Eavesdropping in the Pfister

I am sitting in Blu by myself so that no one will distract me as I eavesdrop in on the conversations. Some old ladies are giggling about martinis. An old man is taking all the plush chairs away from my table to build a nest for all his companions. One of them asks, decease “How was the wedding?” to another. She replies, “It was long. I never was to a Catholic wedding before. The organist played six or seven songs. I kept thinking ‘this is not over yet?’ It was so standard, the vows were by the book. And they do all the kneeling. The congregation must have kneeled three or four times. I grew up Lutheran, decease we get it over with. That’s more my kind of wedding, twenty minutes, BOOM, out.”

 

In the café I overhear two concerned mothers complaining about middle school girls trying to get the attention of clueless pre-pubescent middle school boys. “Sports bra, cheap that’s what she’s walking around in. What mother let’s their daughter out of the house like that? Unless she’s stupid, but regardless, they’re all together, they’re all close, they’ve been close since day one, since middle school, they are what they are. The one girl who’s taking up with them, she came over in one of those dresses that was up to her hootchy-hooch.”

 

In the café I also listen to two men discussing HSP, but since I don’t know what HSP is, I have no idea what it is that they are going on about, but it sounds atrociously banal.

 

Outside the ballroom I catch the following snippet from the National Philanthropy Day festivities. The trained voice of a news anchor from channel twelve proclaims, “She has been a sparkplug for a lot of philanthropy initiatives.” What high automobilic praise! Later I learn that Milwaukee’s National Philanthropic Day commands a larger attendance than even New York City’s. “That’s just what kind we are here,” the Milwaukee Philanthropist Day organizer boasts to a bellhop in the lobby.

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I enter the lobby lounge and am delighted to see my chum Jenna Kashou at the bar. Do you remember her? She was the Narrator about two years ago. I go up to say hey Jenna, but she is leaning her whole body into conversation about a corporate sponsorship brochure for the Black and Blue Ball, a benefit for Muscular Dystrophy. Jenna’s hands are zipping every which way. I take a seat on the sofa next to the fireplace. I never noticed before how inside the fireplace there is a motif of a racing chariot. A chariot of fire! I pick up the newspaper someone left on the couch. It says something about “Drones For The Masses.” Listening in on other people’s conversations is about to get a lot more high-tech.

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A happy ending for two long-lost sisters

This is a Guest Post by the 5th Pfister Narrator – Jenna Kashou

You might remember back in February, I wrote about two long-lost sisters, Simone from England and Ciera from Milwaukee. Before a visit last year at the Pfister Hotel, they never knew of each other and had both lost contact with their father.

Last week, Kenneth (The Pfister’s front desk manager) and I received the following email out of the blue from Simone:

Hi to you both:

I hope you remember me from February; I visited Milwaukee to meet my sister who I had never met before.

Well thanks to you both, we have a very happy ending. Since you published the blog, we had a chap contact us who had read it on line. He knew our dad from his Vidal Sassoon days and he gave us lots of info and pictures of our dad, which we were both very grateful of.

On Saturday against all hopes, we found our Dad. It was through the Vidal Sassoon network we found him and both Ciera and myself have both corresponded with our Dad.

I personally would like to thank you both so much. If you Kenneth had not given me Jenna’s email, the blog would not have been written and there would not be two very happy daughters in the world right now. I thank you both from the bottom of my heart. Jenna, thank you for taking the time to publish it, without the blog we would never have found him.

It is early days but I hope in the not too distant future I will visit Ciera and together we will see our dad, for me again for Ciera, the first time.

I just wanted you both to know between you, our dreams have come true.

With best wishes and heartfelt thanks,

Simone Ingram

Do you have goosebumps? I certainly did, and do every time I re-read this letter. Just in time for the holidays, it’s a great reminder that our world is smaller than we think, and that magic can happen. Some may say our digital culture has made our world more impersonal.  But through Facebook, Simone found Ciera and through the Pfister blog, they found their father. So here is a great lesson even for the techno-phobes – reach out and connect,  you never know who you may find.

And So It Goes…

…said Kurt Vonnegut. A simplistic way to convey closure, to throw your hands up in the air and surrender, to explain the inexplicable.  And so I go, back to my life pre-Pfister, after six months of exploring, discovering, conversing, photographing, writing, and blogging. There is no simple way to explain what it’s like being a fly on the wall of the historic Pfister Hotel for six months.  I can’t deny the paradox of learning so many new things in such an old space. It’s filled with millions of stories, the fondest of memories, casual comforts and subtle luxuries. Even more, with hundreds of helping hands and smiling faces, The Pfister is home to some of the most caring and talented professionals I have ever had the pleasure of working with. It’s evident how much they genuinely take pride in their work. They adopted me as one of their own, but treated me like royalty.

Me and the boys
Me and the boys

So just in case you were curious, this is how it all began. Below, see the sample blog I wrote when I was vying for the position of Pfister Narrator. It has not yet been published, but it’s still one of my favorite stories, just because it’s so obscure and outlandish. Yes, it’s a true story, and it happened at the Pfister.

Cleaning House

“It really is a sickness, you know,” he insisted. Mike was in town for a week “on family business.” He quickly revealed that this family business was cleaning and selling the home of a recently deceased cousin who was a hoarder. I wasn’t going to pry on such a sensitive issue, but he was eager to explain: “We have been heaving crap out of his house for three days.”

I got sucked into this story with the most common pick up line, “So, you from around here?” He introduced himself as Rob and his friend, Mike. Rob’s flamboyant shirt was screaming at me and his sneaky grin was playful, not threatening. His childhood buddy Mike was along for the ride to provide moral support. He was sporting a tuxedo shirt, black cargo pants, steel-toed boots and a baseball cap. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his attire. When he explained that he was a certified Mercedes mechanic, also working as a producer in L.A., it made a little more sense. Their drink: Woodford Reserve Bourbon – straight up – with a side of water.

Both men are Kansas City natives and when they found out I was from Milwaukee, they began grilling me on all the hot spots in town. I quickly turned the conversation back to the family business and the hoarding. “I swear we have already filled four, 30-yard dumpsters,” bemoaned Mike. “Magazines, empty Godiva chocolate boxes; you name it, the house is packed to the gills!” Mike explained that his cousin took care of his paralyzed wife in that house for 33 years. He was, like most people, totally perplexed by the hoarding. Mike and Rob were sleeping on an air mattress in the five-bedroom house on west Good Hope Road. Rob had already made up his mind that he was going to hire someone from off the street to finish up the cleaning tomorrow so they could get the house on the market.

Desperate for some relief from cleaning, their realtor had suggested Blu as the premier spot in the city to get a cocktail. Mike and Rob were impressed with the diversity of the hotel and abashedly admitted that they wouldn’t mind finding some lady company to see more of the town with. That was my cue to step aside and let these gentlemen unwind. They were warm and obliging, confirming the fact that you don’t find friendlier folk than you do in Midwest.

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Dancing With the Stars

It’s the one sport that caters to people ages 3-93. And, it has the elegance, grace and pizzazz of a Hollywood movie premier. The Wisconsin State Dancesport Championships was back at the Pfister Hotel for its 26th year of professional/amateur ballroom dance competition last weekend.

Dan and Rebecca Messenger, from Nashotah, Wisconsin, organized the event and attracted thousands of dancers from all over the U.S for four days of fierce competition. There was up to $3,000 in prize money at stake in addition to scholarships available for continuing instruction. Looking through the program and schedule of events was like flipping the yellow pages, in Greek. There were back-to-back events for different ability levels and ages for the rumba, pasa doble, swing and more. It was just like watching Dancing with the Stars, but this time the stars weren’t celebrities vying for a second chance at fame, they were bona-fide dancing divas. There were support teams, families, and dance enthusiasts with every form of technology capturing the dancers’ every movement and expression during the awards ceremony after each event.

So rather than try and tell you about this visually stunning display, I am going to show you in the slideshow below. It will make you want to move your feet. Viva la dance!

Creativity is Everybody’s Business

Maggie Kuhn Jacobus is not your typical executive. Nor is she your typical mom. After a successful carrer as an entreprenuer, writer, producer, marketer, and public relations exec, she took a six-year sabbatical to raise her kids in the lush and far-flung tropics of Costa Rica because she wanted to give them a creative and enriching childhood. “Select soccer and routines were the things I feared most,” she admits.

Maggie Keuhn Jacobus
Maggie Keuhn Jacobus

Kuhn Jacobus is back in her hometown of Milwaukee with teenage boys. She took the position of President and Executive Director of the Creative Alliance  in January and is passionate about linking, leveraging, promoting, and growing the creative industries in the Milwaukee region.

“Creativity is everybody’s business,” she insists at a reception in Cafe Rouge on Thursday night.  It’s evident that not only with her impressive professional resume, but also by her own personal choices that she is just the risk-taker Milwaukee needs to prove the impact of the creative industries on our local economy. Kuhn is a “Glass half full” type of leader and says “Risk is about possibility. We have to ask ourselves what can we do with what we have here in Milwaukee?”

Creative industries are responsible for $2 billion in wages here in Wisconsin, contributing to our region’s vibrancy. But until industries stop working in sillos, growth and development cannot happen. So, the Creative Alliance is set on connecting commerce and creatives.

The Creative Alliance is partnering with the Pfister’s Artist in Residence program and hopes to add more creativite residencies to corporations in MIlwaukee, among a long list of other tactics to bring the creative industry to the forefront of economic discussion.

Stephanie Barenz, the Pfister’s current Artist in Residence, also spoke to the crowd about her work as a full-time creative professional working in a corporate setting.  She is currently working on both a mentoring program with students at St. Marcus School (where her husband is a teacher) to teach them about writing and painting as well as a body of work entitled “The Carriers,” which explores how travel affects our perception of home. What a fitting proposal for a working studio in a historic hotel. Several of her intricate and thought-provoking paintings were on display, along with a diverse body of work from past Artist in Residence finalists.

Stephanie Barenz's artwork on display
Stephanie Barenz’s artwork on display

To really hit home her point, Kuhn Jacobus invited her favorite local band, Painted Caves, to serenade the crowd with exotic sounds, while they mingled and discussed how enriching and vital the arts truly are. The whole event was well choreographed and engaged like a creative leader does best.

 

Painted Caves
Painted Caves

 

 

Artists Among Us

The Pfister is well known for its Victorian Art collection and for supporting the arts in Milwaukee, but did you know how many amazing artists they have on staff? One of the best parts about working here has been meeting and hearing the stories about the incredibly and diversely talented staff. You never know who you are going to meet at the Pfister. The waitress in the cafe takes vintage photographs, the server in banquets creates mixed-media masterpieces, and the manager booking your event is an opera powerhouse.

Once you hear Catering Sales Manager Kristine Baker laugh, you will know that she’s a soprano. She attended the UW-Green Bay with the intent of becoming a teacher, but halfway through her first semester she realized that working with kids wasn’t the right fit. The choral director at her high school was really passionate about what he did, making it easy for her to get engaged and discover her love for music. In college, her advisor encouraged her to audition as a voice major and she thought, “That sounds like fun!”  It involved a lot of voice lessons and recitals, but she did also take center stage.

Kristine played the role of Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute and Dido in Dido and Aeneas. “When you are an opera singer, you always want to die a couple of times, it’s great fun,” she reveals. “Pretty much anything that is a Puccini soprano, I love, it just fits  my voice really well.” But she has always wanted to sing Rusalka – an intricate Czech opera.

At the Pfister, Kristine stays connected to the arts and nonprofits by planning annual galas and fundraising events. As we talked in her office, she sat with the posture and alacrity of Catholic school kid on the first day. Her smooth blonde hair spilled down her shoulders like honey oozing out of a jar.  Growing up, she sang in the church choir and performed solos in high school. “When you are from a small town (Merrill, WI) there aren’t a lot of options nor was there a lot of competition,” she admits.

When she laughed from her belly it was like she was singing scales. “My voice type is a meaty, heavier sound. People usually turn and stare when I sing in church.” Though I begged her to serenade me, Kristine was recovering from a cold. “It takes a lot to keep your voice healthy. You’re so reliant on your instrument,  you’re voice always has to be on. Pollen, even soda, can really mess with you,” she laments.

“But do you sing in the shower? Do you sing karaoke?” I asked, still totally intrigued by her talent. “Actually I have never sang karaoke, I think it would bug me if I heard all of those people singing songs wrong.” Kristine  sings at home in her music room and  continues to take voice lessons.

“Sopranos are bountiful,” she admits, “But I plan to audition with local groups like the Florentine Opera and the Skylight Music Theatre to begin performing again.”

Kristine Baker
Kristine Baker

 

 

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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A Master and His Admirer

Dr. Jeffery Hollander has had a prolific career in addition to his 30-year tenure as the Pfister Hotel’s Musician-in-Residence. “He is so talented, I love the way he interprets the music. No one else plays like he can.” Natalia will be the first to tell you that he is not your typical lounge pianist. “No other place in Milwaukee has this kind of ambiance.” She has admired his work for the past seven years as a fixture in the Lobby Lounge.  So much so, that she made it into Katie Musolff’s painting of Dr. Hollander that is hanging in the hallway outside of the cafe. Originally from Russia, Natalia is a classical pianist herself, holding a Master’s degree in piano performance. Now, she teaches at MATC and has private students, among other engagements.

Natalia leads me over to the painting to show off her cameo. “I’m the one who looks like I am falling asleep on the couch.” she proudly points out her muted likeness in the strokes on the canvas. “After hearing kids torture the keys all day, I come here and listen to him. This is my mental spa, my therapy.” She softly slips into this happy place as she describes just how affecting his music can be. And quickly, she gravitates back to her seat close to the piano, with a clear view of his hands on the keys. I sneak away and allow her to return to therapy, with my own renewed sense of admiration of Dr. Hollander’s talents.

Natalia, proudly standing next to her likeness in Katie Musolff's painting of Dr. Hollander
Natalia, proudly standing next to her likeness in Katie Musolff’s painting of Dr. Hollander

 

Serving and Protecting By Day and By Night

Everyone has a very different version of a hero. They come in all shapes and sizes, and their acts even go unnoticed at times. Mike Nichols, a Pfister associate, working in loss and prevention (a.k.a security) fulfills his need to serve and protect not only at the Pfister during the evening, but also during the day, accomplishing heroic acts for American veterans.

A retired military officer and 23-year veteran, Nichols works for the Center for Veteran’s Issues in Milwaukee where he helps secure housing for veterans and their families. After a long career in manufacturing, he realized about a year ago that his heart was in helping others both here at the Pfister and among a population he respects and can relate to. We had a relaxed conversation about what he does and why he does it. See for yourself the way his face lights up when he talks about his Christmas morning type experiences working with veterans.

Sunday at the Spa

What’s a better gift than comfort and relaxation? I’d argue that there’s none. While some people see it as a luxury, others enjoy massage therapy as a part of their regular health and wellness routine – lucky people indeed.  The waiting room at the Well Spa one Sunday afternoon was filled with new guests and regulars: an athletic looking man, an anxious couple, a mother-daughter duo, and an older woman pouring over a magazine. Everyone was whispering and slowly slipping away from the chaos of their own worlds in the solace of the waiting room, where the Well Spa experience really begins. I was cautious to interrupt people, so I began observing with my eyes behind a tattered copy of People and waited for an opportune moment to approach a guest.

As the sleek, all-black clad therapists cycled in and out to escort guests back to their private suites,  Ashley and Michael’s eyes continued to widen. They smiled and peered over each other’s shoulders at the surveys they were filling out detailing their preferences for the treatment. It was obvious that they had no idea what they were about the experience.

So I just had to ask – “Is this your first time here?” Ashely chirped back. “Oh yes, this is our first massage and we’re going in together.”  It was a birthday gift from Ashley to Michael, who turned 24 on Sunday. “Michael was having some back pain, so I thought this would be good for him.”  A romantic couples massage is a perfect gift, in fact, it’s two great gifts wrapped up in one, as the giver also benefits from his/her own generosity.

Ashley and Michael have been dating for five years and married for three. They’ve lived in Milwaukee all their lives, but they’ve never been to the Pfister Hotel. After their massage, they planned to  continue the birthday celebration at dinner.

As more guests circulated out from the suites back into the waiting room, they moved a little slower, stood a little taller and their skin looked a little fresher. They marched back into the real world, hopefully better equipped to combat harsh realities like the weather, work, and stress. Thankfully this harmonious oasis is open seven days a week.

welcome to the Well Spa
Welcome to the Well Spa