I used to travel a lot for work and pre-9/11 I remember that I would feel like I was home when I’d see the twin towers from the plane’s window. Post 9/11 it took some time for me to get used to not seeing the towers and knowing that as soon as I saw them it meant I was home. My birthday is September 10 and for the first few years it was hard to celebrate that day knowing what the next day meant. I finally got used to the idea of celebrating and knowing that we had to go on and not let “them” get to us and in our way of being alive.
This brings me to my thoughts and recollections of the famed Windows on the World restaurant. I just attended a get together for the new book called “The Most Spectacular Restaurant in the World.” The book which I haven’t read yet is a compilation of stories about the famed restaurant and the many characters who worked there and ran it.
To me and my family it was like home. We were regulars there and I even had the opportunity to work there for a few summer jobs which I’ll get into in a bit. Windows as we all called it was a sparkling fantasy land of food, wine and scenery. It glittered, it swayed, it sparkled and it enthralled all who went there. My dad with his passion for wine and food became friends with and a bit of a mentor to the famed wine personality Kevin Zraly. As I like to say, I knew Kevin before he was Kevin. Kevin would always let me and dad go to lunch at the club when only members could go. We loved the brunches in the main dining room and would always be escorted to our corner table which had a view where we could see the Statue of Liberty. I would bring friends up to the restaurant just to see the view because the staff would let me go into the closed banquet rooms where the best views of the city could be seen. It was a magical place to be sure.
One year my dad through his wine club called Les Amis du Vin, conducted a wine dinner in which we honored the famed Sam Aaron of Sherry Lehman fame. I wish I could remember the dinner and yes I should not have been there but it was a different time than today and things were not as stringent if you know what I mean. It was a bacchanalian feast, yes that was the theme and we even had our own Bacchus come in to lead the roast. Then there was another dinner which featured the famed Champagne afficianado and ambassador of all things Champagne, Robert Gordin. Robert created a spectacular champagne pyramid with baccarat glasses and then poured Dom Perignon from the top and we watched it cascade down into the glasses like a giant fountain. He topped that off by saboring bottles of DP which had everyone concerned that he’d blow out one of the windows!
While still in university, I spent a summer as Kevin’s wine school coordinator. Kevin ran the famed Windows on the World Wine School. Kevin was all educator and all showman, anyone who as ever taken his class knows this. No one in the business can educate a crowd and captivate them at the same time like Kevin. His book is his class on paper, but seeing him in action and learning from him first hand well, there’s nothing like it!
I even worked in the kitchen one summer while I was at the CIA. Now that was an experience! I had eaten there since the restaurant existed, but being behind the scenes was something else. Because it was so high up, they couldn’t pump the gas up that high and we had to cook on electric cook tops. In fact they were all flat tops which was totally different from what I had ever cooked on before.
Whether it was the main dining room, the small Statue of Liberty room, the Greatest Bar on Earth or the banquet rooms, Windows holds a special place in my heart. At this gathering for the book, we were surrounded by former chefs, captains, servers, sommeliers and family who had lost someone on 9/11. We all listened to the stories and some of us had our own on the side. Kevin put us right to work opening bottles of Champagne for the crowd so we could all toast those past and present and the memory of the Greatest Restaurant that ever was.