Theme Magazine - UK, October 2001
THE TOP OF THE WORLD
I was just starting out as a bartender in 1976 when Joe Baum opened the highest restaurant in the world, Windows on the world. I was working at a bar Joe had created as president of Restaurant Associates called CharlieO's, one of his most successful bars in a career studded by great successes in the restaurant business. Boosted by his track record with the Four Seasons and other landmark NYC restaurants as well as the Bicentenial celebration of Tall Ships and a general curiosity about these two mamouth structures, Windows on the World became one the top grossing restaurants in the United States. In the late 1970's and early 80's it was a six month wait to secure a table.
In the mid 1980's when Joe Baum embarked on new projects including the Rainbow Room, Inhilco Corporation took over the operation of Windows on the World until 1993 when the first terrorist attack took place. The first attack was an attempt to topple the towers by undermining the corner support of one tower and sending it crashing into the other. Luckily the terrorists were poor engineers and set the car bomb in the wrong spot. After the terrorist attack the restaurant remained closed for several years until the Port Authority began casting around for a new operator to rebuild the Restaurant. The restaurant which sustained extensive smoke damage during the first attack was neglected and in need of major work. Joe Baum was tapped again to revisit and reinvent a new Windows on the World for the coming millennium. Joe called on many of the original team; Dennis Sweeny to overlook the construction, Michael Whiteman and Roseann Gold to consult on menu and front of the house, Kevin Zraly to rebulid the legendary wine program he created the first time around, and this time another personality shared in the project, David Emil the son of Joe's partner Arthur Emil from The Rainbow Room. By the end of the project Joe was very ill and was less and less involved. When they opened, the first year was shaky but they settled on a talented chef named Michael Lomonaco who seemed to make things click. For a short time the Company, called B.E. Windows now, operated two of the tallest restaurants in the world.
I was head bartender and beverage manager at the Rainbow room and we were consistently in the top ten list of highest grossing restaurants in the United States. But trouble was brewing for us at Rainbow. The new partner and manager of the Rockefeller Center Complex, Tishman Speyer revisited every lease in the center and informed us we would have to compete with other operators for the new lease. We did and we won. Sadly we could never see eye to eye on the actual lease and we lost the Rainbow Room and so did New York and the World. Though it is still called the Rainbow Room, the new operator was not interested in continuing the 64-year tradition of dining and dancing and closed the main dining room opening for private functions only. They also dismantled one of the great bars in the world to put a few more tables along the window.
But with all this bad news uptown, the news was good downtown at Windows. Michael's kitchen was better than ever and the new Wild Blue Restaurant was open and thriving and the bar was packed in the evenings with a very exciting music and dancing program put together by Chris Blood and Glen Voght. A former student of Kevin Zraly named Andrea Immer was the beverage manager and put together a first class wine list and beverage training program. After Rainbow closed I remained as a consultant to the company. I had been co-hosting a program at Windows on the World called Spirits in the Skybox with Andrea, that offered the general public a chance to taste spirits and make cocktails along with me in the Skybox Room overlooking the main bar.
I was in the Skybox Monday night September 10th , hosting my class with the head bartender George Delgado. We finished up and I had a couple friends attending so we decided to have a drink in the Greatest Bar on Earth, a name that had always irked me, how could the company I worked for call another bar the "Greatest" when we already had the greatest up at the Rainbow Room. We ordered Champagne and were joined by George and a few other people and we ended up a party of ten. There was no particular celebration, the group just seemed to click so we had several more bottles of champagne and food. A woman DJ named Jennifer began spinning records and someone in our group knew her so we all ended the evening dancing. I woke up Tuesday the 11th of September to the horror of the terrorist attack that finished off a medium size city called the World Trade Center. Joe Baum my employer, my mentor, and my friend died in 1998, He was spared the horrors of September 11th 2001.