I can still remember.* In 1976, Gael Greene, then, the Insatiable Restaurant Critic of NY Magazine, described Windows on the World in its first incarnation, as “the most spectacular restaurant in the world–a place where guests could woo and con each other in tax deductible splendor.”
Windows on the World first opened in 1976, under the direction of restaurant impresario Joe Baum, and in many ways represented New York City’s proud rebirth. “Windows” as it was affectionately called, quickly became New York’s most dazzling and desirable place to be. Simultaneous with its launch was the much-heralded arrival of the Tall Ships in New York harbor, bringing a new spirit of optimism.
When Joe (and his team) again was invited to remake Windows as that singularly magical dining in the sky experience, he accepted the challenge without hesitation–and with almost total disregard to cost. An official at Port Authority was overheard muttering, “If Joe had an unlimited budget he would find a way to exceed it.” And to no one’s surprise, Joe did.
Joe was fascinated with great urban spaces where people gathered. He viewed them as marketplaces of ideas that served a function similar to the Forum in ancient Rome. From the beginning, his idea was to create Windows on the World as an urban refuge, satisfying the many appetites of body and soul. And he succeeded beyond imagination.
And, my role in all this? Recently I was asked this very question, and I found myself unable to answer simply. In ancient times, I suppose, I would have been considered a scribe. I was Joe’s speechwriter and designated composer of menus, press materials, and scripts for everything from the correct response to a telephone call to the reservations desk, to the required wording for directions to the men’s room.
After one typically infuriating planning meeting in 1995 to discuss the re-opening of Windows in 1996, a meeting where Joe had changed the agenda to his own, he made a list of what needed to be done. The last, the 13th item, is now painful to share.
It read: “Reassure guests there are no mad bombers within 500 square miles.”
* This remembrance is excerpted from Joe Baum: An Exaltation of Larks, published in Gastronomica magazine. For a complete copy of this article, please contact me.