Remembering Windows on the World

A black and white photo of the dining room at on of New York's finest restaurants, Windows on the World.

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.

About David Leite

David Leite has received three James Beard Awards for his writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

Hungry For More?

They’re Alive!

David finds he may have a green thumb after all as he looks upon the chlorophyl duking it out in his garden in Darwinian style.

How To Grill Salmon

In this video, Jamie Purviance teaches David that grilling salmon isn’t that hard. It just takes high heat and some patience.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. If anyone here remembers Claudette Fournier, or any information about her since windows, please email me.


  2. 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.

  3. 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.”