“The Painting” By Joe

Mr. Joe Charney, cialis Pfister lobby lounge frequent visitor, has already been written about by the two hotel narrators before me. And much of what he told me was also accurately described in those blog posts. But not everything! Here you will see why Mr. Charney needs a third story, my story. Since quality journalism was demonstrated by both narrators Molly and Jenna, find this time Joe is getting an authentic free verse poem story thingo!

Once, before Joe knew this opulent palace,

or his European voyages

before, before all that

he was a boy with a painting in his room

well, it was a good reproduction of a painting

depicting horse riders

kicking up dust and pointing

perhaps to Joe’s own distant quests:

to attain commercial real estate

to acquire 18th century artwork, cheap

because like an omen

it all turned out to be true

when he came to the Pfister

he saw his own painting

well, the real one

hanging above the front desk.

That’s how he knows he belongs here

“in the warmth of a hug”

as he puts it.

“this is pure unadulterated perfection,”

as he puts it.

 

The moment is interrupted,

as Senator Kohl gets up from his chair and leaves the lounge.

Valerie, the mixologist calls after him, “I love you.”

Senator Kohl wears a green baseball cap.

 

“If you’re feeling low,

this is the place to go,”

continues Joe,

he gestures towards Valerie and tells me,

“She is much more advanced than a bartenderess,

she’s a… she’s a mixologist!”

I tell him I have never heard a woman bartender called a bartenderess before.

Says Joe,

“Well, it would be apropos,

she’s really a good looking female

and you must distinguish between the two.”

Joe cuts the fluff,

the nice fluff,

but enough

and goes into an hour long description

of the blog post he wants me to write

one day

but not today

about the cover up of the banking industry by the government.

I stop taking notes

because this is not for today

and he tells me I should change my name anyways

before I write the story he says he has for me

about “necessary evil.”

Joe asks me a lot of questions:

“Do you know what we’d have without the banking system?”

“Have you heard about getting on the merry-go-round?

“Commercial loans?”

He draws me a picture on a napkin.

“Do you understand now?

You never get to pay the loan back.”

He tells me a story and he even starts with a title.

I transcribe.

“The Painting

Mr. Marcus was standing in the lobby as the bank turned him down for a loan. The bank told him, ‘You must proceed to have investors with you and then you can come back to buy the hotel.’ Another man who happened to be in the lobby pointed to a painting and said, ‘Mr. Marcus if you buy this hotel I will give you a large sum of money to buy that painting.’ Mr. Marcus knew that in a locked room in an upper floor was a bunch of paintings, secure and waiting for a buyer to come along.

The room was full of appraisers and insurance people all contemplating the worth of these 18th century paintings. Mr. Marcus with papers in hand and the grand total entered into the bank, proceeded to tell the head of the bank he had enough equity from the paintings alone without a single dollar of his that would satisfy any loan that was given to buy the hotel.

This was circa fifty years ago when the paintings were worth more than the hotel. He really saved an iconic piece of architecture, which could not be reproduced today. This is also an evolution of great taste. Each renovation is better than the last.”

This is the whole problem with commercial loans.  You never get to pay back the principle.
This is the whole problem with commercial loans.

Tuesday Afternoon Reverie

It is 2:21 p.m. and here’s what is going down:  a recording of violin music saturates the air.  Someone walks past hauling a 2.88 (or so) foot long camcorder.  The fronds of a palm tree sensuously caress the south column.  A security guard carefully explains how to get to the Metro Market to a hotel guest.  I estimate the guest to be about thirty years old by the way he has trimmed his beard. Another man in a baseball cap asks me if I am typing a letter to my mother, cialis I am not.  I am writing a letter to the hotel lobby, or rather what is happening inside it, since the lobby itself might not be sentient in the way that you and I are.  If it were though, I’d feel sorry for the rug.  Here is this exquisite rug placed on top of the ornate wall-to-wall carpeting and people just walk right over it without respectfully acknowledging the brief yet fantastic change of terrain.

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Behold.

This is a place where no matter where you look there is something that you can get lost dazing into. I am going to stop typing now so that I may enter reverie as I consider the spatial delights experienced by the light emanating from all the electrical fixtures.  I consider the spatial tension that exists between the empty chairs at the top of the stairs.  If you stick around in this place long enough you will hear each quarter of the hour marked by the dingdong chime of a grandfather clock.  Today I’ve typed here long enough to see a ball bearing pop off my typewriter and roll down the marble steps.  The steps here remind me of salami.  How delicious!

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Genoa salami is my favorite, perhaps but this looks a little more like capicola.

 

A man descends the stairs and I notice that he has clipped his sunglasses to the backside of his turtleneck collar.  I have never seen anyone keep their sunglasses snug against their neck vertebrae like that before.  Someone loudly asks, “Anymore gifts?”  Their companion loudly replies, “We are up to $1500,000 now.” People wheel their baggage through.  It is funny to think about how 20 years ago all this luggage would have been lugged in without wheels.  When I was a kid it still had not occurred to society to put wheels on suitcases. We have come a long way.  I leave my typewriter to go sit by the fire for a while.  My eyes close.  Val, the bartender asks if I want anything, but no, I just want to sit by the fire.  “That’s fine, people have been doing that since 1893,” says Val.  As I sit I hear a pair of middle-aged women in the midst of some profuse giggling.  I walk over to them.  Pam & Kate explain how they just got back from a Photoshop conference and are now feeling giddy.  The Happy Hour has descended.  Roc at the desk has told me that the lobby bar is where Marilyn Monroe liked to sip her drinks.  The stairwell is where Elvis Presley stood to graciously wave at everyone.  Roc himself spent an hour and a half discussing international politics with Margaret Thatcher.  Roc also said, “The hotel never used to allow dogs in here like they do now.  Dogs love the elevator here! Each floor has it’s own bouquet of smells that the dog catches whiff of as they go past in the elevator. I wish you could interview a dog and get them to tell you what it is that they smell on each floor.”  Hmm, good idea.

Pfister Files: A Tradition of Fine Dining

Over the next few months, I will be dusting off pages from the Pfister’s history books and sharing bits of the Pfister’s prolific history. This is the third post in this series.

The Pfister Hotel was and still is a mecca of fine dining.  The holy grail? A Lobby Lounge Bloody Mary overflowing with accutrements, gourmet Sunday brunch buffet in the Cafe Rouge or a 14 oz. dry aged strip at the Mason Street Grill.

The English Room (1926-2001) was the special occasion place offering classic French cuisine. Lauded by the Journal’s long-time restaurant critic Dennis Getto, it was awarded four “chefs hats” (the highest rating) in one review. After 76 years of success, The English Room had a modern facelift and transformed into Celia (an homage to Ben Marcus’s wife), a more reasonably-priced restaurant to encourage frequent diners, before it closed in 2006 to morph into a totally different venture – the WellSpa.

Today, guests can dine in the Mason Street Grill, The Pfister Cafe or even the Lobby Lounge. I bumped into Chef Brian Frakes in the Cafe asked “Hey Chef, can I ask you about the Pfister’s tradition of fine dining?”

“Sure anytime except for right now.” He replied calmly. “It’s just that I have this event going on upstairs in the Grand Ballroom with a bunch of James Beard winners.”  Well, sounds like he just answered my question. So, I bolted upstairs to see for myself one of the most grandiose displays of fine dining I had ever seen. Eighteen accomplished chefs took the stage, all lined up like dominos in their crisp black and white uniforms. And then the fun began as they dispersed to their posts. There were about 300 people, seated at beautifully decorated tables of 10, encompassing a chef and his prep team, like an oyster shell cradling a pearl.DSC_0037

What does it take to get one of Milwaukee’s best chefs to personally cater to your every gastronomic wish?  The Flavors of Wisconsin Event was a benefit for the American Liver Foundation – its tenth annual event at the Pfister. Guests had the opportunity to taste and sip several different courses while seeing the dishes and drinks come to life right before their eyes.

Chef Brian Frakes preparing a dish.
Chef Brian Frakes preparing a dish.

So as you can imagine, Chef Frakes has plenty to say to about the Pfister’s tradition of fine dining, but at the moment, he’s writing his own history.

 

 

 

 

 

This picture, from 1917, likely was taken in the Rouge Cafe. Now if this doesn’t scream fine dining, I don’t what is. When was the last time you had a peacock on display at your dinner table?

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Carla and Tommy

“I made a song!” she declared with a Christmas-morning smile. Dan invited her over to the piano in the lobby to play a few notes. “He knows that Jeff always plays ‘Summertime’ for me, because that’s the song my mother used to sing to me when I was a baby girl,” Carla explained as a juicy tear welled up in her coffee-colored eye. Now, her adoring husband Tommy calls her baby girl.

Carla and Tommy Shircel have one tradition – they celebrate their anniversary every year at the Pfister Hotel.

“Dan asked me to pick the first three notes and from there, he taught me how to compose a song. It’s called ‘Carla’s Song.'” She continued to boast about her song like she had just earned an A on a term paper.

Carla and Dan, the piano man
Carla and Dan, the piano man

Carla and Tommy met in 1994 and wanted to get married at the Pfister on April Fool’s day, but had to settle for March 31.

“I started coming here when I was this big,” Carla puts her hand about two feet from the ground, which translates to about four years old. “This has been my home-away-from-home. We used to sit here in the lobby and watch the Circus Parade,” she recalls.

Her Aunt Rosy was a catering manager and after all these years, she still works at the Pfister in the engineering department.

Carla and Tommy’s wedding ceremony, back in 1995, was held in one of the suites and the reception continued in the Cafe Rouge before they left directly for Jamaica. Tommy had just started a new job with Rockwell Automation and because he didn’t have much vacation time, he went into work the morning of his wedding to afford them one extra day on their honeymoon.

“There is so much history and culture here. It feels you’re walking into your grandma’s big mansion, doesn’t it?” insists Carla. “Every bride has posed on that marble staircase, I know I did!”

Walking in the front door is Carla’s favorite view of the Pfister. As a devout Italian, she particularity loves all of the Italian frescoes. Every year they return to the Pfister to celebrate and they always pick a new room to stay in. Carla and Tommy had dozens of funny stories about run-ins with celebrities, maids, Charlie Pfister’s ghost, and more. They finished each other’s sentences. I guess that  happens when you share 18 years of memories. And may they continue to share many more, at the Pfister.

Carla and Tommy
Carla and Tommy

 

Pfister Files: Rosemary Steinfest

Over the next few months, I will be dusting off pages from the Pfister’s history books and sharing bits of the Pfister’s prolific history. This is the second post in this series.

Rosemary Steinfest is a bona fide rock star. She was the first and still, the only woman general manager of the Pfister Hotel. Now, after raising a family and a successful career, she golfs most every day, if she’s not at Zumba class or planning a party.

After meeting the legend herself at the Pfister in December, I knew I wanted to know more. We gabbed on the phone since she’s enjoying her retirement in sunny Arizona. I sat in the cafe imaging her warm presence radiating like the neat cup of tea keeping me company.

Rosemary Steinfest
Rosemary Steinfest

Rosemary began working as Ben Marcus’s personal secretary in 1956. She had previous experience in the movie industry with MGM pictures so Ben hired her on the spot. At the time, Ben only had 25 theaters; he didn’t own any hotels.

Throughout her 40-year tenure with the Marcus Corporation, Rosemary held the titles of director of sales, director and sales and catering, VP of the Marc Plaza hotel, and more. Of course, her most memorable position was general manager of the Pfister Hotel from 1986-1996.

She still remembers the day they promoted her. “We all attended dinner in the English Room, my children were there, and then they told me about the new position. I was so proud.” I asked what some of her favorite memories were as GM. “What can I pick out of 40 years, that is a very long story!” she retorted.

“One year, when I was in charge of coordinating the employee United Way campaign, I was really into dancing so I taught all the department heads how to do the electric slide. I did a lot of things with the employees, as opposed to as their boss.”

She admitted that it was not easy being the only woman in the executive world, but Rosemary didn’t let it get to her. “I kept my stance, and Ben and Steve always stood behind me,” she said.

Rosemary enjoyed traveling and organizing meetings for groups like the Historic Hotels of America and Preferred Hotels, as everything was of the highest caliber. “I booked all the baseball teams and the Packers. They spent one night somewhere else and wanted none of that, so I took care of them. I even brought in Regis Philbin for the Centennial,” she reminisces proudly.

The Pfister Time Capsule
The Pfister Time Capsule

Organizing the Centennial celebration in 1993 was by far her biggest undertaking. She created and closed the time capsule in the lobby. Have you ever noticed it? I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t, so I ran out to find it after we got off the phone. The beautiful emerald marble statue stands about four feet tall, right at the bottom of the staircase as you enter the lobby. It’s set to be opened in 2093 at the Pfister’s 200th anniversary.

“It was a wonderful career. Having worked there for so many years, I met all the presidents, dignitaries, and I also have so many fond memories of all the people I worked with.”

A Milwaukee native, Rosemary moved to Phoenix when she retired in 1996. She says she has a wonderful group of friends down there and they do everything together, including travel. Though she’s moved on to sunnier skies, Rosemary will always be an important part of Milwaukee and the Pfister’s history.

Pfister Files: 120 Years

Over the next few months, I will be dusting off pages from the Pfister’s history books and sharing bits of the Pfister’s prolific history. This is the second post in this series.

A lot can happen in 20 years. Nipping at the heels of the 120th anniversary of the Pfister Hotel, I thought now might be an interesting time to find out what things were like around here at the 100th anniversary.

I found a six-page newspaper supplement from 1993 commemorating the centennial celebration of the Pfister Hotel, which gave me a good sense of sentiment for this momentous occasion. Jean Towell from the Milwaukee Journal said it best: “Entering the lobby of The Pfister Hotel is like stepping into another era – one that’s more gracious and civilized than the one you left. Courteous service prevails and you feel a sense of gentility that’s some how lost in the choas of everyday life outside.” Twenty years later it’s still true, but the best part is that The Pfister has that same elegance and you wear jeans and even bring your dog.

In 1993, Rosemary Steinfest was the General Manager (the only female GM in history), The English Room was the place to be for fine dining and they just wrapped up a five-year renovation to restore The Pfister’s 19th century splendor. The lobby’s original fireplace was uncovered, guest rooms in the tower were constructed, and presidential suites and 7th floor conference and banquet center were added. The Cafe at the Pfister was the final addition, along with bringing the whole building up to speed with 21st century amenities.

Recognize this guy? Yes, the lovable, loquacious concierge Peter Mortensen (and his mustache) was a fixture in lobby even twenty years ago.

Peter Mortensen, concierge and hotel historian,  in 1993. Photo by Dean E. Johnson, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal.
Peter Mortensen Concierge and hotel historian, in 1993. Photo by Dean E. Johnson, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal.
Peter in 2012.
Peter in 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rooms have also changed quite a bit. Gone is the era of pastels and florals, replaced by the warm, earth tones and modern design.

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Guest room at the Pfister Hotel, circa 1990

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twenty years passed and though the styles may change, the same century-old traditions prevail. Congratulations to all who have taken part in preserving this great legacy for Milwaukee.

Fred Pfister: Part 2 of 2

“My grandmother used to save this stuff and my mother was a saver too. Now that I am all alone in the house, rather than just throw it away, I wanted a way to preserve it,” Fred Pfister said about the beautiful handmade clothing his grandmother created. We couldn’t be more flattered that he has entrusted the Pfister Hotel to preserve his family’s legacy. Before we tuck  away these artifacts for safe keeping, Timothy and I felt such unique, delicate garments deserved one more walk around the hotel. And lucky for me, they fit like a glove.

The maroon jacket, made from traditional linen with decorative, silk ribbon appliques, dates back to the early 1900s. The wicker boning on the inside was very rare for the time; most tailors used whale bone. Fred’s grandmother Margaret made the jacket for herself – she sewed all of her own clothes. Timothy helped me carefully place the jacket over my shoulders and immediately I felt like a character in a black-and-white photograph. The sophisticated bun perched atop my head, created by the WellSpa, solidified my look as a true Gibson Girl pin-up of the Belle Epoque.

The pink satin dress belonged to Fred’s mother, Helen. She loved to dance. The cool satin cascaded down my body, stopping to rest on each curve. As I slipped into it, I felt myself morph into Helen Pfister. Fred explained that his grandmother made the dress for Helen to attend a wedding party.  The above-the-ankle hemline and flared bottom allowed for movement when she would glide and turn. Helen loved to waltz, but she didn’t care much for  the flappers – she thought they were too risque. Helen waltzed right into the arms of her husband Fredrick Pfister at the Milwaukee Club (right across the street for the Pfister Hotel) and spent the next 60 years of her life with him.

Helen’s silk crepe blouse was originally black, but over the years, has faded to a rich olive hue. It’s embellished with iridescent glass beads and a high, pointed collar. Both the blouse and the dress date back to the late thirties, though paired with denim, the blouse looks contemporary and chic.

Thank you to Fred, who allowed us to revitalize these objects of art and preserve the memory of Margaret Faubel and Helen Pfister. Fred dutifully cared for his mother until she died in 2003 at the age of 94.

To see part one of the Fred Pfister story, click here. All photos courtesy of Carol Rice Kraco and Kraco Photography.

 

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Fred Pfister: Part 1 of 2

A man walks into the Pfister hotel and he sees a fashion designer hard at work. This man’s name just happens to be Pfister too – no relation to the hotel. As a way to preserve the legacy of his family, he decides to donate his grandmother’s handmade clothing from the early 1900s, hoping the young designer will find some inspiration.

In Germany, Pfister is as common a name as Jones in America. Pfister actually translates to “baker” in English, the same craft Fred Pfister’s father mastered back in Germany and practiced here in America. This is how our history lesson begins…

A towering stature, but a gentle demeanor, Fred has lived in Milwaukee all his life. He never married, and worked as a policeman for 28 years. There’s a hurried and syncopated cadence to his speech. Timothy Westbrook and I shared lunch with Fred to learn the story behind the marvelous clothing he donated.

History is Fred’s passion. He pulled out his detailed map of Germany to show me where his relatives hailed from in comparison to Guido Pfister’s, proving there was no relation. “It took my father ten years to become a master baker. He came to America and thought he’d earn $10,000 and go back to Germany, but then the depression hit and then the second World War – and no one was going to go back to Germany when Hitler was in charge,” he recounts. He even told me about how he dug up his father’s old recipes for the Milwaukee Journal to share with an interested reader who longed for his father’s famous cake from Militzer’s Bakery.

Fred and his grandmother Margaret circa 1945.
Fred and his grandmother Margaret circa 1945.

Fred’s grandmother, Margaret Faubel, came to Milwaukee in 1893 on a steamship from Speyer, Germany at age of 19. She worked as a cook for the Trostel family, six and a half days a week for 15 years. And she still found time to make all of her own clothing. She learned to speak English by singing the song “After the Ball” by Charles H. Harris.

Fred continues to pull out binders filled with laminated pages of black and white pictures of his family from generations past, preserved with the same attention and care a doctor would give to open heart surgery.

In 1908, at age 34, Margaret married a widower named Henry Lange. He was a plasterer and 11 years her senior. She lived in a house at 2542 N. 17th Street for the next 51 years.

Margaret passed away in 1959 at the age of 84. When I asked Fred what he remembered most about his grandma he commented, “She was a really hard worker. She didn’t smile a lot, but was a nice lady.”

See the second half of this story at the end of the week in conjunction with Gallery Night, where Timothy Westbrook and I will reveal photos of Fred’s grandmother’s stunning clothing.

A Palace for the People

The King of Hospitality knows a thing or two about throwing a party. I, along with 500 of Mr. Marcus’s closest friends, attended a dinner celebration last week to commemorate his 50th anniversary of Pfister Hotel ownership.

Both Mayor Barrett and Governor Walker declared December 6th “Steve Marcus Day” in Milwaukee. Guests even took home Steve Marcus bobble heads. If there’s any indicator that you’ve made it in life, a mayoral declaration and a personalized bobble head should really top the list.

Stephen’s father, Ben, handed the hotel over to him in 1962 in total disrepair so Steve undertook a $7 million renovation and added on the 23-floor tower. He later found out that the collection of Victorian art was worth more than the hotel at the time. Steve was able to carry out the original vision for the hotel, creating a “palace for the people.”

A few other fun facts I learned:
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  •  Every president since McKinley has stayed at the hotel
  • Rosemary Steinfest was the first female GM and worked there from 1962 to 1996 (She’s a lovely lady – more on her to come in January)
  • Dr. Jeffery Hollander has been the musician in residence for 30 years
  • There was a piano piece commissioned in 1894 called The Pfister March

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The three Marcus boys talked about the historical significance of the hotel and its impact on their life and family. Greg, Steve’s son, put it best when he said they think of it more as “caring for” the hotel, rather than owning it.

Andrew, Greg, Steve and David Marcus

The Pfister is filled with special memories for so many other people too. I shared a table with George and Anastasia Papageorge, who married at the Pfister on October 26, 1958. Their daughter also got married there in 1972 and they even celebrated their 25th and 50th anniversaries there. Now, they are hoping their granddaughter will carry on the Papageorge tradition and tie the knot at the Pfister soon! They say that the “Pfister was, and is, the one and only hotel in Milwaukee.”

Anastasia and George Pappageorge

 

Through all the remarks, laughs and historical details, the most touching part of the evening was that after all these years, the Pfister is still relevant and marvelous things still happen every day.

And So It Begins…

First day on the job as the Pfister Narrator and I feel like I’ll get used to hanging around this place pretty quickly. Greeted by the bubbly Timothy Westbrook concocting another masterpiece in his studio, I walked in on what I thought would be a quiet Sunday because of the Packer game. I was mistaken. Brunch –the most extraordinary brunch I have ever seen–  was just wrapping up and sure enough, there was a TV hidden in that stately armoire, so the lobby lounge comforted a roaring chorus of Packers fans.

Within minutes of cozying up to the bar, Val asked if I drank alcohol and if I wanted to try something delicious. Two questions I rarely say no to. This was apparently a holiday tradition and a rite of passage for new employees. “Must try the Glog,” advised Timothy. It was warm, smooth and strong. Be sure to ask Val for a glass next time you are in.

I was happy to run into Ed Makowski, the third Pfister Narrator, and his adorable offspring Edmund. He recounted every detail about their trip to the art museum, but acted uncharacteristically shy when I asked to take a picture. Ed shared suggestions for getting to the good stories a few hidden spots in the hotel.

As you can imagine, the Pfister has been heavy on my mind the past few months, and by pure serendipity, I came across this article in the Shepherd Express. (I got my first break as a writer in the Shepherd.) It’s a quick read about the history of this gem and its founder, German immigrant Guido Pfister. It got me thinking about the modern application of this Historic space. I will be studying these paradoxes as they unfold and seeking out the characters passing through.

By all means, if there is something you are dying to know or some secret you’d like me to uncover – let me know via the comments or directly at jlkashou@gmail.com. More to come!