One of the oldest hotels in Milwaukee is revamping its look by going back to its roots. In addition to other planned renovations and updates this year that will celebrate its Victorian tradition, The Pfister Hotel will open a luxury salon and spa in the space that housed Turkish baths and barber chairs when the hotel opened in 1893.
Well Spa will open to the public on April 2 and will consist of a salon, spa and fitness studio. Well Spa was constructed in the 12,000-square-foot lower level space that formerly was the Celia restaurant, said Keith Halfmann, general manager of the Pfister.
Milwaukee-based Marcus Corp. purchased The Pfister in 1962 and is celebrating its 45th year with the hotel this spring.
"We just have to stay fresh," Halfmann said. "When people come here, they expect the same level of high-end hotel that they see in other cities. We want to make sure the rooms are always looking fresh and that we offer a great experience for guests while they are here."
The spa is the first private-suite spa in the Milwaukee area, Halfmann said. Guests receive all treatments in their room, which includes a private shower, bathroom and changing room. Room temperatures, scents and music are personalized to each individual guest's taste.
The spa area is made up of eight private guest suites, two couples suites, one hydro-massage suite and a private gathering room for groups of up to 10. Guests using the gathering room can listen to music and order food from the spa cuisine menu while they catch up with each other in between treatments.
With the addition of Well Spa, the opening of Mason Street Grill in December 2006 and a scheduled renovation of Café Pfister, the hotel is trying to become an urban destination resort, Halfmann said.
"By adding a spa to the hotel, we think of destination resorts where people eat, drink and stay in the hotel," Halfmann said. "Now, with the spa, guests can be in a phenomenal city with arts and entertainment while staying at a destination resort."
Well Spa will put Pfister ahead of its hotel competition downtown with the added unique amenity that it offers, but will also compete with local salon and spa businesses, Halfmann said.
"The spa and the restaurant help with the overall hotel rate and occupancy," Halfmann said. "We can drive more business because of the amenities we offer."
Celia closed in 2005, in part because of the development of a dining and entertainment district on Milwaukee Street, Halfmann said.
"The restaurant was successful, but with the development on Milwaukee Street, there were so many other offerings and a lot of foot traffic," Halfmann said. "We wanted a restaurant on the street level."
Mason Street Grill has so far been a success. According to a hostess at the restaurant, weekend dinner reservations are booked two weeks out.
It is owned and operated by the Pfister but is a separate business unit with its own leadership team, Halfmann said.
In late spring or early summer, Mason Street Grill will have outdoor patio seating on Mason Street, where large windows open up to the bar. Also starting in the summer, Mason Street Grill will be open for lunch on the weekend, Halfmann said.
"We wanted a bar with personality and lively entertainment," Halfmann said. "The bar is a significant size with piano entertainment. It helps with business before or after events downtown, for people to hang out and have a cocktail or one of the signature Mason Street ambers."
Mason Street Grill also offers three private dining rooms equipped with A/V equipment and LCD television screens, all with plug-and-play technology. Private rooms are available for meetings and private parties.
The rest of The Pfister is getting a polish in some places and a facelift in others. The hotel recently completed the installation of new carpeting and décor in the lobby area and hallways. The new look is contemporary and clean, but with the Victorian throw-back quality and look of luxury that guests expect at the hotel.
The renovations for Café Pfister, the hotel's all-day dining establishment, are still in the final design phase.
"Café Pfister will take care of every need our guests have while appealing to the local community," Halfmann said. "Upgrades will be made to the menu, the look and the service with a new style of uniforms."
In 2007, residents and guests will see a continued effort to upgrade guest rooms in the original Pfister building and suites, including the addition of flat panel LCD television screens and a softer look. Guest rooms in the tower portion of the building were upgraded a few years ago.
The Pfister will also install new windows in the original portion of the building, which will allow less outside sound into the rooms while increasing energy efficiency, Halfmann said.
A restoration of the Pfister's parking garage is scheduled for mid-May. Since the Pfister Grand Ballroom is located above the parking garage, both spaces will be simultaneously closed and renovated.
The garage needs to undergo minor maintenance with its structure.
The Grand Ballroom will receive new carpet, wall décor, chairs, linens and a new HVAC system.
"We are trying to give it a more timeless elegance," Halfmann said. "The current design feels like it is from the period when the tower opened and we want it to be more grand. The Hall of Presidents and foyer will follow suit where Kings Row and the Imperial Ballroom will receive new carpet, drapes and lighting fixtures."
All of the projects will be finished by the end of the year.
Halfmann declined to disclose the amount of money Marcus will invest in the updates and renovations.
"In the hotel, it is very evident that Marcus is committed to the company and its shareholders," Halfmann said. "Marcus Corp. has invested and reinvested in the property and made sure that it maintains its image."
The investment was aligned with the projected return in business sales, Halfmann said.
"The spa and restaurant help with the overall hotel rate and occupancy," Halfmann said. "The Pfister can drive more business because of the amenities we do offer."
With the renovations, upgrades and new offerings, The Pfister plans to appeal to new and existing clients while competing with local businesses for guests who would not be interested in hotel rooms, Halfmann said.
"If you look at all of the business units, Mason Street Grill, Blu, now Well Spa, the majority of the business is coming from the local community," Halfmann said. "They are places to go to gather or to just have fun. It brings liveliness to the neighborhood, energy to the area and a lifestyle where they operate."