Math Guy

What the heck am I doing at the 23rd floor bar as a solo woman in her 20’s with no intention to drink anything stronger than tonic water?  It’s 10 p.m., check all lights are mostly out, the voices are quiet, ice clinks.  I am sober as a bar of soap and about to sit on a bar stool next to two strange men.  Both are old enough to be my father so I decide to ask them about their lives.  Recently someone informed me that asking a person about their life is a task more intimate than even hitting on them.

I pull out my notebook and start collecting the tidbits.  Andy, the more talkative one describes his own city as “A rathole.”  Alright, I envision a large burrowing variety rat.

The guy sitting with Andy also has a name and comes from a city other than Milwaukee.  He has a face too, but he asks me not to take it with my camera because he claims he used to work for the central intelligence agency.  I’m just going to call this person “Math Guy” so that I don’t cause any trouble here.   As I sip my carbonated water, Math Guy informs me that he has been to “over 80,000 different bars” in his life.  He repeats this several times so it must be fact.  Andy guesses that 80,000 bars means Math Guy goes to three each week.  Math Guy adds defensively, “That number includes restaurant bars!”

80,000.  He just figured it out one day.  Just like that?  I ask him what prompted him to count.  Math Guy takes a long pause and wears a wearied look, “I’m a weird person.  A very mathematical person, but I’m not as good as I used to be.  When I was younger I any time I entered any room I would immediately be able to tell you how many people are in the room and how many are women and how many are men.”  Math Guy stands up dramatically and mutters, “Right now there are 24 people in this room,” before disappearing for the bathroom.

When he returns Math Guy starts asking me about my life like he wants to change the subject.  I don’t want to change the subject and soon Math Guy admits that if he hears six people recite their phone numbers the next day he will be able to accurately remember each person by their phone number and not their name.  He’s bad with names.  Math Guy says being so mathematical has caused him great suffering.  He says this slowly and with great hesitation.  I don’t ask about the suffering.

Instead, I go home and tell my dad (another math passionate guy) about Math Guy’s 80,000 bars.  My dad whips out a calculator and says, “If he is my age and he started going to bars at the legal drinking age, that’s 4.325 bars a day.  That would mean some some days he goes to four, and some days he goes to five.  All different bars?  I don’t believe him!”

From facelifts to world peace: What Pfister guests want for the holidays

A couple of nights ago, I went to the Pfister’s Lobby Bar and Blu and randomly asked visitors and guests what they wanted for the holidays.

“You know, if I were Santa or Oprah and the sky was the limit,” I said.

I was surprised, amused and touched by peoples’ responses to my question. Here is what they said. I may have omitted a couple that weren’t, ahem, appropriate.

Aimee: “I want to get my neck done. A mini facelift. Just the bottom half. It takes this and all this gunk out (touches area below chin and on neck.)”

Julie: “An extended holiday. Europe would be nice. When you work, a week off at a time is not enough. Maybe a pair of Jimmy Choos or two.”

Jennifer: “No more student loans for my husband and me.”

Lisa: “I would love it if the Property Brothers from HGTV came to my house and redid my kitchen and bathroom. Six-foot-five, hot twins come and knock out the work? Merry Christmas to me.”

Lori: “Just please make my family well.”

Bob and Gretchen: “We want our kids to be happy. We moved here from Virginia in September and they aren’t liking it. So we don’t want anything for Christmas except for our kids to be happy. Otherwise we are going to kill ourselves.”

Pat: “A brand new Jaguar. It has to have the hood ornament, though.”

Peter: “Honestly, it’s very morose, but I just want my friends alive again. In the last six years I’ve had so many family and friends die. I’m almost afraid of the holidays because of the visits and phone calls I can’t make. I’m sorry I can’t say something like Tickle Me Elmo. Also, I would like more people to be excited about live theater. If you see a good performance, it changes you as a human being. What greater gift could you give yourself or another person?”

Pfister Lion: “I would like people to stop climbing on me. And maybe Chef Frakes could whip me up a nice, rare steak.”

Jeff: “I would like 80 degree weather on a beach. I don’t like winter. Sorry.”

Trish: “I would like Hillary Clinton to be the next president. And for people to stop sweating the small stuff.”

Linda: “A really good bottle of Pinot Noir.”

Bonnie: “World Peace.” (Someone had to say it.)

Jason: “To graduate college. I switched majors twice, took a year off, so it’s been a long time – on top of working 40 hours a week. You get a little burned out.”

Beth: “A new phone. I just lost my iPhone in the snow. My purse strap broke and the phone fell out. I would also like the pilot for Harley Davidson to drop me off in a helicopter on the ski mountain at Banff in Alberta, Canada.”

Chris: “Being with family and friends. There’s nothing I need that’s material. Love. That’s really all I desire.”

Timothy: “I’m getting everything I want for the holidays. My parents are flying me home and I get to be at home for the holidays. It’s not even about Christmas, it’s about New Years, standing in a snow bank around a campfire in our little town square with the other 60 people who live there. They ball up a string of lights and actually have a ball drop. It’s hilarious.”

John: “I like cooking – so appliances and things of that nature. I’m in the market for a new blender. And gifts of food are great, too. My sister made our grandmother’s recipe for meatballs and put them in jars. Then she got baskets from the Dollar Store or Goodwill and filled them with the jars, noodles and a half of a loaf of bread. It was a present that everyone was talking about it. I guess I inherited my grandfather’s trait of wanting practical gifts.”

Minnesotans, motorcycles and the Mall of America

A few years ago, sale I went to the Mall of America in Minnesota for the first time. I was surprised to see a kiosk featuring shirts that read “friends don’t let friends drive to Wisconsin” and merchandise embossed with other playful-but-rivalrous messages.

I turned to my partner, advice who is from Minnesota. “Minnesota doesn’t like Wisconsin?!”

I had no idea. I was aware of the peculiar tensions between Milwaukee and Chicago, but never once in my lifetime as a Cheesehead was I aware of any beefs our neighbor to the West had with Wisco.

Luckily, purchase Kelly and Adam, who are from a suburb north of St. Paul (and not fans of the Mall of America), don’t have bad feelings about our state. In fact, they own a cabin in northern Wisconsin – where they occasionally receive flack for being Vikings’ supporters – and they chose Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel as the place to celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary.

Adam has been to Milwaukee about 30 times for business, but it’s Kelly’s first visit.

“And this is our first visit to the Pfister,” says Adam. “I like the old school charm, the lobby. It’s nice to be Downtown.”

They are celebrating their last night with a pre-dinner cocktail at Blu. I cannot help myself and ask the cliche question that’s forced upon all long-time married people.

“What’s the secret to a long marriage?” I ask. (I really am curious. And divorced.)

“Go to Milwaukee every 22 years?” Adam says, chuckling. “I really don’t know. My parents have been married for 60 years.”

The couple spent three days in Milwaukee, and enjoyed the Lakefront Brewery Tour (a must for micro-brew lovers) and had a fun and meaningful experience at the Harley-Davidson Museum.

“My dad, aunt, uncle, aunt and various people in my life always rode motorcycles,” says Kelly.

The museum reminded Adam of his extraordinary grandmother, who passed away in 1945.

“I have this photo of her on a motorcycle in 1930 when motorcycles were, like, only 25 years old,” he says. “It was a ‘bad boy’ thing in the 30s, but there she is: my grandma wearing the goggles and the helmet.”

Kelly goes on to talk more about Adam’s grandmother.

“She married a man she wasn’t supposed to marry and they had four kids. Then he died of tuburculosis and she was raising the kids by herself during the Depression.”

To support her children, Adam’s grandma got a job at the bus station, where soon after she was hit by a bus and killed. Adam’s mother and her three siblings were orphaned.

“That’s one of the only photos ever taken of her,” he says. “As soon as we get home we need to find that photo.”

Adam, who rides a scooter, has endured a broken nose, broken ankle, stitches and many cuts and bruises during his 42 years as a hockey player. He is also the hockey coach of the team his 10-year-old daughter plays on, a daughter who also played tackle football.

“Sounds like you and your daughter got some of your grandma’s feistiness,” I say.

Later, I think again about those silly T-shirts at the Mall of America and it occurs to me that Milwaukee’s motorcycle history connected some Minnesotans with a piece of their own family history.

Maybe friends should let friends drive to Wisconsin, as long as they’re on Harley Davidsons?

Love is in the Air

Although it’s still one week from Valentine’s Day, there is love in air at the Pfister Hotel tonight. Romantic love, Milwaukee love, Latin music love.

“Guajira,” scrape, boom, swoosh, “Guajira,” scrape, boom, swoosh…It’s the type of sound that crawls under your skin and tickles until you dance. Two people are wildly gyrating in front of the window at Blu about four counts faster than the music. It looks like an African tribal dance of sorts.  They are the only people dancing in the room, but they couldn’t care less. It’s hard not to notice her, wearing a red shirt and her braid whipping slices through the heavy conversation in the air. He’s wearing a sweater vest and thick-rimmed glasses. His movements are stiff and jerky, but his chin stays up as he concentrates on repeating the same footsteps.

A woman courteously invites me to share her corner of the room as we remain innocent bystanders to their unabashed spectacle and soak in the energy radiating from the room. We agree that it’s a crime if you’re a local and you don’t know about this great place. We both also agree that De la Buena is a fantastic band, even paired down to a quartet. She introduced herself as Bonnie Schafer. Her husband John returned to their table and they nibbled on a brightly-colored assortment of cheese cubes as we continued to gush about all the different things we love about Milwaukee – live music, Blu and views of the lake top the list. As more and more guests trickle in from the Heart Ball (more on that later this week) I decided to relinquish my coveted spot near the band and head downstairs.

At the lobby bar, I found Ted and Victoria unwinding in the company of two Kettle One martinis, straight up. A single olive floated in their glasses like a buoy.

They excitedly greeted Ellie, the cocktail waitress, a familiar face. “How long have you been working here?” asked Victoria. “32 years,” proudly replied Ellie. “That’s about as long as I’ve been coming here,” admitted Ted.

Cecil Negro Jr. of De la Buena
Cecil Negro Jr. of De la Buena

Ted went to Marquette University from 1964-1969. He visited the Pfister Hotel for the first time when his parents were dropping him off at school and it quickly became a family favorite. “They continued to stay here every time they came to Milwaukee to visit me,” he said. Now living in Chicago, Ted and his wife Victoria make it a Valentine’s Day tradition to stay at Pfister Hotel. “I know it’s a little early, but we wanted to come in for the Marquette basketball game today,” says Victoria. “We like to make it back a few times a year for the summer festivals or to cheer on Marquette.”

I urged them to head upstairs and hear De La Buena. Victoria’s ears perked up like a bunny when I said Latin music. “Will there be dancing? she asked “I do ballroom and Salsa dance.”

“You will not be the only ones dancing,” I promised. “And if you know ballroom, you’re two steps ahead of the rest.”

 

A Voice Like Velvet

Close your eyes and you’ll swear Frank Sinatra is singing. Open them and take in the view. Up at Blu, it feels like I’m in a different city tonight, it feels like the Windy City.

I collided with Myles in the elevator  and I recognized him  (strangely enough) from the main stage at Homestead High School. He hasn’t changed much. Even back then, it was obvious that he was at home on the stage and behind the mic.

Tonight, he’s perched on a high stool in a tight configuration with a piano, bass and cymbals. He cradles the vintage silver slatted mic like precious cargo. Myles sings classic jazz and Christmas songs. His velvety voice is as smooth and warm as the whiskey pours being served at the bar. Blu was overflowing with people – strangers shared tables just to to stay and hear him sing.

Myles Hayes
Myles Hayes

During his break, we shared a cocktail at the bar and the took me through the abbreviated version of the past 15 years and I did the same. “I didn’t know I could sing jazz until a few years ago,” Myles admits, “But I was born to be a crooner baby!”

Myles comes to Milwaukee with his trio, aptly called the Myles Hayes Trio,  once a month from Chicago to sing at Blu. He has regular gigs five nights a week in Chicago and he also works in a photo studio during the week. He’s extroverted and charming, embodying the laid-back attitude of his predecessors in the Rat Pack. Had Myles been alive back then, he surely would have fit right in.

 

Tea for Two, at Blu

Sipping tea while overlooking the city on a clear day is a good day to be at Blu. I spotted a pair of dapper hats sitting in front of an impressive spread of tiered silver trays with scones, cookies, sandwiches and cakes displayed like a trophy.

Go figure – Gail, from Lake Mills, is a hat maker by trade. A cluster of beads, greenery and lace adorned her camel wool hat and an interesting smattering of necklaces tangled around her neck.

Tracy and Gail

Tracy donned the classic charcoal newsboy and thick black frames, looking professor-like in his wool blazer.

“So how’s the tea?” I ask.

“Oh well do you really want to know, because I love tea and I’ve had tea all over the world,” replies Gail.

I brace myself for her assessment. She points out her favorite treats: “This one right here, this scone – it’s like God!”

Gail gives the Pfister’s tea service a 99 percent. She docks it one point only out of respect to her guest Tracy, who doesn’t like cream cheese (which really is a staple in tea sandwiches, she understands). Her only other critique was that the tea butler should actually be called the tea sommelier because it is more accurate and proper.

So naturally, my next question is, “Where is the best tea you’ve ever had?”

“Oh I don’t know, no one has ever asked that,” she reveals (which surprises me) “I’d say the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills or the Hyatt Taipei. I got to sit beside Morgan Freeman and his mother in Beverly Hills and that was really neat.”

Afternoon tea at Blu is available Friday-Sunday and by reservation only.  Call (414) 935-5950 to reserve your spot.

 

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?

Celebrity BLUtender – Jason Wilde [VIDEO]

GreenBay Packer beat writer and ESPN 540 radio personality Jason Wilde stepped behind the bar at Blu to become our inaugural Celebrity BLUtender. After a quick training, from BLU manager Adam Jones, Jason was turned loose to sling drinks to the crowd at BLU and took to it like a pro. His hard work and efforts behind the bar helped raise money for the MACC Fund.

Now it’s your turn. Nominate, delegate or simply embarrass your coworkers, boss, birthday girl–or anyone for that matter–to be a Celebrity BLUtender!

They’ll jump behind the bar for a quick tutorial in the fine art of bartending. Then watch as they display their skills and serve drinks for you and your friends for the next hour.

But the Celebrity BLUtender will not go home empty handed. To reward their hard work and effort, each Celebrity BLUtender will receive $25 bar tab and a plaque to commemorate the experience!

CELEBRITY BLUTENDER

WEDNESDAY NIGHTS IN BLU, 5PM – 6PM

To Nominate a Celebrity BLUtender, contact Adam Jones at AdamJones@thePfisterHotel.com.

10 Years of Blu Anniversary Party

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the 10 year anniversary Party of Blu. We hope you had as much fun as we had.

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Experience live, prostate acoutiscal music every Saturday from 8pm – Midnight beginning this weekend. Here is the schedule of artists.

Saturday, Oct 16                                     Ethan Keller

Saturday, Oct 23                                     Blonde on Blonde

Saturday, Oct 30                                     Colin O’Brien

Saturday, Nov 6                                       Litmus Vinyl

Saturday, Nov 13                                     Greg Flattery

Saturday, Nov 20                                     Ryan McIntyre

Saturday, Nov 27                                     Evan Christian

Saturday, Dec 4                                       Chris Demay

Saturday, Dec 11                                      The WhiskeyBells

Saturday, Dec 18                                      Kyle Feerik