I’m seated in the Pfister, trying to look at ease with my guest narrator sign, hoping a random stranger or two might sidle up and share an interesting anecdote or two. I try to look friendly and approachable, saying “hi” and smiling. I see shiny brass racks of freshly pressed shirts roll by, followed by what look like conventioneers. I get a few nods, smiles and many scurried glances. Eavesdropping may have to be the fodder for my story. “Dan, you look like a million bucks.” “We can see a play next time.” But that’s all. It’s as if they felt these were complete conversations. So now, I’m left to write my own conclusions, with hardly a detail to go on, until my friend Jay walks into the lobby.
We’ve been friends a long time. Jay penned the tagline “Big Gig” for Summerfest. Now he spends much of his time capturing people and places around the world through his photography. But not just people and places. Close-ups of aprons or hats or the nautilus shape a stairway makes when looking up at it. Minutiae that amplify the view.
It’s no surprise he’s here today. Jay likes the Pfister. No, loves it. It’s a masterpiece to him, belonging to a cachet of hotels he holds in extremely high regard. (Yes, he said cachet). He especially likes the café, where most of the staff remember him. And they should. In 2013, Jay began what he coins his “opus.” Create a coffee table book for the hotel’s 120th anniversary. In 10 months. Almost 300 pages in length. I check my own nerves at the door.
Be invisible. That was Jay’s personal challenge as his carte blanche hotel access led him through the hotel’s many nooks and crannies to compellingly tell the Pfister story. He believed that if he was a silent observer, the story would unfold. And it did. The defining project of his career has earned him countless awards and accolades.
Jay opens a copy of his creation and I wake up. I’ve walked the floors of the Pfister, taking in the metal work, framed art, lighting and attired staff. But missing the details. In the hotel’s bar, where most visitors are concerned with its top-shelf offerings, he photographed myriad glass reflections to tell the bar’s story. Salon nail polish bottles, robe textures and lamp close-ups pay homage to other hotel details few truly notice.
In a world of cookie-cutter accommodations, Jay has created a noteworthy guide to a pilgrimage everyone should take. As I walk down a hall with him, we see a marble column hundreds have walked by. Jay turns me around, leans me against a nearby wall and tells me to look at the column again. Let’s just say, it’s best to keep your eyes wide open so you don’t miss a thing.
“You know, the Governor’s Suite really should have been called the Kennedy Suite. In 1960, Kennedy was awaiting the results from the Wisconsin primary. At a suite in the Pfister Hotel. Just think how much more they could charge to stay in that suite,” Jay reveals as he’s leaving. Once an ad man, always an ad man.