When the Pfister opened in 1893, it was the only fire-proof hotel in the city. Having electricity throughout the building was exotic too, as was air conditioning and a thermostat in every guestroom.

Few Midwest hotels are older, and the Pfister’s bygone opulence remains a show-stopper. That’s because Ben Marcus of Marcus Hotels rescued the property from bankruptcy in the 1960s and vowed to restore the elegant interior.

Modern art hotels remove the cookie-cutter approach to decorating, as does masterful Old World craftsmanship and one-of-a-kind artwork at the Pfister. In the 23-story structure are at least 80 pieces of Victorian art; no hotel in the world has a larger collection from this era.

Sculptures, paintings and murals freeze in time snippets of history and emotion. Each tells a little story, from the mystical “Fortune Teller” by Ludwig Vollmar of Germany to the coquettish “Flirtation” by Georges Achille-Fould of France. Both are oils on canvas.

Ten years ago, more lessons in art appreciation emerged after the Pfister’s first artist-in-residence was hired for a one-year stint that includes a work studio and gallery with a wall of windows, near the high-traffic lobby.

The artist works as guests watch, ask questions, buy unique artwork.

Multi-disciplinary artist Rosy Petri moves in during spring 2019. Among her specialties: photo and quilt portraits. She succeeds Stephanie Schultz, a fabric artist who made high-style garments from digitally printed fabric, some bringing paintings to life via fashion.

Don’t miss it: A free phone app points the way to Victorian art on the Pfister’s first, second and seventh floors. The search turns into a scavenger hunt too. Download the app through the Apple store or Google Play.

Follow longtime travel and food writer Mary Bergin of Madison at roadstraveled.com.

The historic Pfister Hotel.
The Pfister’s 2018 artist-in-residence, Stephanie Schultz.

The Midwest U.S., environmental sustainability and regional food quirks are specialties for longtime Madison freelance writer and columnist Mary Bergin. Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook is her fifth book. www.roadstraveled.com