The Pfister has received countless compliments on their Marcus Celebrated Chefs series. Many of the compliments centered around the hotel’s Executive Chef Brian Frakes. People talked about how generous he was with his knowledge and always sent them home with extra food. Guests went home energized with new ideas of how to invigorate their home cooking.
It turned out I’d met Brian briefly when I first came on as narrator. Concierge Peter Mortensen was giving me the introductory tour and we walked downstairs by the kitchen. Brian and I briefly shook hands and exchanged greetings. There were so many people and although good with faces names have never been my strong suit. We were in the kitchen but his manner was so welcoming it didn’t occur to me he could be the hotel’s chef. Most of the chefs I’ve observed in the past exude a territorial bravado (and, to be fair, it’s possible I’ve clicked the television past too many “reality” shows where the chef is always yelling about something), and Brian didn’t carry himself this way. He has a calm confidence and an “ask questions first, then respond with an informed answer,” way about him.
It’s quite possible that is why Brian’s events have translated so well. Yesterday Brian and I sat down and talked about his start in the business, his experiences in the kitchen, and how he ended up in Milwaukee as the Pfister’s Executive Chef. Listen in to give your ears a little taste of his experience and philosophy. Either click play below or download the track to listen later.
Do you remember 1964, what happened after blues and rock and roll exported across the Atlantic Ocean and came back from a stop in England? The Kinks, The Dave Clark Five, The Animals, Donovan, The Rolling Stones, and of course The Beatles. When those four lads arrived in the States there was pandemonium along every stop. Each airport was crowded with admirers. Imagine a limousine driver trying to wade through a sea of screaming high school girls. These four gentlemen had not a moment to themselves once they hit stateside. Countless young ladies tried anything just for a handshake, a wave, a photograph, or even an up close glimpse of The Beatles.
A couple nights ago I met with a woman named Chris who remembered seeing The Beatles at the Milwaukee Arena, today known as the U.S. Cellular Arena. The year was 1964 and two 5th row seats cost less than $5. Nearly 50 years later she sat down to tell me about seeing the band all those years ago. Chris also told me about the rumor which lead to her own variety of “British Invasion” following the show. Listen below to her vivid recollection of seeing the Fab Four and where she tried to find them after the concert.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Weddings are a big part of our history. From the grandest to the most intimate, each wedding has a special place here at The Pfister. That’s why we’re proud to announce our I Do: Part Deux, Wedding Photo contest.
You are cordially invited to share your Pfister wedding day memories with us for a chance to win some great prizes!
To participate, please upload your favorite wedding photo and story to our Facebook page. The couple with the best photo/story submission will win a one-night “I Do” anniversary package that includes the following:
This January’s gallery night tested the courage of every driver. The six finalists for the Pfister Hotel’s next Artist in Residence displayed their work in Gallery M at the Intercontinental. I braved the seven block walk from my Wisconsin Avenue home base and spent an evening taking in the feel of a different hotel in the Marcus family. Please help us by voting for our next resident artist on our Facebook Page. For anyone not on Facebook, you can enter your ballot in person at Gallery M, or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your selection. Below is what I was able to briefly glean about the artists and their work, feel free to click their names and see more. For larger views of any photo, click on the picture and then click the image again after the photo opens by itself. Vote early, vote often!
Hal is an architect who studied at North Dakota State University and with further study at UW-Madison. He grew up on a North Dakota farm and now lives in Bay View. Hal enjoys highlighting the juxtaposition of nature in urban environments, of which Milwaukee has an unending supply.
In Pamela’s paintings she utilizes acrylic, oil, and watercolor to represent emotion. Her work can be classified as abstract expressionism. Ms. Anderson has studied at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts and MIAD. She previously curated the Underwood Gallery in Wauwatosa. Pamela has since taken the plunge and is working as a full-time artist.
Matt’s trip from LaCrosse took 6 hours in the snow but he did make it to Milwaukee. Unfortunately I’d already taken off for the night so the following information comes from his webpage. Matt studied both Art and English at UW LaCrosse and UW Stout. His work has been shown and commissioned all over Wisconsin and Minnesota. Matt is the founder and director of Vitamin Studio, a standout in LaCrosse’s developing arts district.
Albin is an exuberant ball of energy. His works on display chronicle his attempt at becoming the Pfister’s next resident artist. Each work represents his experience and emotion throughout the process of applying all the way up to being selected as a finalist. His toolbox is not limited to paint and brushes, for example he explores with markers and sometimes even re-purposing thrift store canvasses. Albin is originally from Southern Germany but now lives in Hartland.
Brandon is a designer by trade. Web design, clothing design, footwear, tattoos, album covers. The guy keeps busy. Brandon is a graduate of MIAD. His work on display in Gallery M features paint, digital prints, found objects, drawing, and most works are encompassed within unique custom frames. He works in a collage style, which is sometimes three dimensional.
Timothy is the first artist to apply from outside of the immediate Milwaukee area. Having recently graduated from Syracuse University, Tim is looking to stretch out to new locales to further his form. Tim’s work can be most easily described as costume design. His garments are created from a combination of common fabrics (wool, for example) mingling with uncommon threads such as cassette tape. Tim discussed his work with gallery attendees while dressed in a tuxedo of his own creation.
The culinary fun isn’t over yet! Marcus Restaurants has extended its popular chef series through February 2012, cure after a successful autumn session. Each Saturday, Marcus Restaurants will host a special sequence of classes called Celebrated Chefs Winter 2012 Series. Guests will get to know some of the city’s culinary leaders, enjoy perfectly paired beverages and sample each chef’s preparations, while learning great tips. With classes limited to 18 guests, they’ll enjoy a close-up look at cooking techniques in an intimate setting.
The Winter Series will feature an array of classes from ‘The Best of Italy’ to ‘Aphrodisiacs for the Day of Love’ to ‘Cooking with Shellfish’—there really is something for everyone.
Each two-hour cooking showcase will be held at the Mason Street Grill Chef’s Counter, located adjacent to The Pfister Hotel, from 10:30am – 12:30pm. Tickets are $29/person or $49/couple. All guests will receive a $20 gift card to experience even more great eats with Marcus Restaurants. Plus, guests can extend their stay with a special overnight offer! They can upgrade their reservation to include an overnight stay in a deluxe king or deluxe double guest room at The Pfister, two tickets to the Saturday demo, and parking included, starting at $179.
For reservations, guests can call (414) 935-5942. More information on specific classes can be found at MarcusChefs.com.
This New Year’s Eve at the Pfisterwill be a celebration and a special evening full of drinks, dancing and fun. Join us as we say goodbye to 2011 and welcome 2012 with in style.
But we have to warn you; this will not be your typical New Years party. We have booked one of Milwaukee’s hottest groups, The Mr. Lucky’s Swing Syndicate. Two time winner of WAMI‘s (Wisconsin Area Music Industry) “Band of the Year.”
For details call (877) 704-5340 or (414) 935-5950. Packages start at $99 and are limited so make your reservations today!