Sweetly sentimental paintings are not for me, but here I stand on the north side of the second floor mezzanine in the Pfister Hotel. Concierge Roc Whitesell is at my side, explaining why the oil painting The Kittens(signed J. LeRoy) is one of his favorites in the hotel’s vast art collection, though this chap of impeccable taste also recognizes it as “sentimental.” On nights when the hotel is quiet, he swears he hears the fluffy quartet mewing inside their wicker basket lined with red roses. I’m fairly certain this is going to lead to a tale about the Pfister being “haunted,” so I move on.
Around the corner, I spot The Dog by Alexander Pope. This canine has attitude, not unlike the attitude in the Portrait Bust of Guido Pfister, a marble wonder sitting near the grand piano in the lobby lounge. Sculpted by Gaetano Trentanove, whose heroic works are at the Milwaukee Art Museum and at Kosciuszko Park, it’s a swell fit with a collection that began over 118 years ago.
Several new hotels are open, or about to open, in the downtown area, but don’t think of the Pfister as a relic. Think of it as an icon, and a forward-looking one at that. The hotel’s 2012 artist-in-residence, Timothy Westbrook, uses a foot-treadle sewing machine to create fashions from recycled materials. It’s easy to imagine that on any given night, they’ll waltz the halls.