You see the woman in the nude shag dress?

When the professional ballroom dancers come en masse to the Pfister,

expect to find several crystals strewn across the bathroom floor,

shed from their glistening, parrot colored ensembles

that induce the ordinary citizens in the café around them to exclaim,

“Ah my god, I can’t believe it!”DSCN1320

I go up to the source, the infestation of music and extra bright spangles,

and experience a crescendo

starting from the cobblers

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The bottom of every shoe is made of rough swede to prevent sliding. This brush is sold so that you can rough up sole’s surface when it gets flat. It should not be used on cats. I asked.

moving to the bangle vendors,

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then racks stuffed with crinolines,DSCN1380 DSCN1321 DSCN1361 DSCN1316

the woman with two attendants lacing a thin string of diamonds across her back,

and climaxing to when I step into the ballroom

and watch three male dancers dragging a flashing blue pod onto the floor.

The pod unfurls revealing a woman wrapped in a blanket of LED lights.

They lift the woman high in the air,

and she raises the diode blinking blanket above her head.

After seeing that I stay, watching for hours.

Most of what I witness are eight to twelve couples

simultaneously dancing and competing

in fox trot, Viennese waltz, samba, cha cha, tango and swing categoriesDSCN1653

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I am given a guide that lists the expected components of each dance.

 

for one minute to randomly selected music,

sneaky, unpredictable music

ranging from Eurythmics hits, Country, Sinatra,

Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets,

Lady Gaga, Enya and metallic rock.

The dancers do not know what they are going to get song-wise,

and sometime it takes them several seconds of standing still

before they make their first timid move to the difficult tune.

A companion joins me and points out the various doctors

that she knows on the floor,

“You see the woman in the nude shag dress?

She was my fertility doctor years ago.

She usually wins too.”

My companion points to the dancer in a black and yellow dress,

“She’s a highly regarded dermatologist.”

I admit, the tango seems the most exciting.

My companion corrects me,

“No, it’s Argentine tango,

it’s very… alluring.”DSCN1476

DSCN1482Dancers cross the aisle in front of us,

obscuring our view of the dance floor

which gives us excuse to oogle their satin

dragon embroidered Japanese robes

that encase pastel petticoats.

A few of the women pin their ponytails

to their shoulder straps so that they do not budge

when they are flipped upside-down.

Another has a handkerchief attached via elastic

to her wrist, so that when she raises it,

it hangs whimsically, mournfully, pretentiously

so magnificently that I think to myself,

‘I am going to start wearing a handkerchief on my wrist like that.’

I stay until they announce the winners at midnight

My companion tells me that some of the dancers

I just watched have been performing since 7a.m.

In the elevator

a woman with red rhinestones

glued between each of her

eyelashes

speaks to me in a Russian accent

saying, “Maybe next year you will be competing,”

and the way she emphasizes “maybe” sounds prophetic.

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She Works 7 Days A Week As A Fashion Designer

“My biggest bugaboo is blue jeans, advice sweatshirts, flat shoes.

I can’t stand it.

Every time I get on an airplane,

I’m over in Italy,

I’m over in Paris,

I’m over London,

I can tell without even asking which gate I’m supposed to go to

where the Americans are

they have blue jeans, sweatshirts, flat shoes.

Now in Paris for example,

they have really good imaginations,

they dress up just to go to the grocery store.

High heels. Dress. Hair is perfect. Grocery store!

 

I design some things for men sometimes,

but men are so generic, I hate it.

I think anyone could do my job if they wanted to.

Anyone can start a line of clothes if they want,

just get some capital together.

Some people have these talents buried in their brain

but they don’t try things so they stay working at K-Mart, Wal-Mart,

talented people!

It’s a shame.

 

My contract says I’ve got to work out every day,

two, three times a day,

gotta be able to get into these outfits,

and the models, I tutor them,

I’ve got four degrees,

two BS degrees, a masters and a PHD.

Physiology, Earth Science, Curriculum and Development for schools

and my PHD is in History.

To be honest I never really used them much

except physiology, I still use that.

We went through that phase where the models were getting too skinny,

we told them so now they look a little more normal.

It’s a struggle for them,

I’ve seen them take some real tumbles with those six and seven inch heels

on the marble runways.

 

I don’t set career goals,

that is a sure tool for disappointment and failure.

 

I also work for the government

I was appointed as a legislative advisor

in 1999, I just got a letter in the mail

I didn’t apply for the job

I get this letter

it says ‘we want you to be a legislative advisor

there’s only 200 of you in the country

we’re going to send you all the bills

you critique those bills

you make corrections

you’re a conduit to the public

find out what the public wants,

then you correct them and send them back

and give us your opinion.’

In addition to that I got special projects for them,

like I was the one who did the autism research.

I can’t believe the power that we have!

 

You know the stuff you see on the news?

Most of it is just pure crap.

It’s all funneled,

Washington is so corrupt,

they’re all members of the Illuminati and the Free Masons,

all the parties behind closed doors figure out who gets the money,

the power and the World Order.

If you want the real news go to the BBC station.

People think we’re #1 in healthcare,

but we’re 29th!

You know what country is 28th?

Barbados.

 

Here’s what the other countries do:

they put everything on a referendum.

You get to vote.

When did you ever have a chance to vote

about anything or any issue?

The wars?

If you’re in a democratic or republican district

and you’re in that district your whole life

it’s possible you can go from birth to death

and never be represented.

You go to church, you got a job, you pay your taxes, you fight in wars,

but you don’t exist.

So what we’re doing, the other 200 people,

we’re writing letters and campaigning,

we want everyone a chance to vote on every issue,

on every issue majority rules.

Now if it all goes to hell it’s our fault

we voted for it, right?”

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A Room Full of Barometric Gages

Inside the rouge ballroom is a top-secret gathering of the stylish.

 

The nation’s first four-year fashion program (Milwaukee’s own Mount Mary College!) is holding a reception for AIDS awareness. There is to be a conversation between Timothy Gunn, American fashion icon who hosts the television show, Project Runway and Sister Aloyse Hessburg, SSND, who founded the fashion design program at Mount Mary fifty years ago.

 

It is the hob-nob hour before Mr. Gunn and Sr. Aloyse speak, so I nob my hob over to the table of fashion majors to find out what trends they are all about. Petal sleeves! A recent assignment challenged them all to create a bunch of sleeves out of muslin fabric. The results were stapled to the wall and became something known as “the wall of sleeves.”

 

There are two kinds focus for fashion majors at Mount Mary, the merchandise department is for those who want to open a boutique, and the design department is for those who want to create the stock for their friend’s boutiques.

 

I ask them if they all draw pretty ladies in their free time.

“You SHOULD draw pretty ladies in your free time if you’re in fashion!”

 

Fashion design majors.
Fashion design majors.

Tori, a junior in the designer program loves to knit, but has never crocheted. She tells me that after graduation she is going to move to either New York or London and get her masters in knitwear.

 

Pakou.
Pakou.

“I like posh New York style business wear,” says Pakou, a sophomore who gets a lot of her influences as a designer from Alexander McQueen. “I love his drama and tailoring.” Pakou made up her own henna design and applied it to her hand with a toothpick. She wants to stay in Milwaukee after graduation, but is thinking about using a different name as a designer because “Pakou is a very common Hmong name.” I shake my head, “But just think of all the women named Pakou who will want to buy your clothes and wear them because you share the same name!” Pakou smiles and admits that she’s never thought of it that way.

 

She applied the henna with a toothpick.
She applied the henna with a toothpick.

Two moments stand out in the dialogue between Sr. Aloyse and Tim Gunn. One is the story of how Sr. Aloyse studied fashion in New York and still had to wear her full floor length habit of a Catholic nun that covered all of her hair and much of her face. Many people on the streets and in elevators assumed she was a beggar.

 

The other moment occurred at the end of the discussion when Timothy Gunn said, “There is a profound difference between being a fashion designer and a clothing designer. The world needs clothes, it doesn’t need fashion. As a fashion designer you’re really a barometric gage of your culture. And if that sounds highfalootin’ and grand— it is! You are working in a context as the societal, cultural, historical, political and economic. You are that gage of what is happening in this particular time and place. That’s your role and you need to accept responsibility for it. It’s not just about the pretty dress.”

 

The Lady With The Hats

A box with twenty hats were left for me at the front desk the other day.

Kenneth at the front desk went through them all and had already selected his favorite.
Kenneth at the front desk went through them all and had already selected his favorite.

Miraculously, all of them fit my head. I would like to end this story here and imply that I have a secret admirer, but I know who gave me the hats. I was introduced to her in the Mason Street Grill recently. She wore a white hat. As one hat-wearing lady to another often will, I told her I thought her’s a stunning sculpture. Instantly, as if I had just told the queen fairy that she had a nice crown, she announced that she would gift me her many hats. “Please do,” I said but didn’t quite believe her, since people make those sorts of statements all the time and rarely follow through.

kathyk

Kathy meant it because she is moving and must simplify her hat collection…

 

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The beach, obviously.
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“Michael Howard 100% Wool Made in the U.S.A. Includes chin strap.
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Made in China. (The only one that says that.)
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Miss Bierner, Michael Howard 100% Wool Made in the U.S.A.
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This one was clearly never worn before as the plastic tag still hangs from it.
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Made in France, “Pure Laine.”
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Kenneth from the front desk’s favorite of the hats. Kathy says she never wore it.
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My mom models the Betmar, made in Italy.
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Kathy wore this hat with a gold bathing suit on her yearly excursions to Mexico.
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Chelsea Campbell, 100% Wool, Made in Italy.
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One of these things. Looks good on the bannister.
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Elegantly Yours Miriam Lefcourt, Handcrafted in Italy
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Betmar New York

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Black hats are Kathy’s favorite kind of hat because they go with everything. The day she met me I was wearing my black and white hat and “It was a signal, whoa!” She knew she could entrust them to me, a terrific alternative to the thrift store.

The hats were bought on trips all over the world including, London, Paris and New York. They represent the past 25 years of Kathy’s adventures. Once, while in New York, she visited a boutique in Trump Tower and saw a s!n!a!z!z!y! black hat with a wide scalloped brim. The boutique owner informed Kathy that Ivana Trump recently bought that very same hat. “If it was good enough for Ivana Trump, then its good enough for me,” decided Kathy. She did not give me that hat. She also held onto “two felt hats with long pheasant feathers coming off of them.” She has never worn them before but now that her collection is smaller she plans to debut them this winter.

Gardeners all over Milwaukee know her as “The Lady With The Hats.” Kathy founded both the Milwaukee and South Milwaukee factions of the Federated Garden Club 24 years ago. Generally she wears a hat on when out because she is a short woman and “doesn’t want to get stepped on.” Though on weekends after she gets her hair done she prefers to go without a hat. When Kathy runs into a fellow gardener on the weekend, frequently they exclaim, “I thought you didn’t have any hair!” Of course they mean it as a joke because The Lady With The Hats has been known to occasionally attend meetings without one just to “treat them.”

Kathy steams her own hats to make sure that it is done right. They can lose their shape after visiting the dry cleaners. She also stocked up on hatpins the last time she was in London because “there’s no better place to buy hatpins.” She wears two pins on each side of her head and a few in the back too so that in case someone hugs her “the hat won’t roll down the street.”

Though she gave me half her collection she will soon be adding to it. Kathy told me. “Spring hats really take a beating, I tend to wear them all the time. It is time to order another one from London. I’d rather put the money into a hat than to go there.”

 

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25 Pedestrians of Milwaukee on a Friday at 4:30p.m.

On the twenty-third floor I go to the windows to learn about the pedestrians of Milwaukee.

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  1. A man is just off work from a job where they blast air conditioning, sick see his long sleeves? This man is free now but carries the burden of his day and his backpack as he wonders what lies underneath the manhole cover.

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  1. A car pulling into a parking garage politely avoids the fellow carrying a big soda.  Mr. Big Soda knows that though this particular car is polite, other cars might not be, so he must not sip his soda (no matter how massive it is!) until he is safely past the driveway entrance.

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  1. No hands.

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  1. Three friends all wearing plaid, blue jeans and backpacks. Very close friends. They also all appear to be very close in height and age.

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  1. Jogging man imagines he is Hermes with winged ankles, running through the Grecian skies with a news report for Zeus.

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  1. Woman just making sure the whole present is still in there. It would be terrible if she had forgotten part of it on the store counter when she bought all those rolls of tape.

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  1. He walks and texts, ignoring the sea of cement all around him.

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  1. A man jaywalks as bold and sure as the stripes on his shirt.

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  1. She walks so quickly she is almost out of the frame by the time my camera clicks.

DSCN588310. This woman has a water bottle that is so beautiful (of amber hue, with flower motif) that she carries it facing the hotel in the hope that the Pfister narrator will see it and extol its marvelous grace. Oh! And how I gasp!

DSCN588411. He thinks he can hide behind the “No Parking” sign, but he doesn’t know we can see his reflection in the window. Heh heh heh.

DSCN588812.  These two people don’t know each other, lead different lives and even walk in opposite directions in this realm, but in the land of the shadows they face the same way.

DSCN5889 13.  This guy has style.

DSCN589014.  This guy has an itch above his right ear.

DSCN589615.  I see so many people rolling luggage, carrying backpacks and bags downtown it appears as though there is a great migration taking place.

DSCN589916.  He doesn’t stop though he does consider the parking meter’s stasis.

DSCN590117.   Man clambers upon the motorcycle for a few thrilling moments and then gets off again. Its not his motorcycle.

DSCN590918.  Stylish bow tie fellow locks gaze with another man, as if to say, “You stay in the street. This curb belongs to me.”

DSCN591019.   Nice shoes, sir.

DSCN591420.  This guy knows that contrary to what the sign says, there is more than one way.

DSCN591621.  There goes number 21 and her green cell phone. It is amazing that I can see that she has a green phone all the way from the 23rd floor.

DSCN591722.  Woman has animated conversation with parked vehicle.

DSCN592023.  Everyone on this corner seems eager to leave it.

DSCN5927 24. This man takes wide strides as he walks.

 DSCN583825. Four people stop in the lot to pet this car. Good car, good.

The Pfister Five: Meet international model Raengel Solis

Welcome to a new series on the blog called “The Pfister Five.” Occasionally, order I’ll post a five-question interview with a guest. To kick this off, here’s a chat with Raengel Solis, an international model who stayed at the Pfister recently. 

Raengel was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. Eight years ago, she moved to New York City and three years ago to Miami, medicine where she works as a model for the Home Shopping Network and on Telemundo Miami.

“I love Miami,” she says. “Winter’s just not for me.”

Now fluent in both Spanish and English, Raengel moved to the United States knowing very little English, but learned the language at Worcester Community College in New York and through her job working at a busy supermarket.

“It wasn’t hard for me to learn English. Once I put my mind to something, I do it,” says Raengel.

Molly: What brings you to the Pfister?

Raengel: I am here modeling summer clothes for Kohl’s Department Store.

Just before I came here, I was modeling for Queen Latifah. She has a line of clothing called “Queen Collection.” I was so excited to meet her and she is the best famous person I have ever met. She is the same in real life as she is on TV and movies. She is not a diva.

Molly: How long have you been a model and what do you like about it?

Raengel: I have been a model for 15 years and I love it. I like the feelings I have when walking down the catwalk. I have a very fun life. I get to travel all over the world: Spain, London, Milwaukee. (She doesn’t even chuckle when she says “Milwaukee” after the two Fashion Capitals of the World. For this, I like her even more and mentally make her an Honorary Cheesehead. Actually, with her stunning looks, she’s probably one of the few people who could truly rock one of those foam cheese hats. But back to the interview…)

Molly: You were born and raised in the Dominican Republic. What is one thing about your home country that most people don’t know?

Raengel: The people are really fun. And they are very caring. Here, if you live in an apartment, you might not know your neighbors, but there, if you have a problem, you knock on your neighbor’s door and they will help you.

Molly: What are your thoughts on fashion and shopping?

Raengel: I love fashion, like all models. And I like Prada, Dolce. But it doesn’t have to be expensive for me to like it. Fashion is about personal style, mixing it together, not matching.

I don’t like shopping at all. I get tired of taking clothes on and off all day as a model, so I don’t like to go to malls with my friends even though they always go. I only shop online.

Molly: What is one thing you want to do during your lifetime?

Raengel: My mom got a fever when she was six years old and she lost her hearing. She has been to doctors but they could not help her. I would like her to see more doctors. I want her to hear my voice someday.

Winter Fashion, Westbrook Style

Since starting his residency, Timothy Westbrook has had Milwaukee talking. At 23, he’s the youngest of the Pfister’s artists in residence, the first artist from out of state (Timothy hails from Wanakena, New York), and the first fiber artist (all other artists were painters).

On Friday, January 18th, he had jaws dropping.

He presented his final fashion event to coincide with Milwaukee’s winter Gallery Night and it was spectacular, to say the least. Timothy showed 17 looks (Yes, that’s right, in only eight months he’s woven the fabric by hand and constructed 17 looks). The models were striking in both appearance and attitude. The bold makeup and hair styles were courtesy of students from the Academy of Waukesha, a Paul Mitchell partner school. All of the looks were for sale as well – wearable art pieces ranging from $500- $23,000.

copyright Zachary Seib
copyright Zachary Seib

A squabble of photographers, like geese, stood attentively with  lenses up, ready to shoot the runway that split the Imperial ballroom in two camps of fans from every walk of life. Timothy’s clothing was constructed from re-purposed materials like vintage curtains,  plastic grocery bags, upholstery swatches, bedsheets, green Pfister umbrellas, and his signature, cassette tape film.

Because he was feeling a little homesick and didn’t want his emotions to get the best of him,  he cleverly recorded his opening remarks on one of his beloved cassette tapes. It was an incredibly telling moment, especially for those who have yet the pleasure to make his acquaintance. He’s quirky and incredibly kind. He’s professional with very clear vision and high standards, making it an honor to work alongside him at the Pfister.

I am no fashion critic, but I know what I like when it comes to aesthetics and Timothy, along with stylist Alexis Rose Criscimagna, achieved a beautiful balance of Avant-Garde and Victorian. Imagine a punk reconstruction of  Susan B. Anthony. But rather than critique his work, I want to tell you about Timothy Westbrook the person.

Brimming with character, with a penchant for fantasy, Timothy reveals that all he ever wanted to do was tell fairy tales. And through his work, he is doing just that. He loves unicorns, gesticulates wildly when he gets excited and makes everybody feel welcome, all the time. Timothy even  displays other artists’ work in his gallery.

Timothy will be in residence through March. Don’t miss out on meeting him before he becomes super famous. I for one, feel so happy that he’s woven his way into the fabric of the Milwaukee community. Timothy will reveal his legacy piece for the Pfister Hotel on March 29,  at an event open to the public. Check back for more details and become a fan of Timothy’s  Facebook page for more event coverage.

 

Photos courtesy of Zachery Seib Photography.

Fred Pfister: Part 2 of 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Playing Dress Up

We’re having tea again this weekend. I am on a mission to expose everyone I know to this amazing day out. I was told yesterday, look however, that I am to dress up. One of the friends has bought a new dress just for the tea outing.

It’s important for me to tell you, I see all kinds in the Pfister—and that’s the best part. All are welcome. While the hotel is always dressed in its best (which is impressive) and the staff are impeccable in their uniforms, cialis guests and patrons don garb that ranges from jeans to sparkles (lots of sparkles).

It is not a requirement that you be fancy, well-dressed or even clean-shaven to have a drink, online go to a meeting or dine at Mason Street Grill while at the Pfister. In fact, the most enveloping part of the hotel is ancient photographs of the hotel in its infancy, Milwaukee history all around you, incredible formal service and people in jeans and Uggs talking to you about how “cool” it feels to be in the hotel. These layers of style, ways of being and eras make the experience so complete.

So when my friend bought a new dress for our outing, I realized that though the Pfister allows for all kinds, just like many places in the city, what it does best is make you feel special and important. I regularly spend weekend mornings at Alterra writing. Though I’ve frequented the coffee shop in work out clothes and business casual, I never feel like I have to up the ante to up the experience there.

At the Pfister, I sit up straighter. At the Pfister, I smile wider and I have actually caught myself flipping my hair just so (embarrassing to admit, but true). Every single piece and person in the hotel accepts jeans, your light beer drink order and your snow and salt-stained winter boots.

What makes this local gem such an amazing escape from the everyday, is when you wear your fancy dress for high Victorian tea and don your grandmother’s jewels, no one treats you like you’re playing dress up. It’s not the range of options in mood and appearance that the hotel does so well that makes it worth the adventure. It’s that it is one of the only places that, when you want to feel fancy, swings its doors wide open and lets you.