Cafe – 6am to 2pm. Barista – 6pm to 8pm. Lobby – all day – until 11pm.
I am reviewing The Pfister Hotel lobby and its cafe (officially called Cafe at the Pfister) together, because technically neither one of them is a coffee shop, yet both are great places to drink coffee or tea, meet with someone, sit and write, or people-watch. The Pfister is one of my favorite places in Milwaukee, a world-renowned, historic hotel built in 1893, famously haunted—it's been renovated and kept up, as far as I can tell, to its original standards. A high-rise addition built in 1962 is connected, but separate—looking like the College Dorm from Hell, it's kind of great in itself (and has a cocktail lounge on the top floor I might consider in a future review). I first met a friend and drank tea in the lobby—there are comfortable seats, a bar, a fireplace, and often live piano. Besides being intimate, it's open to the rest of the lobby—so you can be both somewhat secluded and observe the hotel action, guests coming and going—really, to me, one of the more exciting environments you are likely to drink coffee in.
The Cafe is off the lobby, but separate—it feels like a removed entity in a way, yet also very much part of the hotel. I eat breakfast here occasionally (there is a review on this website) and I recently had breakfast and was seated in the little sidewalk cafe addition. This is one of those areas (many restaurants do this) where it's expanded outside of the building, over the sidewalk, so you're somewhat both inside and outside—protected from the elements (car exhaust and brutal temperature extremes) while getting the benefit of light and a view of the coming and going action at the front door of the hotel. This is a great place to sit. I'm not sure if they'd frown on you getting merely a cup of their $3 Starbucks, and as it's often busy in the mornings, you might not get a choice of seats, but it's worth it to keep trying to sit in this area—it was an excellent spot. It's very much part of the cafe, not a separate room, but still you can see the original exterior walls, it's very cool. They stop serving food after lunch-time, but there still seems to be pastries available, and coffee, of course. Their website indicated that between 6 and 8 pm there is a barista and self-seating for coffee, so this might be an excellent time to try the cafe—that transitional time of day, guests arriving, people either settling in or getting ready to go out. At any rate, this is a hotel, where the need for coffee is going to be met at one place or another, and if you allow it, the imagination can be inspired.
Randy Russell 12.4.18