Take your grandmother out for Afternoon Tea

Tea butler Juan Rodriguez assists patrons. Outside sun sets on the Federal Building.

Last weekend my grandma and I decided to go out for afternoon tea. I don’t believe anyone’s ever taken tea with my grandmother, aside from a bag she dropped in a mug above her stove. When my mom called to remind her, my grandma asked what she should wear for such an occasion, what is appropriate attire for tea? “We didn’t go out for tea when I was a girl. Am I supposed to wear her long white gloves? I would if I had them.” Fear not, we found that beautiful silver can be placed in front of you in an environment that isn’t stuffy.

My grandmother, Phyllis, grew up in rural North Dakota. People have asked for years why her skin looks so fantastic and she attributes this to never smoking or suntanning. Like everyone in her hometown she worked on the farm before and after school and despite the fact that all the kids worked on a farm they did their best to not look like farmers. She’d work in the field wearing a long dress or slacks (her word), a long sleeved shirt, gloves, and a big floppy hat. When Hollywood started producing suntanned movie stars the population of Minot, ND decided the west was a bunch of fools.

Our tea date happened on one of the last sunny days of autumn. I decided we should take our time and drive through the Miller Valley en route to the hotel. Somewhere near Hart Park I could feel her looking at the side of my face. After a few moments she announced, “Eddie- you’ve got white hairs in your beard. How old are you anyway?” We’ve reached ages where it’s now the younger person’s job to remember details. She’s 86 now and as a mother of 7 has recently acquired the title of great-great-grandmother.

Mary Keppeler’s harp pairs perfectly with afternoon tea.

A sidebar reason behind our afternoon date was to record my grandma recounting some of the stories our family has heard many times over. When I was offered the position of Pfister Hotel Narrator I immediately purchased the professional-grade audio recorder I’d been lusting after (Instead of replacing the clutch on the Subaru. What can I say, art uber alles) and I’m still getting acquainted with my new toy. Seemed like a perfect opportunity to record Grandma’s stories for our family archive.

No need to conclude your evening with tea. This is the Wisconsin Gas Building as seen through a glass of red. The flame changes according to the weather forecast. A blue flame means unchanging skies ahead.

After parking we rode the elevator to the 23rd floor. Straight out of the elevator my grandmother wrapped her arm inside of mine. This is not something often done by ladies of my generation. It caught my attention akin to aftershave.

My grandmother wore a lovely sequined blouse and pant combination and I had on some variety of tweed poet/1920’s iron worker juxtaposition. Once inside Blu we walked past the harpist, Mary Keppeler and sat across from the ceiling to floor windows overlooking Lake Michigan. Assistant Manager Juan Rodriguez brought over the tea cart to explain our tea options for the afternoon. Juan explained the ingredients and offered scent samples of all the teas. During his explanations we’d look at one another from time to time and grin. We’re announced simpletons when it comes to tea. Juan was patient and concise in explaining the origin and nuance of every leaf and spice and how flavors interact. Grandma went for Earl Grey and I opted for the same but with mango thrown in.

Our tea arrived and shortly after our food also arrived. Crab cakes, fresh baked scones with lemon curd and strawberry preserves, curried quail eggs, smoked salmon, herb roasted turkey. Oh, and there were just as many desserts too. Chocolate dipped strawberries, pumpkin muffins, opera torte, savory crepes.

My grandmother and I sat next to one another watching as Lake Michigan whitecaps tickled the breakwater. Cars the size of ants entered and exited 794, which was once “The Bridge to Nowhere.” Grandma told me about the tiny convertible that looked like it was smiling; the one her dad drove after all the kids were grown up. From time to time we’d raise our teacups and tilt the pot until our cup filled steaming once again. There was a table of young ladies seated with their mothers and aunts near us. My grandma told me about the aunt and uncle I’d never met, the twins whose monument she visits annually. She told me about her brother Kenny, who my brother Kenny is named after. How Kenny and my grandma and my great aunt Shirley were like the Three Musketeers. The skyscrapers began reflecting the west golden sunset. She talked about the time my uncle got sprayed by a skunk. The time her uncle was accused (Falsely, darn it all to heck!) of being a horse thief. We watched the sun fade while a woman played the harp. My grandma has the stomach of a bird, I finished both of our food trays. Suddenly the Wisconsin Gas Building’s blue light brightened the Milwaukee skyline sparkle. We kept talking and enjoying our remaining Earl Grey after the sun went to bed, even after the bartenders began pouring cocktails. She told me part of the reason she married my grandfather was because his father was such a nice man. I didn’t record any of it. Why interrupt a perfectly perfect afternoon?

Baking Up Hope This Holiday Season

Marcus Restaurants donates 500 cookies to Hope House

MILWAUKEE – December 22, 2011 – For the third year in a row, chefs from Marcus
Restaurants are helping to make this holiday season a little sweeter for those in need. This
morning, they donated 500 cookies to Hope House in Milwaukee. Hope House is an
emergency and transitional living facility serving those in need of food and shelter.
Hope House is sharing the treats with its residents and patrons of its food pantry. The
recipe for the White Chocolate Chip Chewy Gingerbread Cookies was provided by Anna
Baird-Luedke, winner of Milwaukee’s Favorite Cookie Contest, which was held by Marcus
Restaurants. For winning the contest, she will receive dinner and an overnight stay at one
of Milwaukee’s Marcus Hotels.
Marcus Restaurants Chef Brian Frakes and Pastry Chef Jennifer Carlson say their staff
sampled all of the recipes and the chewy gingerbread cookies came out on top. Frakes
says his favorite part of the contest is the chance to help others. “We took time to bake
and deliver these cookies not only because it was a really great recipe, but also because
they were going to an amazing organization,” says Frakes. “Hope House is a true
community supporter and we were honored to play a small part in helping to make the
season a little brighter for its guests.”
Marcus Restaurants would like to thank Roundy’s Supermarkets and ThirdCoast Digest
for co-sponsoring the cookie donation. For more information, please contact April Dart at
262.523.3900 ex. 29.

The Sparkling Season

Heather Kanter-Kowal

I am a geek for sparkling wines.  This is one of my very favorite seasons as there are so MANY occasions to elegantly sip Champagne and share toasts with my friends and family.  I cannot imagine a Christmas Eve dinner at my house without a few bottles of something bubbly chilling in my outdoor cellar (AKA-the snow drift on my patio), patient a Christmas morning without Mimosas and waffles, or a tiring but rewarding night at the restaurant on New Year’s Eve without toasting at midnight with my battle weary co-workers.  Here are a few of my favorite brut Champagnes and few other international sparklers that make me feel festive!

  • Krug Grand Cuvee Brut of Reims, ampoule Champagne.  As my pals at the American Club used to say, “No Krug? No thanks!” ( usually when being offered anything else bubbly).  If a budget is of no concern to you, this is the real deal.  This is the bottle for when you really have something fabulous to celebrate!  The Grand Cuvee is made from all three permitted grapes of the Champagne region, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, but is predominately based on crazy good Chardonnay.  This is a more full bodied and bold style of Champagne that screams for osetra caviar.
  • Heidsieck & Co. Monopole “Blue Top” Brut of Epernay, Champagne.  I recently tasted this again for the first time in years at the sparkling wine event that we hosted at Mason Street Grill on Monday night.  Really impressed with the depth and quality of this wine!  Buttery, toasty, with baked bread, pear and apricot notes with hint of smokiness.  Pinot Noir is the dominant grape in this cuvee.  A dash easier to locate than Krug, and a great deal more affordable.
  • Argyle Brut of Willamette Valley, Oregon.  Made from classic Champagne region grapes using classic Champagne production methods, this is a fun number from here in the States.  Their entry level brut is bright and racy with flavors of apple, lemon, and more of that baked bread nose.  Delightful and crisp, yet again, more budget friendly.  If you want to try something really special, track down their “Extended Tirage”, and taste it side by side with your favorite vintage Champagne.  Prepare to be shocked.
  • “Naked on Roller Skates” by Some Young Punks of South Australia.  I wonder sometimes if that name were in French if it would still seem as naughty… This bubbly is made from Shiraz and Mataro grapes.  Yes, this can happen.  No, this is not a sweet wine.  It has a darker reddish/pinkish color than you may imagine, and is dry yet balanced with flavors of red berries, spices and dark fruits.   Bring this to a party as a hostess gift, I dare you.  Your bottle will be an unwitting topic of conversation ALL NIGHT.

Cheers!

Heather Kanter-Kowal

The Good Life in Blu (is a cocktail too)

Patrons enjoy Afternoon Tea on a Friday near dusk. Your table waits in the foreground...

Last night I was able to listen to a concert with pianist Dr. Jeffrey Hollander. The good doctor plays every first Thursday of the month on the 23rd floor at Blu, the cocktail lounge which looks east over Lake Michigan. Patrons sat at tables which radiated from the piano. Couples sat close to one another in a piano-dangled warm quiet until the last few songs, at which point I began looking for a singer who appeared to my ears from of the middle of nowhere. I looked around the room to find someone now accompanying the piano. I then realized there wasn’t a singer who was sharing the floor with Jeffrey. The entire room had joined in song for the last few numbers in a way that happens often in black and white movies but rarely in color ones.

While listening to the concert I ended up speaking with a gentleman named Bill. Evidenced, I suppose, by his being seated next to me, Bill remarked that he preferred to enjoy a *ding-time* 6pm workday whistle cocktail in Blu. I asked where he was in town from and he chuckled that he worked a few blocks away and this was his nightly cool-down. No traveler was Bill at the moment, this was his customary place to relax once the office turned dim before heading home.

Prior to this position I’d never considered spending time in a hotel in my city (or any other city for that matter). I traveled for business when I was younger and that traveling amounted to seeing an airport, freeway, hotel, and identically designed retail location. Wash, rinse, repeat the process for 55-70 hours per week for a few years. The corporation who employed me had a very cost-conscious mindset so many of the hotels (er…often motels) I slept at were not the type of place one felt incredibly welcomed. After the first few trips I didn’t bother to pack a swimsuit and brought a book to read instead of assuming there might be cable television. The definition I’d learned a hotel to be was a bed and shower acting as the peanut butter and jelly sandwiched between 13 hour workdays.

Mary Keppeler's harp accompanies Friday Afternoon Tea

I thought about the hotels I’d stayed at for business and they were never like this. Sitting in one’s room with a book felt like being sequestered in a hospital room. I’d walk downstairs to the lobby and they might have a couch but not the type of couch you’d ever sit on because you wanted to. The type of a couch you’d only sit on only if you were stuck waiting. I’d walk across the street, or a few blocks away, or to the other end of the strip mall where there was a chain restaurant and the meal tasted boringly identical to the meal they’d serve in Birmingham, or Seattle, or Hoboken. I’d try to strike up a conversation with the staff or neighboring patron but all of the 14 sports games on 72 televisions commanded the room’s entire attention. The staff seemed confused as to why you would want to engage them in conversation. They had no idea I’d come from Milwaukee to Brick Town, NJ, for four days and wanted to ask about their town. Aside from that, I’m a human and we’re social animals.

There are many reasons to like this bar: calming ambience, incredible view, the free concerts. But all that aside Bill said it was the people who attracted him to Blu. Both the clientele and the staff. The bartenders are social and their conversation stretches far beyond the weather. If there’s a game you’d like to watch they’ll turn on the TV but it’s not the mouth-gape focus of all the room’s energy. Neighboring patrons don’t find it strange when you ask how their day went, or if there’s a museum in walking distance, or what book you’re reading at the moment.

The Good Life at Blu is all a-glitter once the sun goes down.

The funny thing is I started this blog post to write about the cocktail I had in Blu. The drink is called The Good Life. It’s an exquisitely simple combination of fresh lime, cucumber, mint, raw suger, and Veev Acai Berry Liquor. The sipper tastes every flavor all at once in an even, balanced manner. None of the flavors shout for your attention in a way that would seem obnoxious or out of place. Jason, the vested and Windsor knot necktied bartender, suggested I try this as my invitation to the drink menu. Then I had another one, which I suppose that’s the ultimate endorsement. But that cocktail is just one detail, seemingly unimportant by comparison, to the candlelight speckled chandelier city glow surrounding the miles around me.

This really is a preferable way to travel- even if you’re just a tourist in your own town. Bill is right. The drinks are well-poured, yes, the food is as advertised and requested, he says this and shrugs. Those are all great but it’s the people and the experience which resonate in one’s memory. It’s Milwaukee, you can have a drink nearly anywhere. Where else can one relax while the golden coast touching Lake Michigan gradually turns to a shimmering tapestry and the bartender asks if you’d like your usual? It’s that intangible combination of service, location, and amenities which combines to create this brilliant ambience.

I was about to click the Publish button on this blog entry but then there was a sudden bit of “ooohs” and “aaahhhhs” and brief applause which distracted me from the current task. I asked the bartender what had happened. Jason leaned in and explained that a man three tables over asked the woman sitting to his right if she’d marry him. I look over and the woman’s head is on the man’s shoulder. Her fingers take turns tracing the lashes underneath her eyes. She’s giggling and sniffling all at once. How can I write about just a cocktail?

A Great Milwaukee’s Favorite Cookie Contest Entry

Here at the Pfister, we love a great story. When we received this great story from Jill Drury who entered our Marcus Resturant’s Milwaukee’s Best Cookie Contest.

Nothing says tradition like a grandma passing great recipes, techniques, and a few special secrets to the next generation. Great story Jill, thanks for sharing…

It was a crisp Fall afternoon and I had just gotten home from another rough day of first grade. I sat down in my bedroom, unzipped my backpack, and pulled out my homework. Just as I was about to open up my math book, the smell of fresh baked goods vented into my room and drew me to the kitchen. Unnoticed, I watched my Grandma from the hallway. She rolled cookie dough with her hands, filled up a cookie sheet with perfectly round circles, and paced around the oven listening to the oven timer click away. When the bell went off and she went to retrieve her batch, I slowly crept into the kitchen on my tiptoes. Very quietly, I slid under the table with the bowl of remaining cookie dough in my hands. Just as I was about to feast on dough, I looked up and could see my Grandma’s feet in front of me. She was standing over me. Just as I tried to creep away in the other direction, she reached down, grabbed the bowl from my hands, pulled me up, and told me that if I wanted a cookie, I had to bake one!

Living with my Grandma motivated me at an early age to cook, bake and eat everything on my plate. Baking easily became a bond that we shared. Besides having fun in the kitchen, my Grandma was a great teacher and if anything,
she always had a recipe that would cure my killer sweet tooth!

Making holiday cookies became a favorite tradition of ours. After all, it was the only way she could stop me from eating half the dough!

Everyone in my family had their favorite. From sugar to ginger to good old-fashioned chocolate chip, every cookie was promised and delivered on time for the holiday season. No one had to worry that their favorite wouldn’t be waiting for them on the famous cookie platter.

Unfortunately, for the longest time I had a problem finding my favorite. I liked them all but I never loved or craved a single one. Until one day when my Grandma started having me mix my favorite flavors: chocolate and orange. We came up with a unique cookie that I can now call my favorite every holiday season.

I thank my Grandma for her patience with me in the kitchen. Without her, I’d still be eating dough! And…everyone else’s’ favorite cookie.

– By Jill Drury, Guest Blogger for The Pfister Hotel 

Valencia Delights

Cookie 



  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup butter
  • Softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange peel

 

Glaze


  • 6-oz pkg. (1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • Heat oven to 375.

In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; blend well. Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off.

Stir in flour, baking powder, salt and orange 
peel. Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Flatten with bottom of glass dipped in sugar to 1/8 to
1/4-inch thickness. Bake at 375 for 6-8 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.

Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets. In small saucepan over low heat, combine glaze ingredients, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from heat.

Pour glaze into glass measuring cup; set in pan of hot water.

Dip ½ of each cookie into glaze; shake off excess chocolate. Place dipped cookies on waxed paper-lined cookie sheets. Chill until glaze is set, about 10 minutes.

Makes about 6 Dozen cookies.

Don’t forget to submit your submission to Marcus Hotels Milwaukee’s Favorite Cookie Contest. The winning baker will be chosen by culinary experts from Marcus Restaurants and will receive a special overnight stay and dinner for two at The Pfister, InterContinental Milwaukee or Hilton Milwaukee City Center. Plus, the winning cookie will be baked by Marcus culinary and donated to Hope House on December 22, 2011.

HURRY! THE DEADLINE TO ENTER IS SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2011. 

What’s your favorite story about your grandmother? Please share it below. We’d love to hear it.

Your City Through Visiting Eyes- “Absolutely Gobsmacked!”

 

The other night I was sitting in the lobby lounge editing photographs on my computer. Something a bar patron said caught my ear and made me laugh. I don’t remember what exactly he said, but the gentleman’s tone and volume invited anybody within earshot to join. Hearing my chuckle he turned around, delighted that another was entertained by his observation. As he approached my table with a glass of beer in hand I closed the screen on my laptop and returned the machine to it’s case.

See that white whale tail in the distance? It's a piece of artwork masquerading as a museum.

Wayne was this fellow’s name and he was in Milwaukee for a very brief stay. Wayne is the director of a company called SMAC Technologies and they’re located just outside of Adelaide, South Australia. SMAC is an acronym for Shaw Method of Air Conditioning. Wayne’s company recently won the Australian Clean Technologies Ideas Competition and he was in the U.S. to spread word of his company’s innovative take on the cooling process. As you might guess air conditioning in Australia isn’t a mere creature comfort; when living there it’s something closer to necessity. Imagine grandparents retiring to Florida without air conditioning. Not likely.

Straightaway Wayne told me he was “absolutely gobsmacked” with Milwaukee. Throughout our conversation it amazed me the sort of reverence Wayne had for the opportunity to visit our part of the world. He remarked, “With Johnson Controls in Milwaukee, Honeywell in Minneapolis, Carrier a bit farther in Syracuse, it’s very exciting for me to visit what can be considered the birthplace of my field of study.” I’d never quite thought about our region that way, that far back. I suppose the Midwest was a vital epicenter of the industrial revolution. One’s definition of hometown is specific to their experience. Milwaukee’s always been where I’m from and to hear someone so impressed made me think more critically about the prominence of this city.

My new acquaintance told me that he’d walked five blocks east on Wisconsin Avenue to see the moving sculpture we call an art museum. Strolled his feet in the sand on the public shores of Lake Michigan, the 5th largest body of fresh water in the world. Came back and sat at a bar sampling beer that was brewed within walking distance. He then traveled in an elevator and slept in history’s first building to feature individualized temperature controls in each room. Ensconced in indigenous Cream City Brick. Absolutely gobsmacked indeed.

I suppose living in the same place for a long time can be like marriage. You wake up in the morning and consider your sleeping wife’s adorable curl above her right temple. You go about the morning routine and while in the shower think of how the relationship has evolved but you still love those dimples on the small of her back and admire her stubbornness (most of the time). After toweling off you walk down the hallway to mention her haircut, but her words arrive first. She asks how one of the kids is getting home from soccer practice. In your mind you envision the soccer schedule and forget about her hair, her dimples, her cleft chin. Her calf muscles’ perfect taper toward the ankle. You imagine sitting in the car while driving to soccer practice. That car should have the transmission fluid changed. Before winter. Better buy a snow shovel by December, the old favorite’s blade is too curled to be of use any longer (but shall remain lovingly displayed in corner of the garage). Do the gutters need to be cleaned of autumn leaves before snow and ice? We have to remember to go ice skating at Brown Deer Park this winter… “Oh, yes, sure I can pick them up from soccer.”

I was born in Milwaukee, my parents too. My dad graduated from Granville High School, my mom Brown Deer. Same school, but the town’s name had been changed from Granville to Brown Deer. Brown Deer Park is one of 9 public golf courses in Milwaukee. At nearly 750 square feet per person our city ranks 8th for park acreage in the United States. Lake Michigan is free, public, and welcoming your presence. Olympians train at the Pettit. We host the world’s largest music festival. We offered electric temperature control to the world.  We invented the typewriter and consequently the QWERTY keyboard. From a list of 30, Milwaukee claims 3 of the country’s top restaurants. Wayne is right, there are no shortage of reasons to be absolutely gobsmacked with Milwaukee, regardless if you call it home.

I suggest spending some time at the lakefront- because you can, because it’s yours. It’s even more lovely in winter. Or visit a new park you’ve yet to see. There are 136 in Milwaukee.  And go tell your spouse something. The something only you know.

2011 Pfister Tree Lighting Ceremony

We kicked off the holiday season with our annual tree lighting ceremony on Friday, Nov. 25th.

This year’s event featured cupcake and cookie decorating, complimentary holiday drinks and much more. And as always, Santa and Ms. Claus made a special appearance.

Thanks to everyone who came out. It’s one of our favorite events of the year.

Holiday Season Begins

Last year I took a seasonal job selling Christmas trees in Florida. Why Christmas trees? Why Florida? Because it’s seasonal and the job is over soon. It’s nice to spend a month in the warmth. They paid for my travel, a house we shared on the beach, and all my meals while in the FLA. There exist customers who are glad to pay healthy prices to take their time selecting a special tree. They also enjoy that healthy Wisconsin farm boys, for a fee, deliver their chosen tree to their house and set it up. (Wherever, however, turn left, keep going, keep going, YES! No, back a little. Yeah, yeah, that’s it. What do you think honey, is it crooked now? Maybe a little farther…)

My employer in the Christmas tree trade was a gentleman I met briefly before he excused himself to answer a telephone call. I went back to my eggs and speaking with the person seated on my other side. We were all grabbing breakfast at a restaurant with a counter, “counter culture” as my poet friend Louisa Loveridge Gallas likes to say. The guy walked back in from his phone call to announce one of the most preposterous things I’ve ever heard come out of a person’s mouth, “Well, one of our guys hurt his back and can’t come sell Christmas trees in Florida this year.” He started querying healthy young men in earshot. “Frank; Ed- any of you guys want to, um, come sell Christmas trees in Clearwater?” It sounded too strange to be fictional, so of course I jumped at the chance. Working as a poet/bartender/artist it’s nice to do some real physical work every now and then. We opened up our enormous tent on Thanksgiving and it was the first time in my life someone said to me, “Happy Thanksgiving!” on a 70+ degree day. I’d probably be in Florida right now if I hadn’t landed this fantastical job titled Narrator.

Accompany of Kids serenades our guests from stairs leading to the second floor.

I wonder what my dad would say if he could hear me tell him about the duties of the Narrator. My tool and tie maker father was the king of 60 hour work weeks before retiring earlier than he would have liked. “Let me get this straight…your job is to hang out and talk to people and write about it? Where’s the work in that?” Don’t worry dad, I’m still working a couple other jobs, it’s not all hanging out and glasses of water, room for cream in my coffee, shooting the breeze…

Yesterday was the Black Friday dreaded by folks in retail. Personally, I didn’t step foot in a store. We joined all the families who came to the hotel to participate in celebrating the tree lighting ceremony. To quote an Australian gentleman I met here last week the event had me, “Absolutely Gobsmacked!” Milwaukee area families and visiting guests enjoyed complimentary champagne, egg nog, build your own cookies and cupcakes for the kids (ok– adults too, I confess). Accompany of Kids was on-hand to serenade all with holiday songs. To top it all off the Milwaukee Fire Department safely escorted Santa and Ms. Claus for a meet and greet with small a city of excited children.

Grrr, baby. Very grrrrrrr. Even our cats dress up in their seasonal best.

As I look at this lovely holiday display in the lobby, which I did not deliver or set up, there are Milwaukee area families dressed in their best to come downtown and share laughs and pictures with people they may not have seen since a tree stood this time last year. It’s Saturday now and it’s no longer a chorus, rather, Lou Cucunato is playing piano next to the marble sculpture of Guido Pfister. Last year this time I had work selling and delivering Fraser, Douglas, and Noble fir trees after meeting a guy at the local breakfast counter. This winter my “work” is lounging with a tree in my periphery while speaking with guests enjoying a cocktail or a meal at the counter. The piano player just got done with Sway by Dean Martin. People often say the holidays are stressful. I suppose. But why focus on that? Now Louie’s piano is on to My Way by Sinatra. Good. I’ll keep in line with the man. To quote a letter from Frank, “Loosen up. Swing, man. Dust off those gossamer wings and fly yourself to the moon of your choice…”

Generations of Serendipity Swirl Through the Pfister

It’s not every day a person informs you the place you work probably had a hand in their family escaping the Holocaust.

This past weekend the Pfister was blessed to host the wedding of Mr. Wiley Norden and Ms. Marissa Mullen. Marissa recently followed her career to Chicago but left her heart in Milwaukee. With the man willing she decided not only to marry in Milwaukee but wanted their big day to contain components specific to the city. Area beer, wines, and cheeses were par for their course and Marissa wanted them to be encompassed within a prominent Milwaukee landmark. When looking at potential locations the Pfister surfaced as a viable option and once dates were nailed down schedules meshed. But Marissa had yet to discover the deep connection her family had with the Pfister Hotel.

The postcard Marissa's great-grandfather sent home in 1938. The Mason Street tower behind the 1893 structure wasn't added until the 1960's.

In the interim Marissa’s mother, Sharon, inherited a treasure trove of family letters and correspondence, some of which were sent to and from the “Old Country.” In their case Sharon’s family were German speakers native to Czechoslovakia. Sharon has yet to learn German so the text itself didn’t tell much of a story. Except, however, one postcard contained an old photograph of the Pfister Hotel, dated 1938. This immediately piqued Sharon’s curiosity, given that her daughter had decided to hold her wedding at the Pfister.

Sharon’s grandfather, Ernest Prager, (therefore the bride’s great-grandfather) owned a wool coat and glove lining company in Czechoslovakia and in the 1930’s began branching the family business beyond Europe. No one is certain why he was in Milwaukee but at the time Milwaukee created more leather garments than anywhere else in the world. It’s likely Mr. Prager was meeting with the Pfister and Vogel Tanning Company to discuss business and stayed in Charles Pfister’s flagship hotel.

As history has revealed the 1930’s in Europe was shaping up to be a bad time and place for those of Jewish heritage to continue to safely raise their families. Mr. Prager could foresee the political winds and started looking for a place to relocate his family. Ernest came to the United States to establish business contacts and begin the process of gradually moving his family to the States. They ended up moving to Gloversville in Upstate New York, and, yes, the town’s name is quite literal. The Prager family moved to where there was an ample supply of gloves requiring imported leather, which became Ernest’s new line of business.

Charles Prager, son of Ernest and Valerie, met his wife Harriet in Gloversville. After marrying in 1947 the couple moved to Milwaukee where they gave birth to three lovely daughters; Sharon (Marissa’s mother), Renee, and Diane. No one quite knows whether Charles realized his father had spent time in our city.

The Pfister of 2011, complete with the rear tower and parking structure installed in the 1960's. The Milwaukee Club sits across Jefferson and behind the photographer is the Federal Building.

So…fast forward to 2011. Ernest Prager’s great-grand daughter Marissa meets Wiley. Wiley is an absolutely suitable suitor and the two decide to marry. Wiley and Marissa choose the Pfister Hotel for the place to invite their families to join together. But they make the decision without being aware that her great-grandfather stayed here decades previous to moving to the U.S. while beginning the process toward citizenship.

Before I get too mired in kismet let me say Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

L’Chaim!

Thanks to Wiley Norden and Marissa Mullen for allowing us to share in their special day and to Sharon Mullen for telling us her family’s connection with the Grand Dame of the West. Please give a listen on the player below to hear Sharon Mullen tell her family’s story.

 

Serendipity swirls around the Pfister by Ed Makowski

The Pfister’s Annual Tree Lighting Event

We will kick off the holiday season with our annual tree lighting ceremony on Friday, treatment Nov. 25, 2011, from 5 – 6:30 pm.

Our tree lighting ceremony is a magical experience for the whole family. This year’s event will include cupcake decorating, decease complimentary holiday treats and much more. While the actual tree lighting will take place at 5:30pm, additional activities will extend to 6:30pm.

Parents are invited to bring their cameras, as Santa will be making an appearance for photo opportunities. Guests will be encouraged to write down their holiday wishes and drop them in a special wish mailbox that will be presented to Santa at the end of the evening. Additionally, Accompany of Kids, a non-profit group made up of gifted singers and dancers, will be performing throughout the event.

While the event and parking is complimentary to visitors and guests, we will be collecting food for Hunger Task Force to distribute to those in need within the local community. Guests are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items for donation to the event.

Hope to see you all there.

Photo by Christine Butt