If a night at Blu puts you in the mood for a martini, then soon, the sunset from atop The Pfister Hotel just might conjure the scent of tea.
The hotel has returned its afternoon tea service to the 23rd floor on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, through March 30, 2014. High tea seatings are at 2, 2:30 and 3 p.m. on those days. Reservations are required.
Afternoon tea at The Pfister was long a Lobby Bar tradition, but in 2009, the pinkies-up tradition took the elevator 23 flights up to Blu. This year it has moved to the Club Lounge, located adjacent to Blu.
Last winter, I brought my little girl for a tea date. Upon arrival, we were greeted by The Pfister's charming and knowledgeable tea butler Juan Rodriguez, who wheeled the tea cart over to our seats overlooking East Town.
Rodriguez has been the hotel's tea butler for three decades.
"What makes tea so special for me is, having the opportunity to meet and serve a diversity of guest of all ages," said Rodriguez, who passion for tea is obvious. "Some of them know a lot about afternoon tea and some know very little about the afternoon tea experience."
So, Rodriguez schools guests on the origins of the tea on offer and the different blends and he passes around each jar so guests can breathe in their scents.
On his cart were 10 jars of tea leaves from Chicago's Liif. This year, however, The Pfister is going local and featuring 12 varieties of Rishi Tea, including cinnamon plum and tangerine ginger to vanilla bean and chocolate chai.
Rishi has also crafted an exclusive new blend for the hotel. A blend of jasmine and wild rose scented white teas infused with peppermint and lavender, "1893 Pfister Blend" celebrates the opening of the hotel in 1893.
Because the "All Grown Up" tea menu – aimed at guests 12 and under – offers hot cocoa, I chose the chocolate mint rooibos, to match my daughter's drink. The tea has extremely low caffeine, but a strong cocoa flavor with a hint of minty spark.
The tea is delivered in a classic, ornate silver tipping teapot with a tealight to keep it warm.
But "tea" is more than simply tea and The Pfister Executive Chef Brian Frakes pulls out all the stops for the accompanying treats, which come in five menu options.
"Simple Elegance" ($14) includes scones, along with mascarpone, strawberry preserves and sumptuous lemon curd to spice them up.
"Sweets" ($18) offers the same as "Simple Elegance," with the addition of opera tortes, chocolate dipped strawberries, madelines and macarons, shortbread cookies. The upgrade will be the best $4 you spend that week.
An artisan cheeses option ($24) offers a selection of cheeses with "custom paired accompaniments" and water crackers, silver dollar lavosh and sliced baguette.
The "All Grown Up" for kids ($11) offers hot cocoa, lemonade, cider or milk, along with ham and cheddar sandwiches, chicken salad tartlets, PBJ scones and madeline cookies.
But, the full experience is the "Victorian Tea," which costs $30. It includes everything from "Sweets," plus St. Andre mousse cones with fresh honeycomb; watercress and cucumber sandwiches with cervil and beurre demi-sel; curried quail eggs; turkey pinwheels with red onion marmalade; scottish smoked salmon wraps with caviar; and more.
The tea and the food and the atmosphere – did I mention harpist Mary Keppler provided musical accompaniment? – and the service are what one would expect from a luxury venue like The Pfister. They set the stage for an experience that is more than an afternoon pick-me-up on an autumn or winter day.
"When I took the responsibilities of the tea butler I discovered that we had many loyal guests that had been coming to The Pfister for a traditional afternoon tea for a long time with their families," said Rodriguez.
"I love when the parents bring their children. They really get engaged and are a lot of fun to wait on. My goal is to establish a good relationship with the children, as they will be the new generation of the afternoon teatime."
The Pfister's afternoon tea goes beyond mere refreshment; it is an experience that creates a special occasion and builds fond memories. That makes it a bargain at any price.
Reservations are required. Call (414) 935-5942 or (877) 704-5340.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.