“A Haven for Spirits in the Sky”
Editor’s Note: thank you very much D.C. for scanning a menu from the Greatest Bar on Earth (here)
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Sadly, I never visited the Greatest Bar on Earth–and now, I never will. However, I would like to dedicate this page to its lasting memory. While it was here with us, it was indeed one of the greatest bars on Earth, primarily because of its extraordinary view from its floor-to-ceiling windows, but also because of its international staff, swanky clientele, wide variety of entertainers, cool nightly scene, excellent selection of food from the Windows on the World restaurant one floor below, and a selection of booze that was second to none. Located in Lower Manhattan in the Wall Street District, the Greatest Bar on Earth became one of the most happening places in the city following its rejuvenation in 1997. And, because it was located on the 107th floor of Tower 1, it was the highest bar in the world. Even though none of us can belly up to the bar there anymore, the Greatest Bar on Earth shall always serve a mean cocktail in our collective memory.
“An intoxicating combination of circus sideshow attractions and the mile-high club.”
The Greatest Bar on Earth was the tallest lounge area in the world standing at 1,314 feet, just edging out the Horizons Cafe in Toronto’s CN Tower (standing 1,136 feet above ground), the Signature Lounge in Chicago’s John Hancock Tower, and Cloud 9 in Shanghai’s Jin Mao Building. From its height, one could see the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, most of Manhattan, the Atlantic Ocean, much of New Jersey, and all the way to Connecticut, up to 90 miles away, on a clear day. To get to the Greatest Bar on Earth, one had to take an elevator that sped a quarter mile straight up in less than two minutes, popping the ears of all.
Originally opened on April 12, 1976 by Joseph Baum, Michael Whitemand and Dennis Sweeney, the Greatest Bar on Earth and the famous restaurant below it, Windows on the World, were felt to be in decline at the time of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. However, the establishment was purchased in 1996, renovated, and reopened in 1997, where it flourished until its last night of business on Monday, September 10th, 2001. The $25M renovation of the two-story, two-acre space was performed by the same team who originally conceived the establishment but who went on to other things (Baum, Whiteman and Sweeney, with the addition of David Emil).
“As unlikely as it may seem, the hottest night spot in New York is on Wall Street. Actually, it’s way above Wall Street – on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. After years of thumbing their noses at the financial community’s stuffed shirts, the pioneers of New York cool have descended on the financial district in droves.”
– Women’s Wear Daily
“Windows on the World” was 40,000 square foot restaurant on the 106th floor of Tower 1. The restaurant represented the cultural fabric of this country, and the world, with staff from as far as Yemen, Morocco, Uruguay, Bangladesh, Ghana, Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, and Poland. Following its renovation by Baum and Emil, Windows on the World was decorated with 145 different shades of paint, 19 fabric wall coverings, 11 custom carpets, and fabric-wrapped, geodesic-shaped pillars and ceilings wrapped in fabric to make the room more conversation-friendly. The original, tiered floor plan was retained so that no view from the 240-seat dining room would be obstructed. In addition to the d?cor, Windows on the World’s success as a four-star restaurant was largely due to the extensive menu created under the culinary direction of celebrity Chef, Michael Lomonaco, also known for hosting the cooking show, “Epicurious” on the Discovery Channel. Renowned for his creative interpretation of regional American cuisine, Lomonaco specialties included pan-roasted sea scallops, beer-braised short ribs of beef, grilled double venison chop in a cabernet sauce, and dry-rubbed pork ribs with a special tomato sauce on the side. The food and atmosphere made Windows to the World very popular with couples, as evidenced in part by making Chowbaby.com’s “Top 10 List of Romantic Restaurants for 2000” in New York. In addition to Windows on the World, the restaurant Wild Blue was located on the 107th floor, next to the Greatest Bar on Earth. Wild Blue was a stylish chophouse offering the finest in roasted, grilled, and rotisserie-cooked meats, game and fish, where jackets were required for the gentlemen. Prices at both restaurants typically cost at least $55 for a three-course meal.
“For 20 years, Windows on the World?on the top floor of the World Trade Center?delighted guests with its extraordinary cuisine and amazing view of the Manhattan skyline. Chef/Director for Windows on the World, Michael Lomonaco, created menus that underscored his conviction that Windows should be a restaurant fueled by “The American Spirit”: confident, creative and filled with the best local products.”
Greatest Bar on Earth patrons consisted of an interesting mix of tourists from all over the world, Wall Street-types, lounge lizards, and pick-up chicks looking for a sugar-daddy. Time Out New York noted that, “Mixed in among the yuppies and cocktail nation twits here is a sizable delegation of actual hipsters–DJs, fashion and design fold, and other party people.” Whether tourists or the young and affluent, all came to enjoy a selection of booze that included 16 different kinds of vodka, 1,500 wines (!), and a variety of specialty cocktails like the WOW Martini, Mandarin Crush, and Ellis Island Iced Tea. Mixed drinks were not for the faint of heart, as prices ranged from $8 to $16 (for a Cosmopolitan). An Australian friend of mine once spent $180 for one night, while trying to impress a lady. Unfortunately, she wound up giving him the silent treatment for his efforts. For the peckish, one could also order food from the Windows on the World full menu, which included a sushi and sashimi bar until midnight, four nights a week. The bar area seated up to 160 people.
Yet another reason for the Greatest Bar on Earth’s success was its live music and dancing six nights a week. Bands typically came on after 9:00 p.m., and consisted of classic funk Mondays; R&B Tuesdays; “Mondo 107 Lounge” Wednesdays; “Mambo, Baby” Latin Thursdays; “Glitter” Disco Fridays; Saturday night “Swing!”; a variety show hosted by Penelope Tuesdae on Sundays; and jazz piano until 10:00 p.m. on Sundays through Wednesdays. Salsa, big bands and music from the DJ could also be heard, and the smallish dance crowd was often crowded. Cover charge was paid to the doorperson sitting at the Continental Airlines counter near the elevators, and ranged from $5 to $20 from Wednesday through Saturday, but was free every other night or if you had dinner there. Sneakers were not allowed, any night of the week.
“A spectacular view. Only in New York, the vertical city, can you have sushi, dinner, drinks, and dancing like this. This is a must.”
– New York Confidential 2000
While the Greatest Bar on Earth drew some criticism, particularly because of it being named in the spirit of New York “modesty,” I think we can all agree that it will live on as such in our minds. While the horrible events of September 11th, 2001, took place in the morning, most of the staff was spared–except for those working the banquet shift in Windows on the World. I hope their souls rest in eternal peace and, if I may speak on behalf of all those in Chicago, I would like to offer our condolences for their family and friends. While these people are gone, they made a difference in the lives of all who visited the Greatest Bar on Earth, Windows on the World and Wild Blue. For more information, visit the Reflections: Windows on the World memorial site.
“I have such fond memories of this wonderful place in the sky and remember so many little details like the magnificent elevator doors that opened to take me on my flight to the 106th floor that always made my ears pop; the beautiful geodes in the corridor that led to the glow of a spectacular view of Brooklyn and the harbor; and most of all, the accented voices of the people of many countries visiting there as myself that will no longer echo throughout this magical space.”
– Michael Tamburello
“This is a wonderful site. A tragedy these incredible structures are gone. I do believe what is being done now is a whopping mistake? the twin towers should have been rebuilt, taller and stronger than before.”
– B.W. (February 6, 2005)
“Thanks for your website. It brings back a lot of memories. I was lucky enough to have been to The Greatest Bar on Earth a few times. I used to go there on Thursday for salsa dancing. Once I brought a date up there at the spur of the moment. We stood by the windows and watched the tiny taxis down below, like kids looking at toys. It was so surreal. It was the only time he had ever been there. Now that the towers are gone, he has that one experience to remember and is able to say he was there. I remember rushing into the place, never really taking in everything. Now I wish I had lingered at the sites a little longer. I never thought I would see the day that the towers would cease to exist. I also had the pleasure of dining at Windows On The World restaurant. My date hired a limo to take us there. We sat at a table right next to the window. I had mushroom ravioli. To this day, it was the best meal I’ve ever had. It was cloudy that night. A little disappointed, we thought we wouldn’t see much. But then something magical happened. The clouds thinned out and lowered in such a way that allowed the colored lights from down below to shine through the haze up above. The scene was a sky full of multi-colored cotton candy that was a site to behold. It was absolutely breathtaking. I’ll never forget it. It was a perfect evening. When my two nieces were little I treated them and my sister to an Easter brunch in another restaurant in the Tower, I think the name of it was the Garden or something like that. The Easter Bunny was there for the kids and they had an Easter Egg hunt in the lobby. The child who finds the golden egg wins the prize. My three year old niece won and got a huge plush bunny! The kids are much older now, but at least they can say that they’ve been there. I cherish the good memories of the Twin Towers, and they will live forever in my heart. My sincerest sympathies go out to all those who lost loved ones in the tragedy. We will never forget…”
– R.M. (November 30, 2006)
“I love your tribute website! I just wanted to share my experiences at The Greatest Bar on Earth. I used to live on Long Island (now I live in NC). In fall of 2000, I took a boyfriend on a surprise trip to the Marriott at the World Trade Center. We had dinner at The Greatest Bar on Earth. It was his first time up there and the waiter apologized for the ‘curtain’ around the building – there was a fog so we couldn’t see anything, not even the other tower. (We originally were going to eat at Windows on the World because it was too expensive; the hostess who was giving Chris the jacket he had to wear since he didn’t bring one was on the cover of Newsday after 9/11! I remember thinking thank God that she wasn’t there. We instead went to GBOE and saw how inexpensive the meals were). The place was more for people our age than WOW. We felt so much more comfortable here. I took Chris back April 2000 for brunch. The view,of course, was amazing. A funny thing was, our waitress yelled at some guys from the bar who wandered over to the window in front of our table. She said, “You’re blocking their view,” and proceeded to wave them away! The service, food and views definitely made it the greatest bar on earth! My favorite foods were the fries in the silver footed bowl, the salads and burgers! What’s interesting is that the fire alarm went off in the AM on the first visit to the Marriott. It turned out to be nothing. I just wanted to share my little story for you.”
“…the city was never the same for me without the towers. I went once after 9/11. 3 months later I was invited to an artists party for a friends birthday. The view used to be of the Towers. We were just so sad and reminiscing about the Towers, and then she told us she was on the phone with a past student of hers at FIT, telling him of the tragedy here; he worked at the Pentagon as a map designer and the phone went dead. He was in the Pentagon tragedy! She made a shrine for Michael with all of his artist materials and gave me one of his paintbrushes that matched the redness in my hair. It was such a tragic story. I moved to NC in 2005. Charlotte has skyscrapers but it’s not the metropolis like NY. My husband and I are going back to LI in May and are going to finally go back to the city. I once ran a race in honor of Chief Deputy Raymond Downey and have a beautiful plaque of him in his fireman’s gear with all my red, white and blue trophies around him. Our condolences go out to all of the families who lost loved ones.”
– M.H. (March 6, 2007)
“I, too, stumbled onto this website and just would like to say how great I think it is that you put this together as it brings back such great memories for me and everyone who had the opportunity to frequent this establishment.
“God bless you for your efforts and yes, We will never forget.”
– J.F. (April 7, 2007)
To: Sean Parnell
Subject: Greatest Bar on Earth
Date: Sun, 12 Oct 2003 22:49:20 EDT
Thank you for your web site, which I stumbled on by accident. It brought back fond memories. In April 2001, I had my office departure party at the GBOE after seven years at a downtown NY job. The parting was a little bitter, but the party was perfect. When I think that, five months later, the entire staff of Windows on the World on the job that morning died, it breaks my heart. Thanks for a great site.
Thank you for your e-mail. I am glad that my Greatest Bar on Earth page brought back fond memories for you. That’s what it’s for. I am also sad every time I think of the place. I’ll never forget a woman I heard on National Public Radio that was interviewed shortly after 9/11 – her husband had died and all she wanted was to hold his hand again. That still gets me to this day.
Editor’s Note: it is estimated that over 70 employees perished on 9/11.