By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 25, 2023 at 2:02 PM

As it celebrates its 130th birthday, The Pfister Hotel, which opened in 1893, is getting a makeover.

A $20 million multi-phase renovation began in June with work to refresh the Imperial Ballroom and the Grand Ballroom.

seventh floor
The seventh floor in a rendering.

Once that work is complete, the guest rooms will follow, and then the lobby, lobby bar and Cafe at the Pfister in spring of 2024.

This is the first major, comprehensive makeover at the hotel in 14 years. The Cafe and the lobby bar were refreshed in 2011 and 2016, respectively.

The general contractor on the project is Tri-North.

With work completed in the Imperial Ballroom, that space hosted its first wedding last weekend. Also on the seventh floor, the King’s Row and meeting and event spaces were similarly made over with new wallcoverings, custom Axminster wool carpet, tailored drapery and historic fixtures.

The work also included an expanded women’s restroom and the addition of a new unisex restroom.


The Imperial Ballroom’s original gold-plated chandeliers are being refreshed, as is the gilded ceiling. Custom gold-plated china recreates the china that was used long ago at the hotel.

Technology is being updated in the spaces, and in the back of house, there will be improvements in the catering services areas, including new commercial appliances.

The seventh floor bar is also being remodeled to create a moveable wall that will facilitate the transition from daytime to nighttime events.


“For over a century, The Pfister has been our city’s enduring mainstay, holding as much of Milwaukee’s history as its own,” said Brandon Drusch, managing director of The Pfister Hotel.

“For generations, the Pfister has been the hotel of choice for event planners and individual guests alike. And thanks to thoughtful planning, impeccable attention to detail and expert craftsmanship, we are elevating our time-honored luxury in a way that is approachable and fresh for today’s guest.”

Guest rooms will be updated with custom-designed carpet, new furnishings, updated drapery and window treatments, some new bar areas, entirely new bathrooms with updated lighting fixtures, tile showers, mirrors with built-in lighting and more.

The lobby renovations in 2024 will also have new carpet, new furnishings and an updated color palette.

“Celebrating its 130th anniversary this year, The Pfister is the crown jewel of Milwaukee” said Michael Evans, president of Marcus Hotels & Resorts. “For generations, The Pfister has been the hotel of choice for presidents, poets, performers and hall of famers. It has served as the trusted backdrop to red-carpet events, history-making announcements, as well as countless galas, weddings, meetings, reunions and more.

“With these renovations, we are blending our celebrated history and traditions with contemporary refinements, fresh aesthetics and enhanced amenities that will result in The Pfister’s continuation as a Milwaukee and national icon for generations to come.”

Built by tannery magnate Guido Pfister at a cost of $1 million, the hotel – called the “Grand Hotel of the West” – was designed by landmark Milwaukee architect Henry C. Koch.

It has hosted every American president since William McKinley.

The Pfister was purchased by Ben Marcus at auction in 1962.

It is owned by Marcus Hotels & Resorts and one of its sister properties, Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva, recently completed a makeover of its public spaces and guest rooms.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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 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 has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.