in 2001 Santiago Calatrava’s addition comprises a few different areas including the Quadracci Pavilion which regularly holds weddings, openings, and other special events. Windover Hall looks out toward the lake as though one is inside a glass wrapped ship hull. Atop Windover Hall is the incredible moving sculpture known as the Burke Brise Soleil whose wings literally open at 10am, close and reopen daily at noon, then close for the evening when museum locks up.

The Milwaukee Art Museum is a four block walk from the Pfister Hotel.

* “Everyone here is so nice to us!”

Oh well gee shucks, ma’am. That’s really kind of you to say. But you should meet my cousin John. He’s a really, really nice guy. Are you hungry? I just made this pie for you…

* “That brewery tour was so much fun.”

What made Milwaukee famous… 

It’s true we are a beer city. Prohibition was more than a small stumbling block to the city’s industry but brewing culture is thriving in Milwaukee. So much that we named our baseball team after the people who make beer. Although Pabst, Schlitz, and Blatz are no longer producing themselves, many brewers have taken up the cause. Visitors are able to tour Miller which has existed in the Valley for well over 150 years. If something smaller is your flavor we’ve got many options including (but not limited to) Sprecher, Lakefront, Milwaukee Brewing Company. Tours also take place at the Best Place; the bar, gift shop, and former board room inside the Pabst Brewery complex. With all the talk of beer it’s easy to forget craft distillers just past the Harley Davidson Museum, Great Lakes Distillery, who are on the cutting edge of producing rum, absinthe, vodka, and many other liquors.

* “Dinner was great last night, we’re trying to decide between our options tonight. Which would you recommend?”

Our restaurants are a bit of a great secret around here. According to Zagat we have 3 of the country’s top 30 restaurants in the area. I love getting dinner at Mason Street Grill, and they have a spectacular happy hour.

* “It’s so easy to get around this city, there’s hardly any traffic ~or~ We took the train here, it’s been such an easy trip; an hour here, an hour back. ”

This makes sense, Milwaukee’s metro area has about one fifth the population of Chicago and it’s suburban outskirts. Milwaukee also has a growing bicycle population and network of bike specific trails which cuts down on four-wheeled commuters. In addition our bus system has been revised recently and ridership is up. Milwaukee is also fairly spread out, our population isn’t too densely packed into any one area.

* (and probably the biggest compliment) “We’d both rather live here but then we’d have to commute every day to our offices in Chicago.”

Even if you don’t drive it is surprisingly easy to get between Chicago and Milwaukee. There are several bus options. The Amtrak Hiawatha route from ‘The Windy terminates in downtown Milwaukee a mere 12 blocks from your favorite hotel.

For all these reasons and more our Illini brethren are discovering that a mere 90 miles to the north Milwaukee might just be the best deal in Chicago.

Experiencing UW-Milwaukee’s 2012 Women Leaders Conference

Gloria Steinem signing books following her speech kicking off the day. While I snapped this photo she said these exact words, “Well- rebellion keeps us young, right?”

To my dismay I realized that the UW-Milwaukee Women Leaders Conference scheduled to take place at the Pfister Friday, March 30th was sold out. I’d hoped there was a possibility to watch from the perimeter and take in a little of the conference.

Thursday evening I was in the lobby lounge speaking with pianist Dr. Jeffrey Hollander regarding a Pfister blog I’ve been working on about the man. There was a woman seated at the table closest Jeffrey and the three of us talked for a bit. In conversation I asked if she was local or from out of town. She explained that she was involved with Friday’s conference. My new acquaintance then asked what I was getting into at the hotel and I explained the Narrator position and how I had hoped to cover the conference in some capacity. It turned out I was sitting with Jan Allen, UW-Milwaukee’s Director of Business, Engineering & Technology in the school’s Continuing Education Department. Completely by mistake (does serendipity make mistakes?) I ended up being invited to check out Friday’s activities. You never know who you’re going to meet at this hotel…

By 8am Friday morning, like countless times before, the Pfister’s 7th floor ballrooms were transformed to fit the needs of the event. A banquet spread of breakfast foods and coffee cakes, teas, coffee, and soft drinks welcomed conference-goers on their way into the Grand Ballroom.

Kicking off the day’s events was keynote speaker Gloria Steinem. I tread lightly in suggesting I can introduce you to Ms. Steinem as there is little need for introduction. She is a journalist, publisher, and activist (and a wearer of many other hats). Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine and has worked for over half a century toward the changes she’d like to see in the world. I encourage reading this March 16th New York Times article about Ms. Steinem’s long career. Steinem’s speech, “The Longest Revolution,” included her Top 10 list of priorities and conclusions to keep in mind moving forward. Following her speech there were a few minutes for questions and lucky participants were able to ask the questions they’ve always wondered of the longtime lightning rod. Having Gloria Steinem speak injected the day with a feeling which reminded me of the phrase, “We are the ones we have been waiting for” (line from a poem by June Jordan which can [and should!] be read here).

After Gloria’s speech there were several sessions which ran concurrent. It was difficult to choose which one to listen to but what caught my eye was Lora Hyler’s Where Are the Women? Taking a Seat At the Board: How Women Directors Impact Company Success. Ms. Hyler detailed the positive impacts companies have seen when women are in high positions. She charted breakdowns by gender and race of who leads the world’s companies. She explained methods women can use to break into leadership groups which can resemble an old boy’s club. Hyler stressed that the key was to find ways to communicate effectively with superiors and colleagues, regardless if that communication takes place in boardrooms or on the golf course. Ms. Hyler also explained that after one woman is admitted to a board of directors it is generally easier for women to follow in her steps. Before the session was over participants shared experiences and strategies of how to grow in their careers and climb above the proverbial glass ceiling.

Speaker Chris Heeter out for a break with canine companion Tuu Weh.

Before lunch I was able to see Chris Heeter speak on a few different topics. Ms. Heeter founded The Wild Institute and has decades of experience guiding outdoor groups.  Her speech was titled You girls out here all alone? The Wild Side of Leadership. With a bittersweet chuckle she explained that she couldn’t recall how many times a solitary man had asked their group of women that silly question whether out on the trail or paddling. Chris also has a great deal of experience working with sled dogs and explained how communication between dogs and the human guiding the sled could be a useful analogy for the working world. For an immediate understanding of her perception of the leader’s role she began by explaining that with a dogsled the leader guides from an observational post behind the dogs. Chris speaks with a wisdom and exuberance that is difficult to convey in mere typed words. Both she and her canine companion Tuu Weh left an indelible impression on attendees.

Between the lunch and afternoon sessions I was in the elevator and a woman looked over to me. She leaned in while her whole face smiled and she asked,  “What do you think of the conference so far?”

Beyond asking my impression it was clear that she wanted to make sure to engage me and encourage the idea that- even though I happen to be a guy- it was okay for me to have an opinion.

“Well…” I weighed the day’s experiences up to that point… “There has been a lot of great information and valuable things I’ve heard, but most of it hasn’t been gender specific. It seems unfortunate that there exists a need to term it a Women’s Conference for this information to be disseminated from one place.”

“Exactly,” she laughed as we exited the elevator, “that’s the point! If only we could help the entire world arrive at that conclusion. We’re getting there…”

Shelby Keefe’s Farewell Celebration

The Pfister bids Shelby Keefe adieu and celebrates achievements of Keefe, Ferris and Williams

The Pfister held a farewell reception Tuesday, March 27th in honor of our 2011 Artist in Residence, Shelby Keefe.

The event had both Pfister elegance and Shelby flare. Shelby’s additions included: an interactive art piece allowing guests to paint on a shared canvas and the melodies of a barefoot guitarist. The Pfister provided the hors d’oeuvres, ceremony and free tastings of the new Mason Street Grill Private Label Cabernet.

The Cabernet unveiled that evening is Mason Street Grill’s private label Cabernet wine by Stone Throw Winery, which features Keefe’s artwork on the label. A portion of the wine’s proceeds will benefit Creative Alliance Milwaukee, a local organization whose mission is to strengthen, advance and represent the creative industries as an essential asset for growing a vibrant, attractive region.

Two Pfister narrator alumni, Julie Ferris and Stacie Williams, were also recognized and gave delightful live readings from their Pfister Narrator books. Our current Pfister Narrator, Ed Makowski, gave a live poetry reading as well. All three performances had the audience smiling, laughing or nodding in thoughtful contemplation.

For a better glimpse into the nights events watch the video.

Or check out the photo slideshow.


 

Shelby Keefe’s Final Farewell

Unfortunately for us, our Artist in Residence, Shelby Keefe, has reached the end of her fellowship with the Pfister Hotel. We have been honored to have her diligently working in the gallery all year and want to celebrate her achievements and recognize the impact she has made on all of us here at the Pfister.

Join us as we bid farewell to our Resident Artist, Shelby Keefe, with a celebration in the Rouge Ballroom.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 – 6pm

Shelby will leave behind her legacy piece which will remain in the Pfister until the end of time.   Shelby’s urban landscape painting of Wisconsin Avenue at dusk is sure to impress.  Hear Shelby describe the inspiration behind the piece and her reminiscing on her time at the Pfister.

Also noteworthy is the release of the private label Mason Street Grill Cabernet which features Shelby’s artwork.  Part of the proceeds of each bottle sold throughout the year will benefit the Creative Alliance.

Here is a preview of the label featuring Shelby’s artwork.

We will also pay homage to the past Pfister Narrators, Julie Ferris and Stacie Williams, with the release of their Narrator books.  Julie and Stacie will be on hand to chat with guests and sign their respective volumes.  Who knows, they just might guest blog about the evening!

The festivities begin at 6pm on Tuesday, March 27, 2012 with a brief presentation followed by complimentary snacks and a cash bar, live music, and a live poetry reading.
RSVPs to Amy Hansen (amyhansen@marcuscorp.com) are appreciated.

UPAF Artists Among Us – The Final Piece for UPAF

This is the final day of UPAF’s Artists Among Us 16 in 16 by Shelby Keefe. Shelby has been working very hard and creating some absolutely stunning art for these amazing art organizations around Milwaukee. Today, for the grand finale, Shelby uses UPAF itself as the center of her 16th and final piece. She wanted to paint a transfixed audience because UPAF is one of the reasons there is so many artistic performances available for our viewing pleasure. UPAF helps artists get on stage to be appreciated by all of us and Shelby wanted one piece that expressed this idea.

This is the last day of a sixteen-day project. We invite you to catch up with Shelby’s series at her studio or online.

Day 16, UPAF by pfisterhotel

UPAF Artists Among Us – Day 15 Florentine Opera Company

We are proud to announce Shelby Keefe is on Day 15 of 16. Today, buy the Florentine Opera Company is the center of Shelby’s fifteenth UPAF Artist Among Us piece.  The reason Shelby chose this image for the Florentine Opera Company is because she loved the obvious drama between the two main characters, Venus and Adonis. She says opera is about both drama and music and the combination of the two is what makes it so special.

This is day fifteen of a sixteen-day project to be completed on March 16th. We invite you to observe and follow Shelby’s creative process at her studio or online. Please check back frequently to see Shelby’s progress.

Day14, MILW ballet by pfisterhotel

UPAF Artists Among Us – Day 14 Milwaukee Ballet

We are proud to announce Shelby Keefe is on Day 14 of 16. Today, the Milwaukee Ballet is the center of Shelby’s fourteenth UPAF Artist Among Us piece. The photo from this piece was taken at one of this year’s performances of “The Nutcracker.” Shelby loved the colors from the photo, mainly the warm pink tones from the costumes and the cool blue color in the background. She said the challenge for this piece is the integrated nature of the two central dancers. They form one unit and therefore it will be difficult to distinguish who is who.

This is day fourteen of a sixteen-day project to be completed on March 16th. We invite you to observe and follow Shelby’s creative process at her studio or online. Please check back frequently to see Shelby’s progress.

Day14, MILW ballet by pfisterhotel

UPAF Artists Among Us – Day 13 Next Act Theatre

We are proud to announce Shelby Keefe is on Day 13 of 16. Today, Next Act Theatre is the center of Shelby’s thirteenth UPAF Artist Among Us piece. The photo Shelby used to paint today’s piece features a Next Act Theatre actor in a dynamic pose from a performance of “Seven Stories.” Shelby loved the off-center composition of this shot. She could tell the performance was a lot of fun because of this actor’s theatrical flare, and she wanted to capture this to represent the organization.

This is day thirteen of a sixteen-day project to be completed on March 16th. We invite you to observe and follow Shelby’s creative process at her studio or online. Please check back frequently to see Shelby’s progress.

Day 13, NEXT ACT THEATER by pfisterhotel

UPAF Artists Among Us – Day 12 Danceworks, Inc.

We are proud to announce Shelby Keefe is on Day 12 of 16. Today, clinic Danceworks, Inc. is the center of Shelby’s twelfth UPAF Artist Among Us piece. Shelby said the photo for this painting was one of the easiest to choose because of the expressions on the two central dancers faces. She said she wanted to capture the pure joy they express while ballroom dancing.

This is day twelve of a sixteen-day project to be completed on March 16th. We invite you to observe and follow Shelby’s creative process at her studio or online. Please check back frequently to see Shelby’s progress.

Day 12, DANCEWORKS by pfisterhotel

UPAF Artists Among Us – Day 11 Present Music

We are proud to announce Shelby Keefe is on Day 11 of 16. Today, rx Present Music is the center of Shelby’s eleventh UPAF Artist Among Us piece. Shelby chose a photo of Present Music musicians performing abstract pieces from a concert she attended and thoroughly enjoyed. She said this photo would be difficult to paint because of all the activity in the fore and background and was excited to take on the challenge.

This is day eleven of a sixteen-day project to be completed on March 16th. We invite you to observe and follow Shelby’s creative process at her studio or online. Please check back frequently to see Shelby’s progress.

Day 11, PRESENT MUSIC by pfisterhotel