Almost instantly proclaimed “the most spectacular restaurant in the world” by New York Magazine (perhaps not entirely an impartial source), Windows on the World, in fact, grew to earn that accolade along with the loyalty of a vast, diverse clientele. Although elite food critics sniped that it was less the cuisine than the spectacular panoramic views that were the main course worth savoring at Windows, patrons were enthralled by the entirety of its singular ambience. Baum, for example, asked Glaser to create a sweeping scrim wall curtain of hand-sewn beads and delicate lights that would shimmer and gently undulate, to enhance the destination’s celestial aura.
As a result of the 1993 terrorist truck bomb attack on the landmark buildings (when smoke and grime lofted up to the North Tower’s highest floors), the restaurant closed for several years of refurbishment. It relaunched in 1996 under a new owner-operator company led by David Emil. As the new millennium dawned, Windows was serving 800 nightly meals, with reported revenues that earned it distinction as the highest-grossing restaurant in the United States.
A through-line of that restored success was the continued use of Milton Glaser’s aerial themed china patterns—which featured a playful, organizing vocabulary of radiant sunrises, memorable sunsets, and atmospheric cloud formations inset. These were materialized mostly, but not exclusively, in bold colors of sunny yellow and clear-sky blue. Menus, matchbooks, and other promotional literature for the venue also perpetuated Glaser’s appealing graphics. Poignantly, his distinctive blue sky and gold logo were ready to wrap the bottles of 500 cases of Veuve Clicquot, ordered for Window’s 25th anniversary, due for celebration in October 2001.
The 9/11 Museum’s collection attests to the strong, special hold that Glaser’s WOW designs had for those of us fortunate enough to have visited Windows on the World—perhaps for a birthday or a retirement party; to mark a special anniversary or visit to the Empire City; or a business function hosted there, when attendees couldn’t resist stealing looks outside the windows, astonished by the miniaturized cityscape, the sight of a lower-flying plane, or a fog bank below them obscuring the sun they enjoyed.
The cross-section of mementoes entrusted to our safekeeping span the gamut of donations from those made by tourists and conference attendees, to lifelong New Yorkers, neighborhood residents, and habitual diners from the World Trade Center campus itself, to members of the restaurant staff, management, and kitchen teams. Often, items are accompanied by a personalizing story attesting to the occasion for, or enduring impact of, that elevated eating experience.
Tragically, on September 11, all present on the 106th and 107th floors would perish once hijacked Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m., with egress to safety terminated. A number of Glaser-designed china souvenirs in our holdings in fact were presented by colleagues spared death—by fate or workshift—to commemorate those responsible for the restaurant’s distinctive food and gracious hospitality, year-round.
In the wake of the 9/11, journalists often approached the survivors of the Windows on the World venture to reflect on its achievement, from its earlier and later phases of operation. In one account, Glaser characterized the enterprise of its creation as a journey to the “Promised Land.” In his capacity as a design collaborator, his imagination had been unleashed to craft its telling details, but at an unexpected, novel, and enormous scale.
“There has never been anything like it,” Glaser said, which could serve as his own epitaph.
By Jan S. Ramirez, Executive Vice President of Collections & Chief Curator, 9/11 Memorial & Museum