A hotel scavenger hunt

Every year, Karen Parr and a friend take their now 12-year-old daughters to spend an afternoon at the Pfister’s Lobby Bar for a splash of holiday cheer.

The foursome have done this for four or five years in a row and have documented the annual event with photos, including some with the iconic Pfister lion statues.


As the girls got older, Karen thought they could explore the hotel a bit on their own. In doing do, she hoped also they would they find excitement in the independence of a parent-free roam.

And Karen and her friend could have a few minutes for a grown-up drink and chat.

Ingeniusly, Karen decided to create a scavenger hunt list for the girls that would keep them focused while having fun. She wrote her list on the back of a Pfister coaster:


5 floating angels

4 dead men

3 swooning ladies

2 fainting couches

And the definition of the word “concierge” 


Indeed, the girls had a blast finding the objects and images and the scavenger hunt has become a part of the group’s holiday tradition.

One fainting couch found!
One fainting couch found!

The Pfister hotel, however, was already a tradition for Karen. She stayed at the hotel with her mother the night before her wedding and with her new husband on her wedding night.

Her mother also stayed there when she came to Milwaukee for Karen’s baby shower and Karen still treasures a photo taken in the lobby from that visit. (Little did she know at the time  that the unborn little girl would be her lifelong Pfister date.)

“The Pfister lounge feels like my mom’s living room. I like going there – it’s formal and elegant yet casual and warm and friendly. Just like my mother. And that’s why I keep going back,” says Karen, who is originally from Erie, Pennsylvania. “I love the formality and the chance to dress up a little.”

And for the record, concierge means “Keeper of the keys.” Now go find the rest of the items on Karen’s list.


Traveling with the team

As the Pfister Narrator, I do not approach sports figures or celebrities when they are staying at the Pfister. Oh, I sneak glances when I see them pass through the lobby and maybe elbow the person next to me with a “well, look at him” nod, but I allow them to have the privacy they deserve without Nosy Lady Journalist in their face, asking a bunch of Qs.

It’s tempting to chat up the famous types, but the combination of top-notch service and personal space is one of the aspects of staying at the Pfister so many famous folk appreciate and so I, of course, don’t mess with that.

But when I stumble upon people who work for sports figures or celebrities, I let myself get a bit chatty. Such was the case when I met Anie and Chris who were traveling with the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team.

Anie is the team’s massage therapist and goes to most of the away games with the guys. It’s a lot of time on the road – from fall to spring – but she enjoys the work and considers herself very lucky to have the job.

She could not disclose very much about her massage practices or how often she gave massages. I understood this and eventually I stopped asking such questions and moved onto more neutral queries like, “How’s the team doing?” (9 and 2 at the time) and “How’s the soup?” (It was the Pfister’s French onion soup, and she said it was delicious. I really have to try this, it looked cheesy and bready and amazing.)

Honestly, I had no idea teams even had massage therapists travel with them and, as a person who has always believed wholeheartedly in the healing and proactive powers of massage therapy, cranial sacral therapy, reiki and the like, I was really happy to hear this.

“Pretty much all of the teams have a massage therapist now,” says Anie, who has practiced massage for six years. “It’s a pretty normal treatment. The world is changing. It’s getting more holistic.”

Well here’s to that.

A secret Pfister rendezvous

No matter how much we love our family, cialis by December 26th some of us are ready to branch off from the holiday family tree so we don’t snap.

It’s usually nothing personal, we just need a little down time – one hermit hour or maybe 24 – after weeks of planning, no rx shopping, partying and decorating. This is exactly what happened to Merry (not her real name, but certainly an appropriate pseudonym for the season.)

Merry has a rare and commendable blend of family. She enjoys spending the holidays – as well as time year ‘round – not only with her partner’s grown child but also his former wife.

The Bradys made family “bunching” look easy, for sale but those of us who have actually lived it offscreen know that it’s difficult enough to fill in the squares with new faces, much less smiling faces. But Merry and her extended family have done this.

And yet, on the afternoon of December 26th, Merry found herself Pricelining hotel rooms. Merry was not in a fight with anyone, nor was she sick of her house guests. She just needed a post-Santa reboot and when she realized she could get a last-minute room at the Pfister Hotel for a fraction of what the room went for normally, she summoned the reindeer to queue up in front of the sleigh.

And by that I mean she clicked “buy.”

Of course she had to tell her family she was slipping away, but she wasn’t ready to fess up to the fact that she had treated herself to some much-needed R&R in Milwaukee’s grandest hotel while they ran around and return gifts or respond to email.

So Merry did what any caring family member would do. She told a white Christmas white lie. She simply said she was going to her parents’ house for a spell and that she would see everyone the next day.

And then she drove to the Pfister Hotel. Within minutes, she was wearing a plush white robe, relaxing on the cloud of a mattress and relaxing. Relaxing.

“This was the only time I stayed at the Pfister and it was amazing,” Merry told me over a drink in the Lobby Bar recently.

Eventually, Merry confessed to her partner about her secret yuletide getaway, but her story carries on as one to be told and retold, even more so than the one about the ‘kerchief and the not-stirring mouse.

Merry’s story reminds us to give ourselves the gifts we need, really need, during the holidays, like permission to overindulge and wear sweatpants, to dream big while questioning the upcoming year, to feel hope while acknowledging loss, to feel grateful in the eye of our desire for more and to rest. To rest. And to rest.

That’s the only white Christmas I’m dreaming of.

Get a whiff of this: the Pfister’s best-smelling guests

When I was in college, I had a roommate who wore Eternity perfume, and to this day, when I smell it, I am flooded with college memories of cramming for Psychology tests and going out for Mexican food at 2 a.m.

Personally, I’m not much of a fragrance wearer myself. Not for any particular reason – I just never really got into them. During my brief phase following the Grateful Dead in the early ‘90s I wore patchouli, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.

Hence, my recent conversation with Pfister guests Rachael and Christine was pretty fascinating.

Christine works in the fragrance industry and she used to work with Rachael at Kohl’s where her company sells its fragrances. Rachael moved on into a new position, but she and Christine are still friends and were out to celebrate Rachael’s birthday with a drink at the Lobby Bar and a meal at Mason Street Grill.

When I first approached them, I immediately noticed how good they smelled. Not overpowering, but really fresh. In fact, I believe they are my Best Smelling Interviewees to date.

Christine told me that her company has a licensing agreement with many designers and celebrities with their own line of fragrances including Vera Wang, Jennifer Lopez and Calvin Klein.

According to Christine, Jennifer Lopez’s “JLove” is currently one of the hottest perfumes on the market and exclusively available at Kohl’s. Marc Jacob’s “Eau So Fresh” is popular these days, too. Turns out, both Rachael and the Lobby Bar bartender were wearing it that night.

Christine says that although there are a lot of great fragrances on the market, sometimes the best get discontinued.

“The American consumer is so driven by what’s new and what’s hot but if a company does not continue to advertise and get it out there with scented (cards in magazines) and on TV, the consumer doesn’t usually come back,” she says.

Some people stay loyal to the same fragrances for most of their life – classics like Obsession and White Diamonds are in this category – whereas other ladies like to switch it up and go with what’s trendy as they do with fashion.

Sometimes you can tell a person’s personality through their perfume of choice.

“Certain kinds of personalities gravitate to certain fragrances,” says Christine. “From soft to sporty to spicy.”

So how long does a fragrance last?

“Two years if it’s open, but if it’s not open it can stay in air-tight bottles for a long time,” says Christine.

How do you know you’re not putting on too much? Rachael suggests a quick spray on each wrist and then a spray or two into the air and doing the “walk through.”

“You really can’t go wrong with the ‘walk through,’” she says. “Just remember, your fragrance shouldn’t enter a room before you do.”

A fireside chat with an unconventional foodie

Today was the first snow fall in Milwaukee, medicine but the Pfister Lobby Bar’s fireplace has been ablaze on and off for weeks already. It also suggested to me the ideal time to share a conversation I recently had with Young Kim, the executive director of the Fondy Food Market, Milwaukee’s oldest and largest year-round farmer’s market.

During our fireside chat with Lobby Bar beers we covered a lot of ground, from the merits of winter to Korean barbecue to grown-ups using words like “potty.”

Young told me he was born in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He later lived in New Orleans, Chapel Hill and Dallas.

“I’m a Southern boy, and if I’m pissed or surprised the Southern accent comes out. If you’ve ever seen a Korean with a Southern accent you never forget it,” he says.

To this day, Young says he often says “ink pen” (pronounced “pin”) when referring to the writing device Midwesterners just call a pen. Otherwise, he sounds like most of us Midwesterners.

But despite the many years Young lived South of the border, numerous aspects of the culture and environment just didn’t work for him.

“I can’t stand hot weather. I have always loved snow,” he says. “I didn’t get to see it until I was nine and we had a freak snow storm in New Orleans.”

It’s fascinating to meet someone born and raised in a warmer climate who still loves winter weather, especially considering how many people I know who lived in Wisconsin their entire lives and still cannot accept the ice or snow.

One of the things Young likes to do on cold days is drive to Chicago and go to his favorite Korean restaurant, San Soo Gab San, for barbecued meat.

“A lot of Korean restaurants have tables with a big hole in the middle and a guy comes over with an asbestos glove up to his shoulder, carrying a bucket of coal, which he dumps in the hole, slaps a grate over it and before you know it has grilled your meat,” says Young.

Korean restaurants often offer small-plate dishes called banchan. It is customary for a meal to feature five or six banchan, but at San Soo, diners will have 25 or 30 different plates to sample.

“Only in the Midwest will they give you a scoop of potato salad and a scoop of coleslaw along with other traditional Korean dishes,” says Young. “The first time I saw this I was like, ‘what the heck is this?’”

But to Young, this is what it means to be a foodie.

“It’s a loaded term, but to me, ‘foodie’ means who you are in terms of food and where you came from,” says Young. “It’s not necessarily something that’s made with truffle oil or berries picked by vegan children.”

When he was 28, Young went to Korea in an attempt to connect with his culture. Although he had been living in the United States his entire life, he had a sense of not being “from here.”

“People were always getting my name reversed and saying what an unusual name when in Korean it’s as common as ‘Joe Smith,’” he says.

Young had some great food in Korea, but more than anything, the trip reinforced that he really is an American. Hence, he returned with a sense of self and some great stories.

“Because I refused to speak Korean to my parents after the age of 2, once I realized most of the people around me were speaking English, my Korean froze at the toddler level,” says Young. “I forgot this until I was asking someone where the restroom was and my mother informed me I was actually telling them I needed to go potty.”


Virgie: a woman of great words, great work

Seven months ago, recipe Virgie Johnson found poetry. Or maybe it found her.

It started after she went to a poetry set at a Milwaukee nightclub called Nostalgia that features a spoken word event every Tuesday night called Poetry Unplugged.

“I went and I fell in love, sick ” says Virgie, who has worked in housekeeping at the Pfister for three years and, prior to that, at the Hilton Hotel for 10 years.

These days, if you watch Virgie long enough, either on the job or in her personal life, you will see her occasionally scribble something onto a napkin or a scrap of paper.

“I write mostly about relationships. Love, hate. You know, relationships,” she says.

Eventually, Virgie found herself on stage at Nostalgia and now she tries to go every week, even if she has to go alone.

“It’s my sanctuary. No matter what’s going on at home or at work I can feel inner peace for a minute when I’m there,” she says. “ I take care of so many people at home and at work, the poetry takes care of me.”

Recently, Virgie performed at the Marcus Employee Show during Gallery Night and the next week, I went to see Virgie perform at Nostalgia. Both times I was blown away by her honesty, her storytelling skills and the sound of her smooth, confident voice.

Virgie performs at Nostalgia.
Virgie performs at Nostalgia.

Virgie grew up on Chicago’s South Side. She moved to Milwaukee years ago because she thought it would be a positive place to raise her five children.

“I thought Milwaukee was a slower pace than Chicago,” she says.

Living in Milwaukee definitely worked in her family’s favor. Her oldest daughter is a college graduate living and working in Memphis and her oldest granddaughter says she wants to be like “Grandma Virgie” when she grows up.

Family is very important to Virgie. But so is work.

“I have a passion to make people smile, to make people feel welcome. It’s in my nature. I don’t know what else I would do if I wasn’t greeting people,” says Virgie.

Virgie says she deeply connected with former Artist-in-Residence  Timothy Westbrook – her daughter was one of his models earlier this year – as well as current  AiR, Stephanie Barenz, whom she shares her poems with while on a break.

“I think I connect with people who are different because I am different,” she says.

Virgie loves her job at the Pfister so much that even though she gets four weeks of vacation every year she still has three weeks and three days left and fewer than two months to use it up.

“Even in the mall, I’m holding elevator doors  for people and saying ‘hi’ to people when I’m walking down the street. Some people think I’m crazy. But that’s just my nature. And that’s why I fell in love with this company. If you treat them good, they treat you good,” says Virgie.

Do opposites attract?

Years ago, health Rick and Debbie went to high school together in Oak Park, Mich., but they were not friends. Debbie remembers Rick, but Rick does not remember Debbie.

“He was a burnout, prescription ” she says.

“Let’s just say I had some bad habits back then,” says Rick. “I liked to party. Listened to a lot of Zeppelin. And Debbie was a goody-goody.”

“I prefer ‘studious type, look ’” says Debbie. “No, our paths never crossed back then. But here we are 14 years later.”

Rick and Debbie were recently staying at the Pfister Hotel while visiting Debbie’s son, Michael.

“I usually pick the really new, modern hotels. This is my first time in an old, historic hotel and I love it. I thought I was going to smell moth balls in my room – but I don’t – or feel like Scarlet O’Hara in ‘Gone With the Wind,’ but I don’t,” says Debbie. “I never liked chain restaurants to eat in so why would I want to stay in a chain hotel? It’s the same logic, I’m realizing.”

I nod, happy she sees the beauty and the allure of the opulent Pfister. But I gotta know more about their story. Like how did they find each other so many years after high school?

“My sister fixed us up. She was shopping at the grocery store, and she saw Rick at the deli counter and she told him she thought he’d be good for me and so he gave her his card to give to me,” says Debbie.

“Guess I got good meat,” says Rick. Then looks at me, “You buying drinks?”

I nod, buy him a cocktail and ask the big question.

“Do you believe opposites really attract?”

They look at each other and chuckle. Debbie is a pharmacist and Rick is a car salesman and they have none of the same interests but they say they are happy.

“On the surface, we have nothing in common,” says Debbie. “But when you come from the same place and have the same core values, that’s what really matters.”

The Packers’ good luck charm

For three decades, Jane has been going to Packers games. She grew up in Kenosha and from the time she turned 16 she drove every year to a game. And every year – EVERY YEAR – the team won.

“Thirty years, 30 games, 30 wins,” she says.

Jane now lives in Florida with her husband, Lenny. They still come to Wisconsin every year for a Packers game. And they always stay at the Pfister Hotel. I met her during her most recent visit at the Pfister’s Lobby Bar.

“I have a long history of memories at the Pfister. I started coming here with my parents as a kid. We’d drive to Milwaukee for a show at The Rep and always stop here,” she says.

Jane grew up in a family with six children in a “castle house.” She was born after three brothers, but her love for football came from within herself – not from them. Jane comes from a long line of female fans, including her grandmother who told stories of sitting on her grandfather’s shoulders at the old City Stadium – the Packers’ home field from 1925 to 1956 – before there were seats for spectators.

She also realized early on that her outward passion for the game was not shared by all.

“I went to my first sleepover at Ellen Perry’s house in fourth grade. We watched a football game with her family – the Packers were playing the Bears – and whenever the Packer got a first down I would scream my head off, jump up and down. Ellen’s family just looked at me like I was nuts. Later I told my parents about this, and my mom said, ‘you know, Jane, not everyone reacts that way to football.’ I was floored,” says Jane.

Jane has had the same license plate “PCKRS1” for many years and brought an expired one to Brett Favre’s Steakhouse in Green Bay. The manager thanked her for it, but the next year when she and Lenny returned to the restaurant, it was not hanging with the other plates. So they asked the manager where it was.

“Brett told us he wanted it in his special showcase (in a special room at the restaurant),” says Jane, beaming.

Her thoughts on the controversial Favre?

“I love Brett Favre. I look at him for his work. What happened in his personal life … whatever. I grew up rooting for a first down – not even a touchdown – and then Brett came into our lives and gave us so much,” she says. “He has a great body of work and that’s all I respect.”

Jane then shares that she works in the health care industry and it all comes full circle.

“You’re a healer! No wonder the team wins every game when you’re there,” I say.

Jane raises her drink. “Go Packers,” she says.

The next day, Jane attended her 31st Packers game. And the Packers beat the Cleveland Browns, 31-13.

Of course they did.

Chef knows

Last week, I interviewed the Pfister’s executive chef, Brian Frakes. He told me a number of interesting things and I sampled a lot of fantastic food (the lemon garlic hummus is criminally delish!), but the nugget that I took away from our conversation – and will never forget – was how he moved back to Milwaukee.

Frakes grew up in Milwaukee, but when he was 12 his dad got a job in Florida and so his family moved. Frakes went to college and started his career in Florida and later relocated to Los Angeles to work at another prestigious hotel.

Meanwhile, his parents had moved back to Brew City and Frakes often said he, too, would return under one condition: if he could be the executive chef at the Pfister Hotel.

Frakes was attracted to The Pfister’s history, commitment to quality and clear vision of the future.

“The Pfister is the Waldorf Astoria of the Midwest,” he says.

In 2006, Frakes was offered his dream job as the Pfister head chef. So he moved back to Milwaukee.

And he created incredible food. And he fell in love. And eventually he had two daughters.

“It was a cool way to move back home,” he says.

To want something very specific and then for the opportunity to arise is a mix of vision, determination and magic. To say “I want that” isn’t something everyone can do because the universe isn’t always a giver and it is much easier to settle into whatever comes down the pike than to have a very specific goal. Because one will be disappointed if it doesn’t work out.

But when you follow your path, it’s the best chance of finding that thing called happiness, which some refer to as one’s True North.

For Frakes, it was By Way Of The Pfister.


Mixing it up with a marathon runner

Jen is an avid runner who lives in Chicago, but when it comes to marathon running, she comes to Milwaukee. I met her in the Lobby Bar the night before her second time running Milwaukee’s Lakefront Marathon.

Jen lived in Milwaukee from the time she was 12 years old through college – she graduated from UWM – but this is not why she returns to Brew City for long, group runs.

“I prefer the Lakefront Marathon because it’s small and downhill at the end,” she says, then takes a sip of seltzer water fresh from the bar “gun” in the Pfister’s Lobby Bar.

The Lakefront Marathon, which took place on Sunday, Oct. 6, was Jen’s fifth marathon. She also ran a marathon in Madison and two in Pittsburgh and, as already mentioned, once in Milwaukee before.

So is there anything crazy or special she has to do before or during a run? Like, does she have to run backwards for the first quarter mile or wear special socks?

“In general, I’m light on superstition, but I usually eat chicken noodle soup in a bread bowl from Panera the day or night before a marathon,” she says. “It’s salty, carb-filled and easy on the tummy.”

“Only from Panera?” I ask.

“Well, usually. Because they have a bread bowl,” she says, kindly leaving the “duh” tone out of her voice.

She says she always wears the same black hat when running, but that’s more of a habit than a superstition.

“I’m pretty loyal to that hat, though. There is only one Running Hat,” she says.

Then she blows my mind by saying she never listens to music when she runs.

“Never. Mostly because I usually run really early in the morning when it’s still dark and so staying alert is really important,” she says.

“But isn’t that insanely boring?” I ask.

“No,” she says, laughing. “It’s my rich, internal life.”

“Apparently, I don’t have one of those,” I tell her, shuddering at the thought of running miles and miles and miles without a single tune.

Jen goes on to explain that most of her life is spent in extroverted situations and, at root, she is an introvert. Running allows her to celebrate her introvert-ness.

I ask her if she wants to do the Iron Woman someday.

“I did a triathlon last year, but I’m not a check-things-off-of-my-list kind of person,” she says.

Does she have one of those popular 26.2 stickers in her car window?

“No, I’m not a rah-rah kind of person, either,” she says.

Finally, a question I’ve never asked in 12 years of reporting: Has running ever made her throw up?

“Luckily, no,” she says. “And I hope I’m not jinxing myself.”

The next day, I texted Jen to find out how the marathon went. She reported that she finished in 4:03:44 which was her new personal best.

“Must have been the magic Pfister water,” she texted.