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Jean-Louis Bolar

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Jean-Louis Bolar’s job is to know people. Basically, he gets paid to “schmooze” with Milwaukee’s best and brightest. “It’s simply a payoff. It’s all the more goodies in the residents’ pockets. They need a reservation here, and I call my contact, and ‘bang,’ they’re in,” he says. With all the connections in his book, the tenants of 1522 On The Lake need only contact the man in their lobby and their bidding is as good as done. Jean-Louis goes by his first name, like Cher. It suits him, and it’s a classy name for a concierge, which, as Jean-Louis points out, means “keeper of the keys,” a word coined when Marie Antoinette was imprisoned at la Conciergerie. She trusted the first of his profession with her palace keys and mail delivery. Jean-Louis’ job has survived so long because people can always use a man with his skills. He’ll walk your dog(s). He can hook you up with one of the best tables in town. He’ll have your Chanel suit dry cleaned and ticket your next escapade to Zaire. Jean-Louis has been in the business a long time, so he’s done just about every task a concierge can do. “You become their bartender, you become their friend, you become their family member — especially for those who are from out of town,” he explains of his tenants. His job is discretion, and he can’t, and will not, share anything to break the trust of his tenants. But he does have a favorite off–the-wall story he likes to tell. “When I was at the Landmark,” he says, “there was a young lady going to birthing classes, and her husband wasn’t able to be there because he was out of town. So, she asked me if I wouldn’t mind coming to birthing classes with her. And I did.” He adds, “What better way to assist somebody, than taking them to birthing classes?” How does a man get to be like Jean-Louis? It’s not so easy to replicate a life like his. He claims French, Native American, African-American, and Jewish ancestry. He was adopted into a white family during an era when having multiethnic progeny was unthinkable. He went to Vietnam, traveled Europe, and lived in California. He came back to Milwaukee, because, “Everyone seems to come back to Milwaukee,” he laughs. “It’s like a gravitational pull. It’s just a great city.” He ran with the now-infamous hippies of Brady Street and directed films. Eventually, Jean-Louis got a job as a motor coach tour director, and it was in Washington D.C. that he was urged to look up the concierge of that city’s Four Seasons hotel. He did, and through that fateful connection he found his profession. Back in Brew City he started working his way from bellman to concierge, learning his trade at several fine hotels. One day he saw an ad for his dream position at the Blatz residential. He applied for and got the job. Two years later, the Landmark on the Lake made him an offer, and he took it. He was with them 11 years, and the name Jean-Louis started getting around. A year and a half ago, 1522 On The Lake was erected, and they wanted Jean-Louis. They got him. This meteoric rise within the concierge industry, however, isn’t really what’s made Jean-Louis’ fame. It was the parties he threw for his Landmark tenants. “The reason I started these,” he explains, “is because a lot of people were moving into the Landmark who were from out of state…and they never met anybody… So I decided to just take it upon myself to have this cocktail party.” It started simply with cocktail weenies and cheese cubes at Sarafino’s, with an anticipated crowd of maybe 14. Over a hundred people showed. So he decided to do it again, at Giovanni’s. Two hundred people. He started doing it monthly, and the parties kept getting bigger, more elaborate, with gorgeous spreads of food, themes, and dancing. After an eight-year run, they were legendary. With all the swank surrounding Jean-Louis, you may think that he’s got himself a place in the sky along with his tenants. Instead, he arrives at home each night in Riverwest, just like the rest of us, content to be where he’s at. “It’s where a lot of the old hippies are,” he explains of the neighborhood, “a lot of them moved over from the East Side because it was just getting too expensive. I moved to Riverwest sixteen years ago, and I’m happy I did.” His commute time to work is minimal, about as close as you could get without being in Riverwest proper, where, “I don’t think they’ll ever build a high rise,” he says. So he’ll just have to keep making the short drive between his community here, and the other at 1522 N. Prospect.
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