success fail Sep OCT May 17 2007 2008 2011 12 captures 17 Oct 2008 - 12 May 2019 About this capture COLLECTED BY Organization: Alexa Crawls Starting in 1996, Alexa Internet has been donating their crawl data to the Internet Archive. Flowing in every day, these data are added to the Wayback Machine after an embargo period. Collection: 52_crawl this data is currently not publicly accessible. TIMESTAMPSFriday, October 17, 2008
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Windows That Rose So Close To the Sun
By WILLIAM GRIMES Published: September 19, 2001
NEW YORK has many bars and restaurants with views of the city. Windows on the World was something else, a restaurant that seemed suspended halfway between the earth and the moon. From 107 stories, the views extended for 90 miles. Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey spread out in sharply etched detail. The river bridges looked like fragile steel filaments from a quarter mile up, and New York Harbor threw back tiny sparks of sunlight.
Those windows were something else too. They ran floor to ceiling, and intensified the giddy sensation of soaring over Manhattan. Diners lusted after the tables alongside them. They offered the ultimate New York experience, sitting high atop the world's tallest, most powerful city -- A-number-one, top of the heap.
It may be merely a footnote to a national calamity, but the collapse of the World Trade Center's two towers ended an era in New York City dining. As a terrorist target, the towers represented American economic power. For hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, and untold numbers of tourists, it was a place to eat.
From the beginning, Windows on the World, and the busy hive of small food operations down below that fed thousands of workers every day, represented a grand experiment, undertaken at a time when New York's economy had hit rock bottom. Could a vertical city rise over the bent, intertwined streets of Dutch Manhattan? Could its population be fed every day in anything more than the most perfunctory way? And could any one restaurant match the sheer audacity of two 110-story buildings? Improbably, the answer to all these questions was yes.
The human cost is still not known. The two restaurants and bar on the 106th and 107th floors of 1 World Trade Center -- Windows on the World, the Greatest Bar on Earth and Wild Blue -- employed 450 people. Seventy-nine were on duty Sept. 11, said David Emil, whose company, Night Sky restaurants, operated the complex. Some were doing prep work for the evening, others were serving 500 people at a corporate breakfast seminar. All were still missing yesterday.
The World Trade Center did not start out as a powerful symbol of the city's spirit. At birth, it was reviled as a waste of public money and an architectural monstrosity. If ever a building project had an image problem, the World Trade Center was it.
The change in public perception was brought about by Windows on the World. ''It conveyed a level of respectability to what was a vilified complex,'' said Michael Whiteman, who helped plan the trade center's food operations with the restaurateur Joseph Baum. Within a year of opening, in April 1976, Windows on the World was one of the most talked-about restaurants in New York, and a prime draw for tourists, who lined up to take the 58-second elevator ride to the 107th floor.
The World Trade Center was, in concept, a bureaucratic palace. It was the showcase restaurant, with its commanding views, that came to embody the visionary drive behind the complex. In a city built on risk, the towers and the restaurant that seemed to hover in the sky added up to an almost absurd gamble. ''In a way, it was the symbol of the beginning of the turnaround of New York,'' Mr. Whiteman said. ''We were successful because New York wanted us to be successful. It couldn't stand another heartbreaking failure.''
I never felt as if I were going to a restaurant when I stepped on the elevators to Windows on the World. The velvet ropes outside the express elevator, and the uniformed attendants who asked your destination, made me feel as if I were being transported to a different world .
Critics were divided about the décor, but I thought it had a shiny, modern, go-ahead quality that suited the city's soul. At the same time, oddly enough, I felt that the view allowed you to see New York afresh, to recapture the way it appeared to Henry Hudson when he first sailed into the harbor on the Half Moon.
Will diners ever again find that perspective enchanting? The very idea of ascending dozens of floors to dine, overlooking the city, seems fraught with peril at the moment. I wonder whether, even with the passage of time, the romance of dining in the sky will ever recapture the public imagination. Exhilaration has now become too closely interwoven with terror.
Windows on the World had a difficult birth. Mr. Baum, the visionary behind landmark restaurants like the Four Seasons and La Fonda del Sol, had parted company with Restaurant Associates, the company he put on the map, when he won the bid to create the restaurants at the World Trade Center. Working with Mr. Whiteman and Dennis Sweeney, an engineer, he hired a team of consultants that included James Beard, Jacques Pépin and Barbara Kafka.
Together they began planning a series of food stands and restaurants that would feed a population big enough for a midsize city, as 150,000 people passed through the complex every day. They created 22 food and drink outlets, all supplied by a central commissary, where deliveries arrived, prep work was carried out and stocks and soups were made. The complex had visual flair, in part because of graphic design by Milton Glaser.
On the street-level concourse, the Baum team created a food court, called the Big Kitchen, that was one of the first of its kind, not a collection of franchise operations, but a constellation of well-spaced fast-food stations that turned into retail operations at night. Mimi Sheraton, then the restaurant critic of The New York Times, called it ''a quick-service cafeteria raised to new and inspired heights.''
Office workers could eat barbecued ribs or chicken at the Rotisserie for lunch, and later buy the same food by the pound. The Big Kitchen included a grill station, a delicatessen, a bakery and a seafood bar. Quality was high. Essentially, because of centralized buying and the commissary system, everyone in the World Trade Center ate the same food, although it was prepared in different ways and sold at different price levels. ''The whole creation,'' Ms. Sheraton wrote, ''gives testimony to the belief that the most ordinary function can be performed in the most extraordinary ways.''
Not far from the food court was the Market Bar and Dining Rooms. The name referred to the old Washington Market, which once operated where the trade towers now stood. It also reflected the restaurant's philosophy of creating the menu daily based on market purchases. Suppliers of specific ingredients were identified on the menu. In spirit, the restaurant was a steakhouse, but there was a vegetable sommelier who wandered from table to table, whipping up enthusiasm for the day's harvest, and suggesting how the kitchen might prepare it. Ms. Sheraton gave the restaurant three stars.
Midway in the tower, on the 44th floor, a restaurant called Sky Dive served as a cafeteria for middle management during the day and became a bar at night. And at the top of the tower sat Windows on the World and its two satellites, the Hors d'Oeuvrerie and Cellar in the Sky. The Hors d'Oeuvrerie, a lounge, offered a Danish smorgasbord by day and sushi at night. Cellar in the Sky, designed to look like a wine cellar, but all in white, with dappled light to suggest sunlight passing through grape leaves, gave New York one of its first wine-pairing menus.
For New Yorkers of a certain age, these names resonate, even though most of them were phased out over time. The first chef at Cellar in the Sky, for example, was Eberhard Müller, who later took over André Soltner's kitchen at Lutèce. The wines at Cellar in the Sky came from an extraordinary list developed by a 25-year-old wine salesman named Kevin Zraly, who so impressed Ms. Kafka that she urged Mr. Baum to hire him. He never left.
Mr. Zraly built one of the city's most admired wine lists. ''Joe Baum told me to create the biggest and best wine list New York had ever seen,'' Mr. Zraly said yesterday. Circumstances were favorable. French winemakers were desperate for cash, and Mr. Zraly was able to get great wines at laughable prices. In the late 1970's, he turned his attention to California, still a foreign country for many wine lovers.
''Windows on the World and the Four Seasons were the first two restaurants on the East Coast to go into California wines in a big way,'' Mr. Zraly said. ''But our first list really was international. It was Windows on the World, and we had wines from Yugoslavia, Chile, Hungary and Greece.'' The wine list, at the time of the attack, ran to 1,400 bottles. When the towers collapsed, Windows on the World had more than $1 million worth of wine in the tower.
Mr. Zraly also started a wine school attended by passionate amateurs and restaurant professionals. Its 14,000 graduates included untold numbers of wine stewards and cellar masters. Mr. Zraly said that the Windows on the World Wine School would keep its name and would carry on, in space provided at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Times Square.
When it opened, Windows on the World created a stir. New York magazine put it on the cover, with the headline ''The Most Spectacular Restaurant in the World.'' The bicentennial celebration, which brought a flotilla of tall ships into New York Harbor, attracted television cameras from all over the world, helping make Windows on the World the city's most visible restaurant.
In dollar terms, it was a huge success. ''We had projected revenues of $12 million the first year, and the critics all said we'd be lucky to do $6 million,'' Mr. Whiteman said. ''The criticism was so insistent that we came to believe it. We did $14 million, and it nearly killed us.'' At its peak in the late 1980's, Windows on the World was one of the country's top-grossing restaurants, taking in more than $24 million a year.
The more or less Continental menu blended classical French and American cuisines. It never quite lived up to the views or the wine list. Critics lodged their share of complaints, especially in the 1980's, when it rated but a single star from Bryan Miller in The Times in 1986. Even that was taken away in 1990. Three years later, the restaurant was closed after terrorists exploded a car bomb in the Trade Center's parking garage.
After that assault, there was rebirth. Mr. Baum and his team, called in once more, reconfigured the restaurants at the top of the tower at a cost of $25 million. The original interior, by Warren Plattner, was redone by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer, who had worked with Mr. Baum on the Rainbow Room renovation. A high-energy, jazzy-looking bar, modestly named the Greatest Bar on Earth, was installed across from Windows on the World, whose kitchen finally began to deliver on its potential when Michael Lomonaco, a talented and popular chef, was hired away from the ''21'' Club. In 1999, the last piece of the puzzle fell into place with the opening of Wild Blue, in the space formerly occupied by Cellar in the Sky.
Windows on the World, originally attacked as elitist -- it was a private club by day -- evolved into the centerpiece of a populist entertainment complex. The restaurant was never cheap, but it was not intimidating either. The Greatest Bar on Earth had a technicolor fun-house décor and an atmosphere to match. It was loud and a little wild, especially on Thursday nights, when Latin bands attracted partygoers hellbent on having a good time. Wild Blue, by contrast, was one of the most charming, romantic restaurants in New York, a 60-seat cozy cocoon in the sky that felt as snug and safe as a ship's berth.
And then, in the blink of an eye, it all disappeared.
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