How I Stopped Loathing, and Started Loving the Screwcap

Heather Kanter-Kowal

I am a sommelier, decease and my most important job is to recommend the right wine for the right meal for the right guest at the right price.  After a thoughtful question and answer session with my diners, I will go to my cellar and produce a bottle that has been agreed to meet their specific parameters and desires.  Some nights, recipe the bottle is sealed with a screwcap….oh, the horror!  The husband looks nervously at his wife…she looks with scorn at the bottle.  “We don’t drink cheap wine”…”I like the romance of a cork being pulled”…”Is this really going to be any good?”…

I’m ready and braced for this level of distaste and realize that they are now questioning my sanity as a lady in fine dining restaurant that have the audacity to recommend this plonk to enjoy with their delightful dinner.   I like to take that  time to share this story, and it was a tragic one.

A few years ago, I went on a lengthy tour of Europe with my family, thanks to my Riesling loving Mom.  I was already a student of all things vino and was excited that I would have the chance to collect some bottles that I could not buy in Milwaukee.  Mind you, this was in the olden days when you could still fly with luggage stuffed with liquids.  Shampoo, contact solution, Absinthe, Bordeaux, who cares?  I loaded up my backpack (and that of my siblings) with every bottle that I could afford to bring back.  I treated these wines like treasures when I was back home.  They were stored in the coolest darkest places, gently resting on their sides, and absolutely not disturbed until the evenings that I had declared that this was the right year to open this bottle.

A few delightful bottles and then….the duds.  The  soul-crushing experience of pulling that cork and having the smell of musty cardboard waft up at my face.  These bottles were  affected by Trichloroanisole (TCA for short or “cork taint”) and I would never be able to enjoy them.  TCA is a nasty fungal metabolite that won’t harm a wine drinker, but destroys the taste of anything that resembles wine.  Funny thing is, is has a keen attraction to natural cork, and is quite rarely found in bottles that are sealed with a screwcap.  I had brought from overseas, and cherished three bottles ofBordeauxthat were rendered useless simply because of the way the bottle had been sealed.

My mind was open to trying something new.  I had also turned my nose up at bottles with screwcap tops for years, for the same reasons that people give me funny looks when I bring it to the table now…”Gee, this must be garbage”.   I discovered that quite a few top Aussie wineries were sending their wine over sans cork. New Zealand was on-board, sending fresh, clean and crisp Sauvignon  Blancs. California“Cult” Cabernet Sauvignon producers like Plumpjack  got in the game. Washington & Oregon are sending out gorgeous high-end juice without natural corks.  Lately, even Europe, the root of my sorrows on this topic, has started to send over selections capped with screwcaps.  I am not going to hold my breath and expect Chateau Petrus to change their ways, but I applaud the move to send out less funky, musty wine to the consumers.    Vive le screwcap, you aren’t just for plonk anymore!


30 Paintings in 30 Days begins….now

Shelby Keefe: Pfister Artist in Residence


MILWAUKEE – Sept. 19, no rx 2011 – Beginning today, The Pfister Hotel’s Artist in Residence, Shelby Keefe, will be creating a painting a day for 30 straight days. The works will be featured at The Peninsula School of Art in Fish Creek, Wisconsin at a show this fall. The public is invited to visit Keefe in her studio at the hotel to witness her 30-day challenge firsthand.

“Any time one practices their art on a daily basis, stuff whether it be music, writing or painting, as is my case, they are bound to improve their craft,” said Keefe. “With this challenge, I plan to develop finer skills and learn by daily practice what it’s like to bring the human form into urban landscapes without literal interpretations and specific characteristics.”

Keefe has asked the public to help her find inspiration for the paintings. From now until the end of the 30 days, the public is invited to send her people-focused or urban landscape photos for consideration. Photos can be sent to If she chooses one of your photos to paint, you’ll receive a digital print of the finished piece as a keepsake.

In addition to her show in Fish Creek, Keefe will be displaying some of her paintings from the challenge during the October Gallery Night at The Pfister, from 5-9pm on Friday, Oct. 21, 2011. The hotel will also host a reception that night, open to the public from 9-11:30pm in Café Pfister.

Home to more Victorian-style art than any other hotel in the world, the historic Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee is in its third year hosting a celebrated artist-in-residence program. Keefe moved into the Pfister’s studio space in April 2011, replacing former Pfister artist Katie Musolff, and will remain at the hotel for one year.

A contemporary impressionistic painter, teacher and performance artist, Keefe was born in Whitewater, Wis., and graduated in 1981 from Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. Since retiring from a career in graphic design in 2005, she has been operating her own art studio and exhibition space in Bay View. Her award-winning urban landscape paintings have earned her participation in prestigious national juried shows, plein air painting competitions and arts festivals, as well as garnering commission work for a variety of corporate clients and private collectors.

 The Pfister’s Artist-In-Residence Program

Entering its third year, The Pfister’s Artist-in-Residence program features a working art studio and gallery that is open to hotel guests and visitors. The program encourages the public to interact with the artist and witness the evolution of each piece firsthand.

For more information on The Pfister’s Artist-In-Residence program, visit The Pfister can also be found on Facebook at and on Twitter @PfisterHotel.

Capture and Share your Pfister Memories

Capturing special moments and sharing them with family and friends has never been so simple. Let us take the moments you’ve captured and turn them into treasured memories.

  1. Check out one of The Pfister’s digital cameras at the front desk
  2. Take photos of your time in Milwaukee and at The Pfister
  3. Turn in the camera before you depart
  4. A Pfister associate will use your top 10 photos to create a personalized photo website, available to you the very next day
  5. Share with family and friends via email, Facebook, Twitter and more

If you prefer to use your own camera to take your photos, you can email your top 10 photos to us at or allow a Pfister associate to download the pictures directly from your camera during your stay.

Your personalized photo website is a simple and creative way to share the memories you make with us, so be sure to take advantage of this complimentary service.

Visit the front desk fro details.

“Like”ing Breakfast

I’m sure it’s clear to you by now, I love breakfast at the Pfister. I love breakfast food in general, of course, and can never make up my mind—breakfast anywhere for me includes multitudes of plate envy, but (as you also know) add coffee and I’m usually satiated.

I’m pretty sure my love of breakfast comes from some working class, Irish Catholic roots and a culinary (to a degree) dad. We had lots of “breakfasts for dinner” type meals during lent because they were filling sans meat (ah, the superb quality of pancakes!). Plus, breakfast food was always dad’s fallback when we were left in his care and hungry. Best French toast in the world came out of a cast iron skillet, flipped by one C.A. Ferris.

But it goes beyond food. When I was a little girl and out with my dad to go fishing, he indoctrinated me the entire routine—including the 5:00 a.m. gatherings at the local diner. Caps, camo and well-worn hands bullying forkfulls of crispy hashbrowns into moustached mouths surrounded me and waitresses who were used to the honey-baby-sugar pie calls of their regulars grinned at my ridiculously curly hair. Suffice it to say, breakfast at the Pfister doesn’t quite look like that, especially while it’s temporarily located in the Rouge Room.

But this morning, as I share the space with a businessman we’ll call Joe talk with his partner, I realized, it may not be all that different. Sure, the dress code ups the ante a bit (no one wore a cap), but the buzz and vibration of the day’s work about to begin was the same. The graceful familiarity of coffee pots swirling around the room and platefuls of crispy hashbrowns seated before regular patrons all feels very familiar.

Joe, a handsome gentleman, seems to be of an age of retirement, yet his crisp grey suit jacket tells a different story. He is working this morning, laughs so hard that his shoulders rattle upwards with every chuckle. His eyes are happy slits directed closed when the corners of his mouth turn up. He’s talking business, profits and partners, but it’s early, he’s still in good spirits.

Instead of a creaky old door and footfalls on the nearly rotted linoleum of my small town diner, eaters here descend into the Rouge like guests on a cruise ship. This breakfast is later too—these aren’t the 5:00 a.m. haymakers (then again, the sun isn’t shining yet as today spring has recoiled) of my small town. These are travelers. Work has changed. Hay doesn’t get made—trades and deals do. Market reports and scouting reports and quality reports are generated and housed in briefcases attached to attaches and carry-ons.

It doesn’t ruin my love for breakfast; the scene and Joe only remind me that it’s more universal than you think. Your first interactions of the morning set the tone for your day and the Flo of my hometown diner beckoned good fishing just as the service staff in the Rouge prep us for contemporary days in an urban place.

I’m eager for more breakfasts though, as the cafe renovations are slated to be finished this upcoming week. In fact, there’s a VIP event on Sunday, March 27 for cafe regulars and others to come and take a sneak peak at the new space before it officially opens on March 28. If you’re a regular, you’d better ask Lorena or any one of your favorite morning staffers to get you in past the velvet rope on Sunday.

As I finish my last swig of coffee, I remember it may be my last relocated cup of percolate in the Rouge and my next will be a Starbucks premium roast in the newly improved cafe, so I snap a quick picture. When the flash goes off, I hear Joe say to his tablemate, who is curious about my photographic endeavor, shrugging those gregarious shoulders of his, “Huh. Facebook.”

Diamonds are Forever

In 1971 the seventh Bond film in the franchise was released, cure “Diamonds are Forever,” starring Sean Connery as the dashing British spy working for HRM Secret Service.  This film made its mark on pop culture, and will continue to do so.

A few years later in 1977, mind AAA introduced the Diamond Rating system that it would use to rate lodgings across the United States and the World.  AAA Defines a Four Diamond property as such, “these establishments are upscale in all areas. Accommodations are progressively more refined and stylish. The physical attributes reflect an obvious enhanced level of quality throughout. The fundamental hallmarks at this level include an extensive array of amenities combined with a high degree of hospitality, service, and attention to detail.” Now if that doesn’t define the Pfister, what does?

That first year The Pfister Hotel, in Milwaukee, WI won the “Four Diamond Award” and has continued to do so for the next 35 years.  Here we are in 2011 celebrating our 35th win.  The Pfister Hotel is among a very rare collection of hotels worldwide to have held this honor, consecutively, since the awards conception.  Only 14 hotels have held this record. Not only that, but the Pfister Hotel was the first in the state of Wisconsin to receive this accolade.

“This is a great honor for the hotel to receive this award, and we accept it humbly with our thoughts on the future.” says General Manager, Joe Kurth.  The entire Pfister team takes pride in the award.  Many associates helped hang the award in the entrance to the hotel just as many have helped us earn it each year.  This award wouldn’t be possible without the dedication of our staff throughout the years. Their diligence, determination, and commitment to excellence are what keeps the AAA Four Diamond award coming to the Pfister Hotel.

So at the Pfister Hotel, it seems that Diamonds are Forever, at least the ones awarded by AAA.

Joshua Wolter

Hotel Assistant Manager

A Pfister is Born

Here’s the thing about the Pfister: all of its history, thumb its massive holiday decorations, its formally dressed staff and its exquisite service can be intimidating, but in fact, the opposite is true. This morning, while having breakfast in a near-deserted café, I  felt like I was at home. The relaxed feel of a staff that was perhaps overwhelmed leading up to the holiday felt just like the relief I saw in my mother after all the Christmas morning wrapping paper was picked up, treatment the family fed and the naps started. The giant sigh of satisfaction and relaxation has overtaken the hotel and it feels like home.

It turns out the Pfister was indeed home to a handful of stranded travelers. Milwaukee had little snow, but a blizzard in the east held many captive in our area waiting for the chance to return. Many of them were pleasant and accepting of the situation and the idea of settling in for a long winter’s nap at the Pfister is one that felt enough like home to be accommodating.

In fact, The Pfister Hotel has served as a home base to many, including world traveler Mary Peterson. Originally from Beaver Dam, Mary, a producer for Good Morning America, now lives in New York. The nature of news is fast-paced and constantly changing so the rules require those involved must stay within 30 minutes of an airport, poised to leave at a moment’s notice (save for any prohibitive blizzards). Beaver Dam became a location Mary was unable to visit while working because it didn’t meet the rules and left her unable to respond to her job when required.

Like all of us, needing to be “home” prevailed and friends (and a fairly famous news anchor who, I’m thrilled to hear, ranks the Pfister on his top ten list of hotels) recommended the Pfister. Mary arranged to meet her mother there for Easter weekend in 2003 and together they enjoyed one another’s company at the home away from home that is indeed a quick cab ride to the airport.

The experience was so positive, the pair started arranging more visits together. For her mother, it was a quick drive from Beaver Dam for a “staycation;” for Mary, it met all the requirements of her workplace and travel needs. The more they gathered, the more they loved the space and the more it began to anchor their lives.

Easters grew into summer weekends, summer weekends turned into annual birthday celebrations. The convenience of the hotel was tested when we went to war with Iraq and Mary was called to respond and during Hurricane Katrina, Mary found herself flying out of Milwaukee’s airport to follow the breaking news.  

As her now husband courted her, he sent his flowers to…you guessed it, the Pfister. When they were married, more than 30 rooms full of New York friends and guests inhabited the Pfister and enjoyed the dinners and celebrations hosted there.

Anniversaries are now standard for the Petersons at the Pfister. I understand Mary’s story, I think we all do. Sometimes a place is there, waiting for us to give it meaning, to use it as our leaping off point. For the Petersons, the Pfister Hotel is just such a place. Woven into the fabric of their memories and adventures (Mary could mark her weekend stays at the hotel by dates of news events, family birthdays or anniversaries), The Pfister Hotel is a fixture in their lives.

This is true now more than ever, as the Petersons have named their third child Augustine Pfister Peterson. Clearly, home is where the heart is, or near an airport, or in your memories, or, in Mary’s case, at The Pfister Hotel.

The Pfister Hotel’s Holiday Glögg [VIDEO]

As old man winter slowly enters our lives for his winter visit, Valerie has got something to warm you right up and help you beat the winter blues.

It is called glögg. A traditional Sweedish Holiday wine based drink served warm. But our Valerie has put her own spin on it, compete with everything sugar, spice and everything nice.


–       Infused honey

–       Fresh apples and oranges

–       Great seasonal spices blends

–       A bit of apple cider

So come down to the lobby, enjoy the holiday decorations, and sip on a glass of glögg by our warm fire.