As the Pfister Narrator, I record the stories of the people who make the hotel a special place. During this exciting anniversary year, I am honored to have the additional
opportunity to share the history of The Pfister Hotel. This piece is the first in a series of articles recounting some of the memorable moments in the history of this remarkable hotel.
This year, The Pfister Hotel celebrates 125 years as Milwaukee’s premier hotel. Travelers and Milwaukeeans have embraced the landmark since it opened its doors on May 1, 1893. The city waited breathlessly to catch of glimpse of the magnificently appointed hotel, unequaled anywhere in the state. Opening day saw thousands pass through the hotel, visitors from near and far eager to see the palatial building with the unheard of price tag of nearly 1 million dollars. Those of all social classes moved through the hotel, awed by the thick carpets, heavy draperies and furniture whose quality matched or exceeded the furnishing in the city’s finest homes.
A constant flow of wide-eyed visitors filtered into the hotel from 10 AM- 10 PM on opening day. An orchestra played as guests moved from room to room, perhaps pausing in an attempt to locate the rare empty chair in the lobby or on the mezzanine, with many stopping to join the beautifully dressed women gathered in the third floor ladies parlor. A free luncheon buffet for all visitors was offered, featuring such delicacies as frog legs, pates, canapes and other tempting morsels of French cuisine, which represented the height of fashion of the time. Despite the throngs of people eager to experience the hotel, the buffet remained stocked and beautifully attended until its scheduled closing, several hours later.
There was a rush to sign the register of the hotel and become part of the history of the city’s newest jewel. Charles B. Roberts, an influential local builder, and the lead Contractor on the construction of the hotel, was the man honored with the first entry in the book. The sense of community pride was evident in the hotel that day. The lobby and second floor were filled with flower arrangements sent from Milwaukee’s most prominent citizens, with newspapers of the day proclaiming the flora to be all the more stunning, due to the hotel’s much lauded incandescent lighting. Those in attendance described the opening of The Pfister Hotel akin to the launch of the World’s Fair in Chicago, as it was an event in which the city celebrated together, and all saw the opening of hotel as a boon for all of Milwaukee.
The first meal served in the hotel was dinner that evening in the Dining Hall, now known as the Imperial Ballroom. 200 of Milwaukee’s most well-heeled residents attended the sumptuous, multi-course feast which began with Little Neck Clams to amuse the palate before the soup course, and also included a hors d’oeuvre, salad and dessert courses, in addition to the entrée. Champagne flowed freely as the diners, in high spirits, enjoyed the inaugural meal from the city’s premiere kitchen.
The glamour and elegance of the experience was etched in the memories of thousands of guests that night, growing into deep affection for the landmark that has spanned generations. Still known for its gracious hospitality and unparalleled service, the hotel continues to impress visitors just as it did in 1893. The Pfister Hotel remains the jewel of Milwaukee and is a much beloved destination for travelers from both near and far.
Information gathered from articles published in The Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Daily Sentinel in 1893.