Remembering Windows on the World

Windows on the World, on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower, was a quarter-mile in the sky above New York City. As lively as the restaurant was, weekday mornings occasionally afforded the employees, including David, a serene moment to take in that famous skyline at dawn.

When the horrific memories of the World Trade Center attack sometimes threaten to crowd out everything else, especially on the anniversary of 9/11, I call up a different, comforting memory shared by perhaps only several hundred people in the world:  sunrise from Windows on the World, on north tower’s 107th floor.

In the mid-’80s, I was a waiter at the Hors d’Oeuvrerie, the lounge and international café of Windows on the World, where women and men from around the globe came for perhaps a bit of then-unheard-of sashimi, after-dinner dessert, and dancing, or the glittering, quarter-of-a-mile-high views of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Everyone from heads of state to rock stars to Broadway royalty visited the Hors d’Oeuvrerie on their way to or from Windows on the World’s main dining room, which faced uptown. Elegance and pedigree abounded, even among the staff: Waitresses wore satin sarongs and waiters bowed almost imperceptibly when greeting guests. The tall, silent piano player was rumored to be a protégé of Leonard Bernstein.

During the day, though, the Hors d’Oeuvrerie was a private club, a place to conduct business lunches and the newly popular power breakfasts. When a waiter made it through the gantlet of personnel interviews, he was handed a white, naval-style jacket—his day wear—and a schedule that included at least one breakfast shift a week.

Working dinner the night before a breakfast shift usually meant my head barely hit the pillow before I had to be up and at the restaurant by 5:30 a.m. Never a caffeine addict, I nonetheless needed a way to wake up, so I’d stumble to the dessert case and cut a generous slice of dacquoise, a delicate cake of hazelnut meringue layers with coffee buttercream filling. The dacquoise, which was made the day before, was best then; the crunchy meringue had softened into a slightly chewy nougat because of the filling. I’d install myself at one of the east-facing tables, and with my feet up and my fussy uniform falling open like a bathrobe, I’d watch and wait. My reflection would fade while the sky turned from black to gun-metal gray to a luminous mauve as if the world had just discovered Technicolor. On the clearest of mornings, I could see almost 90 miles, or so the bartender would always tell me.

When I’m in downtown Manhattan these days, I look up and try to remember exactly where in the sky I entertained guests, patiently pointing out landmarks and boroughs, and where I never tired of those sunrise views. And how a day could begin so sweetly.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for such a Spot On memory of the Hors d’ Oeuvrerie. I worked there in 1987 working the dreaded breakfast shifts in order to work the coveted evenings. I was always impressed at the professional standards that were followed by so many people, and such an international staff. A real joy and privilege to work there. The Dacquoise was a treat that I took advantage of almost daily.

    1. Vincent, it’s so good to hear from you! And I’m delighted that this post reconnected us after 31 years. Such great memories with you, Brett, Judy, Lori, Sam, Carrie–and that scary garde manger, who keep threatening our private parts with his clever whenever got too close to his station!

  2. Interesting observations and subsequent comments. I worked at WOW 1983-1986, as a steward then running 106 floor stockroom/cafeteria. Bill Johnson, I definitely remember you, and Lou Symos as well, and of course Kevin Zraly-as I remember, Lou and Kevin shared an office area and secretary. Interestingly enough, in 1992 I joined the Port Authority Police and was assigned to the WTC. After the 1993 bombing I was part of the crew assigned to recovering Wilfredo Mercado’s body from the rubble and spent many days driving his wife from home to the WTC and back. I lost two very close friends, and about 30 friends and coworkers in all on 9/11. I still have dreams to this day of working at WOW, some of my fondest memories are of my days in the WTC, and just can’t bring myself to go back down there.

    1. John, thanks for chiming in. I, too, dream of WOW and the people I met there. (A chapter in my memoir is devoted to Windows.) And I also can’t get myself down to the site. My publisher is three blocks and away on Broadway, and I always come and go on the eastern side of their building. The closest I ever got was the Oculus. I simply can’t go to the memorial or see the footprints.

  3. Thank you David for the fond memories of Windows On The World. So nice to see the picture of Claudette. I remember her well. You may remember me. I was the reservations manager there from 1976 to 1991. I left just prior to the first bombing and was working with Lou Symos at The Rainbow Room when it happened. I returned to hire and train the new reservations staff and then returned to The Rainbow Room as Joe Baum operated both properties at the time. Windows On The World was & is still a wonderful part of my life. Thanks again David…

    1. Hi Bill,

      I was the one that posted the photo of Claudette Fournier, I was thinking, she was 34 at that time, she must be in her early 70’s now, but I’m sure she is still beautiful.

  4. Dear David,

    Thank you for your warm memories. My parents celebrated my older brother’s graduation from Columbia University in May 1985, by taking our whole family, which included four children and three grandparents, to dinner at the Windows on the World restaurant. I honestly cannot remember what we ate, but I still remember the beautiful and ethereal decor and the breathtaking views from the endless walls of windows. NYC at night time is gorgeous! Whenever I think of NYC, my heart aches for the loss of life as well of the loss of physical beauty that special buildings and places bestow upon us. Never take anything for granted.

    1. Cynthia, you are most welcome. Windows on the World holds a very special place in my heart and in my youth. And you’re so right, “Never take anything for granted.”

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