The spirit of the season is very much alive at the Pabst Mansion
I can describe the experience of “Christmas at the Pabst Mansion” in a single word:
It has nothing to do with the many, many fireplaces in the 130-year-old structure. Or the piping hot cider offered (with a bit of Jameson) on the bitingly cold Sunday I visited. That feeling comes from the 19 different spaces decorated by 40+ volunteers, as well as the extremely welcoming and dedicated staff on hand for a day one of them described as “the busiest we’ve had all year.”
The halls once occupied by Frederick Pabst and his family have been decked since Nov. 17 and will remain so through Jan. 8, with three options available for visitors (check the website for holiday hours):
- Standard tour (self-guided) — 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Sunday
- Twilight tour (self-guided) — 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
- Holiday mimosa tour (guided) — 9:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday; 9:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Sunday
As someone with just a dash of year-round Grinchiness, I had to be nudged toward a visit but left feeling like my heart grew at least one-and-a-half sizes. That started at the door, where Director of Guest Experience Gary Strothmann doubled as greeter and set the perfect tone with an enthusiastic welcome you could hear clear down to Wisconsin Avenue.
Everything after you’re through the door is unhurried and extremely photo-friendly, with tiny details you could examine for however long it takes for the person behind you to clear their throat in an attempt to get you moving.
The first floor does a fine job of getting you in the holiday spirit, particularly the feast-ready dining room and the music room featuring an honest-to-goodness musician.
Captain’s Pabst’s safe in the butler’s pantry is also pretty cool. Just don’t touch it (as a guest who shall not be named found out).
The mini-balcony on your way up to floor two is worth a stop to take in the view and, as one guest did, pretend you’re Maria Pabst greeting visitors. After climbing the last few stairs, Emma and Elsbeth’s bedrooms are a nice break from the mostly grownup areas to that point.
I also happened to be there for the final visit from Father Christmas, who happily chatted with a long line of shy kids getting in their last-minute gift requests.
The third floor had the fewest areas but also some of my favorite holiday flourishes, including the train set (kudos to decorator Dan Zeh on that one) and a Santa-friendly guest bedroom with stockings hung, cookies plated and a place for letters to Mr. Claus.
That's somehow only a small fraction of the photos I took, just to give you a taste of what the experience is like for visitors. If you have some time before Jan. 8 — especially around this upcoming holiday weekend — the mansion is open for you to grab a PBR, meander around the Pabst family’s old digs and get in the spirit.