Sunshine Face and Straight Shooter Have Eggs with Santa

There is nothing like a good old fashioned grown-adult-helpers-dressed-like-elves-everything-dipped-in whipped cream-frosting-and-sprinkles Breakfast with Santa to remind an old fella like me that Christmas is for the kiddos.

This past weekend at the Pfister, the granddaddy of all the Santa breakfasts began its three-weekend run. This was cause for joyful jubilation for me because I realized that in all my years of believing in the man in the red suit with the jelly bowl tummy, I’ve never shared eggs and bacon with him. They say you never forget your first, and I surely won’t soon get this glorious affair out of my memories.

The adorable factor was dialed up to the rarely seen SUPER CUTE setting as kids decked out in their best Christmas do dads sipped hot cocoa between bites of fruit salad and toast. They had come to speak to the big guy and his best gal, Mrs. Claus, and the perfect training meal for that big moment is clearly capped off by a gingerbread cookie slathered with frosting a couple of inches thick.

I’m convinced that a room full of smiling children has the potential to change the world. Or, at least, gently melt many a cold, cold heart. From the high pitched group Christmas Carol sing-a-long lead by Chief Concierge Peter Mortenson to the little fists writing notes on the letterhead all primed for Santa, the good girls and boys who had come to spend the morning dreaming about what they might see under their tree on December 25th were cherubic as all get out.

I’m not trafficking new territory when I say kids are great. The ways in which they are great are numerous, of course, but I had delightful encounters with two lasses who showed off two of my favorite kid types that I like to call Sunshine Face and Straight Shooter.

Sunshine Face is that remarkable ability kids have to wring the most out of a good feeling. Sure, kids have rough patches, and maybe you could call those Cloudy Puss days, but Sunshine Face makes my heart skip a few beats when I’m lucky enough to see it in action. I’ll go on record to say that watching kids shoot beams of joy from their eyes as they’re on the edge of exploding from fun rather than being all adulty and cool about feeling good should be prescribed as an antidepressant by big pharma and stat.

Trinity had one of the most devastating cases of Sunshine Face I have ever seen. I’m pretty sure her brother Trent did, too, but when I tried to draw him into a conversation he was laser focused on scraping all of the frosting off of a cookie and into his mouth. And who among us can blame that brilliant kid?


Trinity, on the other hand, was daintily eating a cookie at a table shared by her brother, mom, Jessica, and grandma, Adele. She had on a lovely head wrap that was festively appointed with a pair of reindeer antlers.

“Are you part reindeer?” I asked.

Trinity giggled as she snapped back, “No! Those are just my ears.” Just her ears? Surely she meant, “Just the cutest reindeer ears ever to frame a Sunshine Face.”

I asked the question on everyone’s mind who had come to bow at the alter of S.C. “What are you going to ask Santa for this year, Trinity”

Shopkins!” screamed Trinity. “I want Santa to bring me Skopkins!” Not spending a lot of time in the toy aisles these days, I had never heard of Shopkins and asked Trinity what they were. Asking someone with Sunshine Face to describe their favorite toy is something of a fatal error to make if you’re looking for a short answer. The only thing to do when you jump off that cliff is to hold on to your Sunshine Face friend as they spiral down the rabbit hole to tell you the completely detailed history of their Christmas wish. For those of you who, like me, were unaware of what Skopkins were, I now know from Trinity that they are small pieces of food that you don’t really eat but are super cute and the absolutely coolest best thing ever that there ever was for all time now and forever. Or something like that.

I am quite certain that Trinity is a very good girl and will undoubtedly receive the Shopkins she requested for herself and her brother Trent, he of the steely frosting focus. You don’t hold onto Sunshine Face as long as she did unless you’re polite, and kind, and clean up your room when your mom asks.

Sunshine Face had me feeling like I had just drank a bathtub full of eggnog and followed it with a victory in a candy cane eating contest. It’s a good feeling, for sure, but I’m a man of moderation so I really appreciated Straight Shooter giving me balance.

Lili, her sister Emma, mom Erika, and dad Sean were tucked in a corner smiling the smile of satisfied breakfast bellies, all framed with the glow of sunshine pouring in through nearby windows. A smarter more fashionable family would have been harder to imagine. I have to believe their holiday photos are spectacular…or simply so dazzling that I would be forever jealous.


Emma, a bright teen, was clearly being delightfully tolerant of the whole Santa who ha for her sister’s sake, though I marked her as a true believer if ever I’ve seen one. I turned to Lili to learn her thoughts about the day at hand and the holiday as a whole.

“What’s your favorite part about Christmas?” I asked.

Spoken clearly with the confidence that belied her single digit age, the young Straight Shooter laid it out plan.

“I like giving more than getting.”

I liked this kid right away. No messing around. I asked her if she had gotten presents for her family and she nodded that she had. I wondered if she would share that info with me and she summoned me close to whisper into my ear so that she could hold onto the secret of the gifts she would soon be giving. I’m not spilling the beans, but let’s just say, she’s an excellent shopper.

As Lili and I were chatting, Santa and Mrs. Claus made their big entrance into the room. There was a noticeable lift to the energy in the room, but Lili herself seemed a bit nonplussed by all the hoopla. I asked her what she thought about visiting with Santa. Her answer defined what I adore about Straight Shooters everywhere.

“I mean I don’t know Santa, so it’s really just like sitting on a stranger’s lap.”

The world needs an equal share of Sunshine Faces and Straight Shooters, for sure. That and plenty of friendly jolly old elves who are happy to listen to your holiday hopes after some tasty scrambled eggs.

Follow me on Twitter @jonathantwest for more smart remarks and snappy retorts.

Santa and His Retired Friends From The C.I.A.

On a Friday night in December, online there is man in a Santa hat having a drink with a bunch of his friends in the lounge. To make conversation I ask him why he’s got that hat on (though the reason is obvious) and one of his many friends says, “He is our official Santa. We all used to work together, but half of us are retired now.”  I ask them where they worked and they tell me, store in great guffaw bursts, “The C.I.A. HA HA HA HA HAHHHHH!”

Note to readers, while I am certain that Central Intelligence Agency workers do enjoy leisure in the Pfister, like anyone else, you have to understand that everyone, yes, nearly everyone constantly tries to impress me by telling me that they work for the C.I.A. or the F.B.I.  Usually men will inform me this when not accompanied by a wife or girlfriend.   They expect my eyes to grow like saucers. They expect me to swoon or trill like a parakeet. Sometimes, diagnosis just to give them that moment of satisfaction I go along, but truly, you can’t pull that kind of bunk with me when everyone else says the same thing. And just what is the allure of being a C.I.A. or F.B.I agent? I am certain it is not often a job like it is the movies. Furthermore, I don’t even enjoy those kinds of movies.

The workers point to their official Santa, “Do you watch the news? He’s the one responsible for the torture of the 9/11 terrorists.” I must not look impressed, for someone else backs the claim up, “Yeah, it was all him, he was the architect of the torture.” Clearly, this is not eliciting the right reaction with me at all when a woman asks me “Were you even alive during the 9/11 terror attacks?”

It was him.


2001 was thirteen years ago. If that was before my time, that would put me at twelve years of age, well, at the very most. However, I do remember learning from my high school’s intercom about the attack on the twin towers in New York. My first thought was, “What are the twin towers?”

I don’t get too deep into my reminiscing of that day, because these people seem to be having fun. One of them is wearing a yarn necklace strung with office supply clips. She tells me she retired the on same day as the official Santa and one other person. The three of them all decided to retire as a group last year because it would be cool to do that.




More former coworkers arrive, and the cries of long separation carry through the whole lobby. This is one loyal pack and they are feeling rowdy. I flee to let them howl.

Former and current members of the C.I.A.

‘Twas the night before Pfist-mas

‘Twas the night before Christmas, health

and all through the Pfister

a few creatures were stirring,

some misses, some misters.




The stockings were hung

without a single demand

and stuffed with the sounds

from the piano man’s hands.




A few guests were asleep

in pillow-topped beds

with visions of lions

roaming in their heads.




The barkeep in his black suit

poured sparkling nightcaps

ensuring those still awake

would soon take long naps.


Then out on the street

horns started blaring

some sprang from their stools

some stayed seated, here not caring.


And from the cafe windows

they were stunned by what they saw:

Saint Nicholas himself

get out of a yellow taxi car.




His eyes, doctor how they twinkled

not a trace of the crabbies

and before going in

he triple-tipped the cabby.


He walked behind the bar

and went straight to work,

refilled everyone’s glasses

with a jolly wink and a smirk.




The guests toasted his kindness

as he left the festive lobby

“Merry Christmas to all

and go back to your room if you start to feel wobbly.”



Santa’s visit!

After last Friday’s tree lighting ceremony, Santa had a  ton of letters to go through just from the children who visited him here at the Pfister (this on top of all of the other letters from across the world). As a testament to the talent that the jolly ol’ man has, and his adoption of technology in the digital age (or maybe it’s just a tech-savvy elf), Santa sent us a brief email along with photos of all the great letters he received from the children of the Pfister, and insisted that we share it with all of you!

Ho ho ho,

Hello there my good friends at The Pfister! I wanted to thank all of you for hosting yet another gorgeous ceremony kicking off the Christmas season at your hotel! It’s always a delight when I make my visits to Milwaukee to include The Pfister in them, and I love leading the countdown to the lighting of your grand tree!

Most importantly though, I love spending time with all of the great girls and boys who attend the tree lighting every year, and those who I get to see each Saturday in December during your “Breakfast with Santa” event.  Year after year, these kids continue to impress me with how smart they are, how exciting they are, and most importantly, with how good they’ve been.

I’ve already dropped my letters back to each of them in the mail, so they should be getting them soon (if they haven’t already), but I’ve enclosed photos that some of my elves helped me take of all the great letters that I got from the children at the lighting ceremony this year.  They were so well written and fun to read that I thought some of your friends might be interested in seeing them too!

I’ve got a busy month ahead of me, but thank you again for welcoming all the great guests along with myself and my lovely wife into your home this and every holiday season!



View all of the letters here!


The Menu of Holiday Past and Present

There are all kinds of relics to uncover here at the Pfister Hotel. With the holidays in full swing, food comes to my mind right away.  In my home, food for any celebration is always given the utmost care and attention, like a newborn baby. As I was poking around last week, I hopscotched my way up the wide, coral marble steps in the lobby guarded by Dick and Harry (the bronze lions). Displayed inconspicuously, was the china used at Thanksgiving dinner in 1899 at the Pfister Hotel, complete with the dinner menu. DSC_0046

Blue point oysters, Little Neck clams; followed by consomme, whitefish, salmon, leg of lamb, filet mignon, young chicken, young turkey and haunch of antelope. I’m not quite sure about that last entree, but overall, that sounds like a way better spread than turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole.

Luckily, this tradition of elegance and fine dining continues today with both Thanksgiving and Christmas brunch here at the Pfister. When I first arrived back in November, I marveled at the Sunday brunch service. Now, I see that truly, no one does the holidays like the Pfister.

Pfister menu

Only one other holiday tops the decadence of Thanksgiving, and that  is Christmas. At The Pfister, food is paramount.  I made a special trip on Christmas morning just to see the spread for myself. A runway of tables split the grand ballroom in two, piled high with every kind of delicacy you could imagine. It was a sight for the eyes, as much as a treat for the stomach. The tables intersected another horizontal row of smiling, white-coated chefs eager and willing to prepare you a fresh omelet or a stack of malted Belgian waffles.

Features from this year’s menu were: juniper berry grilled quail with sun-dried fruit wild rice, traditional rosemary leg of lamb with mint pan jam,  sea salt and herb crusted prime rib with thyme-garlic jus, Scottish salmon en croute with fennel, snow crab claws, shucked cold water oysters and lemongrass poached jumbo shrimp with cognac infused cocktail sauce.

(Is your mouth watering yet?)

Caramelized onion broth with parmesan croutons, citrus roasted chicken with rosemary polenta cakes, melted arugula, smoked tomato cream and winter squash ratatouille. I could go on all day…

The ballroom was packed with families smiling, laughing and enjoying their time together. I realized that although the food was spectacular, the more important function of it was bringing families together to share a meal and make memories on this most sacred holiday.



A Pfister Take on “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas”

Each year, on the day after Thanksgiving, the Pfister Hotel holds its annual tree lighting ceremony.  Featuring cookies and crafts for the kids, the fabulous carols of the Bel Canto Chorus, and a special appearance by the jolly ol’ man himself, this year’s ceremony was as memorable as those past. But did you know about the work that goes into setting up our tree?  For hours prior to the ceremony – starting on Thanksgiving day, the tree is tirelessly assembled by a fantastic group of people.  And just to give them their due, we’ve captured all of that work in a minute and a half.

Twas the night of Thanksgiving
And all throughout the hotel
Holiday magic was happening
Compliments of Santa’s Secret Decorating Elves

The Pfister tree went up overnight
To the amazement of staff and guests
The elves were frantically working
Scurrying back and forth I can attest.

As Friday dawned bright and early
The lobby was full of holiday decorations
The garland, the bows, and the ornaments,
The last minute preparations.

For soon the lobby would be full
With children squealing in glee.
Santa would soon be arriving
To officially light the Pfister tree.

The Bel Canto Chorus began signing
Their voices in perfect tune
The carols they were lovely
And they helped set the right mood

The radio then buzzed

Omar than made the announcement,
The crowd hushed to hear him say

The doors then burst open
Santa marched down the lobby aisle
Up to Omar he strode,
With a jolly laugh and big smile

Santa said with a grin,

The crowd and Santa cheered with great glee.

The she was aglow
As were many the faces
Santa visited with each child
Sticky hands and sticky faces

The day it was grand
The Pfister tree shines so bright
Merry Christmas to all
And to all a good night.

By Michelle McCarragher

Holiday Season Begins

Last year I took a seasonal job selling Christmas trees in Florida. Why Christmas trees? Why Florida? Because it’s seasonal and the job is over soon. It’s nice to spend a month in the warmth. They paid for my travel, a house we shared on the beach, and all my meals while in the FLA. There exist customers who are glad to pay healthy prices to take their time selecting a special tree. They also enjoy that healthy Wisconsin farm boys, for a fee, deliver their chosen tree to their house and set it up. (Wherever, however, turn left, keep going, keep going, YES! No, back a little. Yeah, yeah, that’s it. What do you think honey, is it crooked now? Maybe a little farther…)

My employer in the Christmas tree trade was a gentleman I met briefly before he excused himself to answer a telephone call. I went back to my eggs and speaking with the person seated on my other side. We were all grabbing breakfast at a restaurant with a counter, “counter culture” as my poet friend Louisa Loveridge Gallas likes to say. The guy walked back in from his phone call to announce one of the most preposterous things I’ve ever heard come out of a person’s mouth, “Well, one of our guys hurt his back and can’t come sell Christmas trees in Florida this year.” He started querying healthy young men in earshot. “Frank; Ed- any of you guys want to, um, come sell Christmas trees in Clearwater?” It sounded too strange to be fictional, so of course I jumped at the chance. Working as a poet/bartender/artist it’s nice to do some real physical work every now and then. We opened up our enormous tent on Thanksgiving and it was the first time in my life someone said to me, “Happy Thanksgiving!” on a 70+ degree day. I’d probably be in Florida right now if I hadn’t landed this fantastical job titled Narrator.

Accompany of Kids serenades our guests from stairs leading to the second floor.

I wonder what my dad would say if he could hear me tell him about the duties of the Narrator. My tool and tie maker father was the king of 60 hour work weeks before retiring earlier than he would have liked. “Let me get this straight…your job is to hang out and talk to people and write about it? Where’s the work in that?” Don’t worry dad, I’m still working a couple other jobs, it’s not all hanging out and glasses of water, room for cream in my coffee, shooting the breeze…

Yesterday was the Black Friday dreaded by folks in retail. Personally, I didn’t step foot in a store. We joined all the families who came to the hotel to participate in celebrating the tree lighting ceremony. To quote an Australian gentleman I met here last week the event had me, “Absolutely Gobsmacked!” Milwaukee area families and visiting guests enjoyed complimentary champagne, egg nog, build your own cookies and cupcakes for the kids (ok– adults too, I confess). Accompany of Kids was on-hand to serenade all with holiday songs. To top it all off the Milwaukee Fire Department safely escorted Santa and Ms. Claus for a meet and greet with small a city of excited children.

Grrr, baby. Very grrrrrrr. Even our cats dress up in their seasonal best.

As I look at this lovely holiday display in the lobby, which I did not deliver or set up, there are Milwaukee area families dressed in their best to come downtown and share laughs and pictures with people they may not have seen since a tree stood this time last year. It’s Saturday now and it’s no longer a chorus, rather, Lou Cucunato is playing piano next to the marble sculpture of Guido Pfister. Last year this time I had work selling and delivering Fraser, Douglas, and Noble fir trees after meeting a guy at the local breakfast counter. This winter my “work” is lounging with a tree in my periphery while speaking with guests enjoying a cocktail or a meal at the counter. The piano player just got done with Sway by Dean Martin. People often say the holidays are stressful. I suppose. But why focus on that? Now Louie’s piano is on to My Way by Sinatra. Good. I’ll keep in line with the man. To quote a letter from Frank, “Loosen up. Swing, man. Dust off those gossamer wings and fly yourself to the moon of your choice…”

The Pfister Tree Lighting [Video]

The holiday tree is our exquisite tradition at The Pfister. Every year, advice we look forward to the holiday season, where we turn our lobby into a winter wonderland.

Take a quick look at the work that goes into setting up the Holiday Tree at the Pfister Hotel.

Time Lapse of the the Holiday Tree.

Stop and take in the Pfister

Yesterday, while walking through the lobby of the hotel, we took a second to stop and take it in.

The Pfister Hotel is filled to the brim with history and stories waiting to be told. It makes you think, “If only those walls could talk.”

After this brief moment of reflection, we thought, “When was the last time you got to sit in the lobby of the Pfister Hotel and really take it in?”

Here are some of the comments we received on Facebook and Twitter.

Ardith Richter: For the last 25 years, there are 5 times in a year that I have sat and just watched the spirits of the past. Miss my dear friend, Miss Betty.

Scott Heun: About 3 months ago I enjoyed a shakers martini at Blu with Mike Smith and a great pizza and a Spotted Cow from New Glarus in the lobby bar. The best lobby in the country!

Christine Butt: We love the Pfister lobby bar. We have a tradition of coming and watching the Christmas decorations go up in the hotel. Then we love to come for your Christmas Open house when Santa & Mrs. Claus are there.

Chrissy Jaworski: As a little girl, I used to come with my school music group and perform on the steps of the staircase in the Pfister lobby. Now I’m an event planner and I do business with you frequently!

What is your connection with the Pfister Hotel?

Photo by Christine Butt