Forever a Pfister family

I have one month left as the Pfister Narrator, find and so, I am enjoying the final days, looking ahead to my future endeavors and reflecting on the beauty of what’s passed.

One of my favorite aspects of this year is how deeply and richly my family was touched by the Pfister Hotel. My partner, viagra Royal, spent almost every hour with me in the hotel, banging out his dissertation in the lobby bar while I drifted around, chatting with guests.

His support of me has been unwavering in every way, including my role as the hotel writer. Plus, he took most of the photos in my blogs, too. In fact, if there’s a great photo within my blog, he took it, and if it’s a so-so one, chances are I snapped it on my iPhone.

My sons’ lives were also enriched by the Pfister this year. The chance to swim in the pool was a highpoint of 2013 for Kai River and the time Val the bartender spooned a second dollop of whipped cream into their cups half-way through their cocoa was a mind-blowing experience.

Recently, we had the chance to step out onto the balcony in the ballroom, something my son wanted to do for a long time, and fake wave at our adoring fans below.

My step daughter’s experience at the Pfister was extremely memorable, too. She celebrated her 11th birthday at the hotel with a manicure, cake and carriage ride. She was also smitten with the fact Elvis stayed at the hotel, so much so that we bought her a pair of Elvis glasses and stood in what is rumored to be where Elvis stood in the hotel and “channeled” The King.

She wrote this piece of writing about the Pfister, further illustrating her love for the hotel and how much this was, among other things, an extremely positive family experience for us.

The Pfister by Olivia

“When you walk into the Pfister you can see so many wonderful things. You can get lucky and get interviewed by the Pfister writer. And don’t forget to watch the Pfister artist do her beautiful art work. And you may even hear the soothing piano keys as the fingers of the pianist touches them.

Go up to Blu and get a drink or two and soak up the amazing view. Have a chat with the lobby lion, too.
Observe all of the breathtaking views of the Pfister’s unique glow. But always remember when walking down the halls to look very closely at their walls. I know it seems weird but you might be in for a real surprise because there’s a face in the wall that will be right by your side.

After you stay at the Pfister, trust me, you’ll want to stay for another week or two.”

A book, a goodbye and a letter to Guido

Last night was the official release of the book created by resident artists Stephanie Barenz and I. Called “The Carriers,” the book features 28 of Steph’s gorgeous paintings and the stories I wrote about each. It is available at the Pfister Hotel gift shop.

The evening was also a farewell party for Stephanie who will finish her year as the Pfister artist this weekend. Sculptor Niki Johnson was selected as the new artist last month and will move into the gallery space on Tuesday.

Stephanie also unveiled her legacy painting, “What Brings You Here?,” which is a gift to the hotel.

I was warmed by the people who attended last night’s event including old friends, new friends, professional connections and family members from near and far.

During last night’s event, I read a few passages from the book, and I also wrote a letter to Guido Pfister, who envisioned the hotel in the late 1800s. The hotel passed away before the Pfister Hotel was completed, but his personal love for and commitment to art was built into the groundwork and more than 120 years later continues to be a part of the hotel’s culture through programs like the Artist in Residence and the Pfister Narrator.

I’m not sure where to send this letter, but I felt compelled to write it. Perhaps I shall release it to the lake this weekend.

Dear Guido,

It’s me, Molly – the 6th writer-in-residence at the Pfister Hotel. We met this summer in the cemetery. I am happy you are resting in such a beautiful place. I hope you weren’t allergic to the flowers.

Guido, I feel compelled to write this letter because I wanted to thank you. You, of course, were a business man, and one who also craved the visual reward of art as well as the comfort of words. And so, you created this opulent structure that, more than a 120 years later, still celebrates both.

Tonight, your hotel is hosting a farewell party for Stephanie, who, as you probably know, served as the artist in residence for the past year. Stephanie is a storyteller like I am, but her tales unfurl across canvasses in images so full of life and beauty they’d slow a shooting star for the chance at a second look.

And it’s a party for me, too. I have never had a going away party before. I usually prefer to stay.

This past year, I have met so many fascinating people here, from 90-year-old newlyweds to a man who watched his family die in a war. I have daydreamed beneath the chandeliers, kissed in the elevators and toasted the lions with cups of cheer. 

But most of all, humbly and with great honor, I have attempted to unearth the words to describe the life inside this splendid space of resting guests sharing secrets with soft pillows and a staff who blooms on even the grayest of days.

Guido, on this crazy elevator ride of life, I have learned somewhere between floor 12 and 14 that that if you must say goodbye, it should be done with cake – yes, there is cake here tonight – and that the very best experiences leave you unable to snap shut your suitcase because it’s overpacked with memories, gratitude … and the little soaps you swiped from the hotel bathroom. 

Love. Art. Salve.


Molly & Stephanie. For always.
Molly & Stephanie. For always.

Repartee with a librarian

I always wanted to be a librarian. It started when I was a kid, going to the East Side Library in Milwaukee, and enviously watching the librarians stamp book after book. It looked like so much fun: pressing the stamper with the raised backwards letters and numbers on the ink pad and then carefully pressing it on the card in the book.

Sometimes the librarian stamped the due date perfectly below the previous date. Other times it was a little wonky – maybe pointing a little bit up or down. Once I remember the new inky date overlapped the old date and it was hard to read when exactly my book was due.

My sister and I played library all the time. And I played with my own kids, too. There’s something about it. Like playing school except, for me, more fun. Probably because it includes only books and no math, unlike school.

I have spent a lot of time in libraries since I became a mom. Because of my over-extended, disorganized Mom Life, I’m not so good with book return these days and often find myself saying, “The library is free. Well, for most people. Not me.”

I think right now I owe at least a few dollars for one of the “Wimpy Kid” books.

However, when I found out that I was chatting with a real librarian in the Pfister lobby one afternoon, I was stoked. Turns out she was in the hotel for the VRA (Visual Resource Association) Conference and was an archivist from the University of Buffalo in Buffalo, New York.

We chatted briefly about the similarities between Milwaukee and Buffalo – both rust belt cities – and then I asked her a few shop talk Qs.

Me: What is the VRA Conference?

Her: Conferences for a group of mostly librarians and art historians who take care of a collection of visual resources. They used to be slide librarians but now everything’s digital.

Me: Are there still many librarian jobs available?

Her: Yes, they are often called something else now – information management, etc. – but there are jobs in the field. They just look a lot different than they used to.

ME: Do you read a lot of books?

Her: Yes.

Me: What are you reading right now?

Her: (Pausing, smiles.) I’m actually reading a trashy, Swedish crime novel right now.

Me: That’s awesome. I was expecting some “War and Peace”-like response.

Her: Not this week.

Me: Do you ever wear pencils in your hair to secure a bun?

Her: Oh for sure.

Me: Leave it to librarian to be resourceful. Bad pun intended.

Tea time with steampunks

The Pfister Hotel is a natural setting – both aesthetically and historically – for a Milwaukee Steampunk Society outing. Hence, salve when 36 members of the group spent last Sunday afternoon at the hotel, it was a perfect fit and a visual feast.

The group, all of whom were dressed in elaborate steampunk attire, went on an art tour with Pfister artist, Stephanie Barenz, and followed it up with a formal tea at Blu.

Perhaps you are asking the same question I asked. What the huzzah is a steampunk? (You might not have included the “huzzah” part.) I have heard the word “steampunk” many times and had a sense of its meaning, but really, what exactly is it?

Well … According to Charles Tritt, who organized the Pfister outing, the term is not easy to define – nor should it be because everyone defines it and executes it a little differently.


“Basically, ‘steampunk’ is a retro-future movement that focuses on the Victorian period. But it’s a reinterpretation of Victorian times and themes including industrialization, lighter-than-air travel, etc.,” he says.

“Retro-future?” I ask. “Isn’t that an oxy-moron?”

“Exactly,” says Tritt, eyes shining.

“Exactly,” I say – drinking my ginger tea and drinking in the creativity and whimsy of the free spirits in the room.

Tritt told me he discovered the steampunk sub-genre when he went to a science fiction convention with a steampunk theme. “It was perfect. It’s something I enjoyed all of my life but didn’t have a name for it,” says Tritt, who is also an engineering professor.

The looseness of the interpretation is also a thread that runs through the Milwaukee Steampunk Society in general. The group does not have a founder, a leader or regular meetings. Instead, anyone can join and anyone can organize an event and attract attendees via social media.

Past events, other than the Pfister outing, included the Reinaissance Faire and laser tag. (Corsets in combat? Sure, why not.)


“I don’t think there is any one thing that everyone in the group has in common. Everyone has something in common, but it tends to be something different,” he says. “Some are writers, clothing makers, consumers of media. Every steampunk is different – it’s a hugely varied group of people.”

Most people’s costumes are a mix of the vintage, new and handmade. Tritt points out his coat is from H&M, but he made his bolo tie. A woman wears a formal Tardis dress from Dr. Who that she made herself and yet another attendee sports a 10-pound hat made from stainless steel and brass that he crafted at work.

“I have a stainless steel tie, too, but it didn’t go with the vest,” he says.


Another woman tells me she came to the Pfister event from Madison. She says the group has helped her meet new people post-college.

“Everyone here is so inviting and friendly,” she says.


Tritt points out a couple other highlights of being a member of the steampunk society.

“Where else do men talk to each other about clothing this much?” he asks. “And women tend to show you their undergarments.”

I love people who are not afraid to make bold statements, celebrate the imagination and are deliberate with their dress, actions and entertainment choices. That afternoon, I went home and ordered a black rose brooch, much like the one worn by the woman sitting across from me at the tea. I need a piece of steampunk for myself.

A blog within a blog

My full-time job is as a writer for This week is Hotel Week on and so, aptly, I wrote a blog about my experiences as the Pfister Narrator. Here it is.

Last spring, I was selected as the Pfister Hotel’s sixth Pfister Narrator. Prior to me, local writers Stacie Williams, Julie Ferris, Ed Makowski, Dasha Kelly and Jenna Kashou held the post.

The role of the narrator is to spend time in the hotel, talking to guests about what brings them to the hotel and documenting their stories via the Pfister’s blog. But it included much more than that, too.

Over the past 10 months, I have heard some amazing stories, including one about a couple who decided to wed at the age of 90 and two women who blew me away with their heartbreaking honesty and their shoe collection.

I also visited the grave of Guido Pfister with flowers, rode the elevator all night and interviewed a lion, but I might have had one too many at the Lobby Bar that night.

In November, the sixth-month Narratorship was extended for a full year. Although this is a lot to take on because of my unwavering commitments to my family and, I was honored and thrilled to keep going.

And I just wasn’t ready to let go.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the job has been working with and becoming friends with the artist in residence, Stephanie Barenz. From the moment I saw her beautiful work – laden with Milwaukee imagery, particularly the clock tower which I can see from my yard – I knew we had a connection.

Stephanie and I have collaborated in many ways during the year. I have learned so much about visual storytelling through Stephanie and also caught a bad case of wanderlust from all of her paintings and tales from faraway places. (I do have a tirp to Indianapolis on deck for this year, but that’s not quite a remedy for the road trip blues.)

Stephanie and I also created a collection of greeting cards and hosted a storytelling event that had nine Milwaukee artists compete with stories about art. Anja Sieger won this event.

I wrote companion copy for most of the paintings she has completed this year and The Pfister has funded a book of her paintings and my writings. She painted my “life story” as a thank you for the writing, and the piece completely blows me away. I have lost sleep wondering where I wing hang this in my house – it doesn’t seem I have a wall that will do it justice.

As I watch Stephanie finish up her last painting, and my favorite Lobby Bar bartender moved on, I sense it is almost time for me go, too. I have six weeks left, but I am already feeling nostalgia. I have visualized myself removing “Pfister Narrator” from my Facebook profile and actually teared up. (Geez, somebody knock me over the head with my laptop, mmmkay? Oh wait, it’s a MacBook Air, too light. Shoot.)

But aside from my friendship with Stephanie and so many other Pfister employees, the greatest gift from this role has been realizing how much I love Milwaukee history.

I have always considered myself more of a pop culture enthusiast with a mild interest in history, but within the past year, I have felt closer to and hungrier for the past than ever. I always knew I had that gene in there somewhere, my father had a doctorate in American history, but it took a gaggle of decades for it to fester, I guess.

I’m certainly not about to rival Milwaukee historian John Gurda, or my coworker Bobby Tanzilo for that matter, but I am on this path now, too, thanks to spending so much time in the opulent, historic Pfister Hotel.

On, Milwaukee – past, present and future.

Mason Street’s most loyal customer

Pam stops in at Mason Street Grill for a meal twice a month – sometimes more – often for the Happy Hour specials, nurse but not always. She loves the flat bread, the steak forks and the mushroom forks – which are on the $5 happy hour menu – as well as the steak and the snap peas.

And as much as she adores Mason’s food, pills she also adores the staff – one server in particular.

“I love Amanda,” says Pam. “She is the best.”

Amanda Walters, who was Pam’s server the night I interviewed her, has worked for the Pfister for five years. She started working in the Mason Street Grill last June, and prior, worked at Blu, the Cafe and the Lobby Bar.

Pam says Amanda has never steered her wrong with the menu. She admits she’s picky about wine, but she trusts Amanda’s tastes. And she also trusts Amanda to verify that I’m actually the Pfister Narrator and not just a tipsy, nosy kook.

“She’s legit,” Amanda assures her.

Pam and Amanda agree on one more thing during the interview: neither of them particularly like the idea of being documented in words. They agreed to do this – as well as the photo – but they were skeptical about it, as some people are.

“It’s just …” Pam started to say.

“Anything actually written on paper is evidence,” finished Amanda, smiling.

“Exactly!” says Pam, beaming at Amanda.

Although initially hesitant, Pam opens up to me. She is an animated person with a warm and outgoing personality who’s not afraid to state her opinion. I tell her at one point she needs her own talk show.

Pam tells me that once she was accidentally overcharged on her credit card during a meal at Mason, but when she called and told the manager, it was handled so swiftly, professionally and generously that she became even more of a fan of the restaurant than she was before the incident.

“The issue was cleared up in just a few days and the next time I came in they paid for my entire dinner,” says Pam. “It was really nice.”

She goes on to tell me another story about when she came during the holidays with a friend and even though Amanda was working in another section, she came over to Pam’s table and bought both her and her friend a drink.

“You just don’t get that everywhere,” says Pam.

Happiness is a human connection

Whether or not life is a series of coincidences, sickness random happenings or something even more divine is the biggest existential question people have contemplated since the beginning of time.

I have pondered this on and off my entire adult life and recently, cialis I’ve been in this phase of questioning again because the coincidences are happening with delicious frequency these days.

Like this weekend, for example.

I sat down at the Lobby Bar next to a couple and struck up a conversation. They told me their names were Dan and Debbie, hospital that they were in town from suburban Chicago for Debbie’s birthday and they were celebrating with German food.

German food. German food. For two straight weeks I can’t escape you, German food!

Although I have lived in the German-cultured Milwaukee my entire life and my son is German (his father is almost 100 percent German), it wasn’t until recently that I ate a meal in a German restaurant.

Since then, I wrote a blog about German food, an article about German food, have stumbled accidentally across numerous articles about Germany and German beer and have enjoyed multiple conversations with people about my first schnitzel-eating experience.

“You mean a heart attack on a plate,” joked Debbie when I described to her my first schnitzel, which came complete with a fried egg. “All it was missing was the bacon.”

So I shouldn’t really be surprised when I sit down next to two strangers and our very first topic of conversation is about a German restaurant. It’s how this crazy, question-marked world works, right?

We went on to chat about food in all different ways. We talked about Milwaukee favorites like the menu-less Fourth Base restaurant, Leon’s maple custard and the best local joints for steaks. We also talked Chicago hot spots, too, and I now have a fresh list of eateries to try next time I’m in the Windy City, like The Rosebud and Lawry’s and, above all, I promised to try an Italian beef.

During our conversation, we also found that we had Harley Davidson motorcycles, a taste for Scotch and Duluth, Minn. in common.

I really dig sharing practical, insightful information like where to eat when traveling or the best place to cruise on a bike. But even more so, I love when conversations take on an unexplainable quality of familiarity and connection. Especially when it happens with strangers.

Schnitzel and Pfister friendships

Recently, I wrote about a unique evening I hosted with Pfister artist Stephanie Barenz and the hotel’s executive chef, Brian Frakes, called “The Gathering Of The Senses.”

The event invited the public to sign up for an evening of paint instruction, travel stories and a five-course, travel-inspired meal. The intimacy of the event and the connection between the nine guests who attended and us was fun and, at times, even inspirational.

And last week, the story continued.

Stephanie and I – along with our partners – traveled to Ononomowoc to visit the restaurant of one of the attendees. Lori Schwefel, who owns Schwefel’s with her husband, Dan – attended “Gathering of the Senses” with her daughter, Hannah.

It was fun (and oh so filling) to check out their turf in the quaint town of Oconomowoc. Even though it’s only 40 minutes from Milwaukee, after a few minutes in the restaurant, I felt like I was on vacation.

After our visit, I wrote a lengthy piece for about the restaurant – which is a delicious German bar and eatery that the couple has owned and operated since 1989.

As an experience junkie, I was excited to eat my first schnitzel (delicious) and enjoyed every last scrap on my plate, from the cooked red cabbage, to the beef soup, to the decadent strawberry dessert.

Look, my first schnitzel:


But the best part of the evening – and I think Stephanie would agree – was discovering that Lori and Dan value people and storytelling as much as we do. The couple shared funny, sad, challenging, even some “off the record” stories about their lives.

And we gobbled their stories up like dumplings.

I particularly enjoyed the stories about their kids growing up in the restaurant. Lori recalled a tiny Hannah who loved bar tending even when she wasn’t tall enough for customers to see her on the other side. And their son, Austin, was passed around the restaurant long ago like a hot potato in Pampers.

I also loved the stories about their early days at the restaurant, including when they had to fire their chef on their very first day open because he arrived five hours late for work.

It is so enriching to have friends who come from a different place from you – who have different insights and experiences and views – and yet, some of the very same valued aspects of human existence.

The Schwefels’ generosity with their food was incredible, but their generosity with their words was absolutely priceless. That night, comfort food took on a whole new meaning for me.


Soaring through happy hour with flight attendants

As flight attendants, treat Jamie and Quin land all over the country. Including, recently, in Milwaukee.

I met them during Happy Hour at Mason Street Grill and asked them what, if anything, they like about Brew City.

“The Public Market,” Quin says immediately. “I love it. Love the gourmet food. I visit every time I’m here.”

Jamie says she liked the city, too, but being a Bears fan – both she and Quin live in Chicago – makes her experience here sometimes a bit unsavory. Especially when she’s wearing her Chicago Bears gloves.

“The Green Bay fans give me sh-t about these all the time,” she says.

Personally, I have always been fascinated by the lives of pilots and flight attendants. As a person with terminal wanderlust, it seems like a really exciting and enriching job.

“It is,” says Quin. “It’s like being on vacation every day. You don’t have to see the same boring people every day and work in the same boring office. And I was in Ft. Lauderdale last night.”

I am clearly in the wrong profession.

“The best part is that I have friends all over the country, and I get to see them, when I’m working,” she says.

Have they ever experienced “scary moments” in the sky?

“There have been a few,” says Jamie. “But I’d still pick flying over driving or taking a train any day.”

Do they still serve any special snacks on their flights?

“Cookies in the morning!” says Jamie.

Favorite places to fly?

“San Diego. It’s where I’m from,” says Quin.

Jamie’s response surprises me a bit. I never thought of this place as an all-time favorite destination.

“Portland, Maine,” she says. “I love the seafood – the restaurants are phenomenal – and the scenery is beautiful.”

OK, Portland, Maine, you are now on my Travel Bucket List. Thanks, ladies, and happy trails to you.

Channeling Elvis

On June 28, 1974, the legendary Elvis Presley performed at the Arena in Milwaukee (which is now the U.S. Cellular Arena). That night, after the concert, Elvis stayed at the Pfister Hotel.

The story behind his visit is amusing. On April 25, a little more than two months prior to his gig, the Milwaukee Journal ran a four-paragraph story on page 15 of the paper with the headline “Elvis To Be Here June 28.” Tickets were available for $10, $7.50 and $5 via mail order only.

This was the only announcement about the show – no other printed, TV or radio ads. However, 4,500 requests for tickets were received within days, selling out the show and leaving many Elvis fans ticket-less.

Last summer, a Pfister employee shared with me and my family the story of Elvis’ famous stay. He told us Elvis stood on the south-end landing overlooking the lobby and waved at the crowd before retiring to his room for the night.

My family is filled with Elvis enthusiasts. My father loved The King and had to hide his blue suede shoes from his mother who despised the pelvis-thrusting hound dog. My partner’s mother is a big fan, too, and we took her to her first Elvis impersonator’s show last winter.

One of our 11-year-olds likes him so much that we bought her a pair of fake Elvis glasses, complete with sideburns, for the holidays.

On Sunday, we decided to take her photo, wearing the glasses, in the exact spot in the hotel as Elvis stood almost exactly 40 years ago. However, we quickly realized it was such a fun idea that all of us – with the exception of our 10-year-old who was at a soccer game – would partake in the photoshoot.

Even Pfister artists in residence, Stephanie Barenz, her husband, Zach, and Pfister Lobby Bar bartender Joni got in the Elvis-channeling action.

Here’s a gallery serving as our tribute to The King’s brief but unforgettable appearance in the lobby. I call it “Heartbreak Hotel, Pfister style.”

Olivia is Elvis.
Olivia is Elvis.
Stephanie is Elvis.
Stephanie is Elvis.
Royal is Elvis.
Royal is Elvis.
Joani is Elvis.
Joni is Elvis.
Kai River is Elvis.
Kai River is Elvis.
Zach is Elvis.
Zach is Elvis.
And I am Elvis, too – blowing kisses to my invisible adoring fans.
And I am Elvis, too – blowing kisses to my invisible adoring fans.