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Food Timeline In memoriam: Windows on the World, New York City

One man's dream, a city's jewel, the critic's conundrum.
A place where anything could happen.
And it did.
Welcome to Joe Baum's world.


"Ten years, a new setting, a shift in the public need and a fat two-year contract can change the basics of a man's thinking. So here's Joseph Baum, elegantly French-cuffed as ever, sitting deep in a club chair in front of a scale model of the World Trade Center, talking with great enthusiasm about 'informal eating' and 'exciting snack foods' and 'differing kinds of mass eating.' The 50-year-old Mr. Baum, one of the best experts in restaurant design and operation...He is supposed to devise ways to feed quickly and with at least a modicum of style as many of the Trade Center's eventual daily population of 130,000 as care to eat...Each time a new office tower moves nito a neighborhood, the pressure on existing eating establishments increases. Resident restaurant and those that spring up are all dedicated to the concept of the quick turnover--each table should be used at least three times during luncheon. With these business towers come 'carry out' sandwich shops and 'hot and cold hero' houses, and there have never been as many hot dog carts on midtown side streets as there are now. New York at lunch is eat fast and cheap.This is the ambiance in which Mr. Baum will have to operate. Feeding the World Trade Center will be akin to feeding a city the size of of Albany and the logistics of getting fresh provisions into the complex are as staggering as contemplating who will eat what, when, where and how. At this stage, the planning--wth the Trade Center's North Tower almost at full height, and with its lower floor scheduled for December occupancy--calls for a series of strategically placed cafeterias. Eventually, it is expected that the Trade Center will house 20 restaurants, private cafeterias of the Port Authority, the United States Customs House and employes of New York State agencies; a luncheon club atop the North Tower, and about 60 snack-type operations ranging from one-dish sit-down restaurants to sophisticated coffee carts toting full-course luncheons. Most of the restaurants will be housed on the Trade Center's Concourse, driectly beneath its open plaza... Atop the Trade Center's observation tower will be a facility that will permit picnicking. In each of the twin towers there are two floors--the 43rd and the 77th--at which elevator transfers are made. On each of these floors there will be complete restaurants. 'We call them,' Mr. Baum said, 'vertical neighborhoods.'...It is his hole, and to an extent that of the Port Authority, that the eating places will 'become little cities, each with a life of its own.'...the Trade already 85 per cent rented, In all cases,...the tenant has been asked what kind of restaurants he would like to have in the complex...The restaurants...have been given heavy priority. The Trade Center is removed from the midtown area, and if it is to have a tourist and night life of its own, it must offer something unusual. 'This will not be a tourist trap,' Mr. Baum insisted. 'Everything must be reasonably priced. And it mustt be good. The word to use is 'value.'...Mr. Baum said no restaurant chains are planned for the Trade Center. If any characteristic predominates,..'it is the international flavor we'll try to create.' With food boutiques, so to speak; with coffee shops. With one-dish specialty restaurants...The boutique concept will extend to the North Tower Luncheon club. It is expected that during the day the faciltiy will be a 1,000-member, dues-paying-only private eatery. At night, the Trade Center wants people to drive to the center, park in its 2,000-car garage, eat, and to uptown to the theater. 'It will be...interesting and exciting. It won't be the most elegant. But people will want to come here to eat.'"
---"It's Ambiance Will Go From Snack to Posh," Fred Ferretti, New York Times, October 28. 1970 (p. 83)


"At about 6 P.M., lines begin forming in the carpeted lobby of the north tower of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan--a part of New York where, it is said, few people tarry after the end of the business day. The people in line are awaiting entry to the express elevators that will carry them 107 floors skyward to Windows on the World, a restaurant...'This is the largest mom and pop operation anywhere,' says Joseph H. Baum, the congenial, creative showman who is responsible for Windows on the World and all the other dining facilities at the World Trade Center. 'There's nothing new in anything we've done. It's a matter of personal attention and personal involvement.'...That Joe Baum should be the man behind Windows comes as no surprise to cognocsenti of the food business. For years he has been regarded as one of the top creative minds in restauranting...Lower Manhattan was notorious for its lack of extensive dining facitlities. The stockbrokers, bankers and lawyers of Wall Street ate in their private luncheon clubs at noon and went home for dinner. But the World Trade Center would bring 50,000 new tenants and an estimated 80,000 business visitors a day to the area. Feeding all those people would become an extraodinarily complex task. Joe Baum decided to blend food service with the concept of 'sky lobbies' as separate 'neighborhoods' at various levels of the twin towers offering not only dining facilities but also barber shops, stationery stores, newsstands and the like. Ultimately, the dining facilities alone wil cost some $26 million, including the $7.5 million outlay for Windows...One critical thing Joe Baum had to decide as whether one company should operate all of the center's food systems or whether there should be competing operators. Mr. Baum decided that economies of scale--for example, central food purchasing and storage--called for the single operator concept... Eventually there will be 42 places to eat and drink in the Trade Center...Most will have their own kitchens, many will feature take-out service, and there will be retail bakeries and meat shops, even a store that sells various blends of coffee by the pound...The logisitics of feeding tens of thousands of people daily are enormous. Already, 800 pounds of lamb are served each weekend; 200 dozen eggs are hardboiled and peeled weekly. Cooking stocks for saucese are prepared from scratch in 100-pound batches and blast-frozen for storage. Mr. Baum so far has assembled a staff of 800 and this will nearly double when all of the faciliites are completed...'The World Trade Cneter was a restauranteur's dream--start from scratch and create a whole community of food services,' Mr. Baum said...It is called, simply, the Club at the World Trade Center, and its 2,280 existing members pay fees ranging from $50 annually for nonresidents of New York to $420 a year for those whose business is south of Canal Street in lower Manhattan...The public is also admitted to Windows at lunchtime, but a fee of $10 for the host and $3 for each guest is added to the bill. No surcharges are levied at dinner, when Windows operates as a fully public restaurant. The restaurant's modern decor and the multitiered structure that permits unobstructed views of the city and port below were designed by Warren Platner..."
---"Spotlight: Showman for Food," Terry Robards, New York Times, December 19, 1976 (p. F7)


"[Windows on the World] has become, in a remarkably short time, perhaps the most popular and certainly the most talked about restaurant in the city through a fortuitous marriage of location, food, presentation with flair, and happy civic events that it did not order but that it certainly benefited from...New Yorkers who dined there during Operation Sail have returned bringing other New Yorkers and they in turn brought others, spreading the word about the Windows...Usually deserted after office hours, the Trade Center's attractive beige and white and brass and marble windows complex has been bringing people downtown for the first time in years, just to eat and drink and talk and watch Manhattan's lights go on. 'When we started this project more than four years ago,' Mr. Baum says, 'we had one goal in mind--to create a restaurant so unique and extraordinary that it would become an instant landmark, a place that people from all over the world would come to see, I think we've done it.'"
---"Sky-High Dining in 'Windows'," Fred Ferretti, New York Times, July 16, 1976 (p. 63)


"Although it has been fully open for business for only a few weeks, Windows on the World, the elaborately designed restaurant in the sky...has already lost many of its more distinctive and expensive table appointments to souvenier-hunting customers. One spokesman for this lofty project...said customers have already taken forks and knives, silver salt and pepper dishes, and so many of the porcelain Rosenthal ashtrays that they are already being replaced with glass. Even a few of the large, handsome, insulated silver coffeepots made by the prestigious Sambonet factory in Italy were among the missing. 'They've taken some other things too...but we don't like to talk about this sort of thing. It only gives the public more ideas.'...By any name this costly practice is the reason for restaurants using giant peppermills that are difficult to conceal..."
---"Some Restaurant Diners Have Appetite for Accessories Too," Mimi Sheraton, New York Times, June 15, 1976 (p. 57)


"Windows on the World, 1 World Trade Center (938-1111) is on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower, and is currently and justifiably the most exciting and talked about eatery in town. Setting off the brightness and magic of the incomparable view, is a dining room done in glittering brass and soft pastels, terraced so all tables have a glimpse of the scene below and with an original and interesting menu representing an international crossroads of gastronomy. Although preparation can be uneven here, there are some dependably excellent choices, among them such appetizers as pike and spinach pate, clams in green onion aspic and cheese profiteroles. Roast sirloin of beef with mushroom puree and sauce Perigordine, a crisp roasted duck with a sauce blissfully free of fruit, pressed and fried squab tabaka and rack of lamb James Beard have all proven to be the best entree selections. There's no way of going wrong on dessert. All are superb, most especially a tangy lemon tart. There is a wonderful buffet at lunch daily, and all day Sunday, from noon until 9 P.M. The Hors D'Oeuvrerie serves Danish open sandwiches and grill menu items at lunch and an international array of appetizers in the evening. Windows on the World operates as a private club a lunch and outside guests must pay a cover charge of $10 for the host, plus $3 for each guest. There is no cover nor minimum at night or for the Grand Buffet Sunday meal... Reservations are extremely difficult to get for any meal here..."
---"Restaurants: Abundance of Riches, and Infinity of Dishes," Mimi Sheraton, New York Times, July 9, 1976 (p. 61)


"If there is one rule of thumb the well-traveled gastronome abides by, it is to avoid all restaurants on the tops of tall buildings. For no matter how high the building, nor how wide and handsome the view, food in such lofty environs invariably turns out to be much like at in nightclubs--hideous at worst, innocuous at best, and generally, outrageously expensive. What then can one expect from the most hgihly publicized skyscraper restaurant of them all, the shimmering glassed-in eatery atop what is amost the world's tallest building (second only to the Sears Tower in Chicago) and affording what is without qualification the world's most spectacular view? To sum up briefly, Windows on the World, on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower, offers what is already the best food-with-a-view in this country, scant praise considering the competition. Unquestionably the best thing about this place, other than the toy-town view of bridges and rivers, skylines and avenues is the menu. It represents an international crossroads of gastronomy, stylish and contemporary, and and perfectly suited to this particular setting in this particular city...But six visits (two lunches, two dinners, a Sunday brunch and a private cocktail party) revealed many flaws that still have to ironed out. 'I have the capability to produce excellent food, but what I need most is time,', said Joseph Baum...Mr. Baum developed the restaurant's theme and style, directed it execution and now spends about two-thirds of his life there, tasting, watching, and worrying. Those who care most about food will not be willing to grant him any time at all when paying full prices; those who want to see the restaurant everyone is talking about may be a little more patient. Based on personal observation, what Mr. Baum needs even more than time is a sure hand at the seasoning helm...That is a tall an establishment geared to serve 1,000 people at full capacity...The most serious eating goes on in the terraced sweep of the dining room...Of the appetizers sampled, at lunch or diner, the very best was a beautiful pike and spinach pate, served with a white wine and butter sauce that was soothing if a bit bland. The pate was so good it could stand on its own, without any sauce at all. Clams with a spring onion aspic would have been lovely too had the aspic not melted and the ragout of duck livers with raisins in brioche, was rich and well flavored if a bit sweet for my taste as a first course...Only two of the six would sampled had distinction...Entrees I would like to eat again included large shrimp baked with feta cheese, tomatoes and dill, a pressed and fried squab tabaka that lacked only for crispness and a spiking of fresh coriander and chili pepper in its sour prune sauce and a delicately steamed cut of striped bass enveloped in lettuce leaves that sweetened the fish flavor..."
---"Stylish Menu is Full of Promise That Isn't Yet Fully Realized," Mimi Sheraton, New York Times, June 24, 1976 (p. 28)


"Joe Baum, the reigning eclectic mind in the world of professional food service...believes in old-fashioned quality control. Not only in the glamorous Windows on The World but in the 18 restaurants and coffee shops that form part of a gigantic and revolutionary food master plan designed by Baum's company, Inhilco, to bring quality meals to tens of thousands of people who work in or visit the World Trade Center's twin towers. If the plan works, it will show other buildings and factories across the country, and the world, that it is possible to feed very large numbers of people without giving up good taste, variety or the human touch. How is such gastronomic grandiousity possible? Baum's answer: 'Fracture the mass.' Break down huge spaces into a cluster of small operations. Give the public choice ad variety, the flavor of an old-time city street; make them forget they are inside a monolithic building. Balance the quality advantages of such small, personalized units against the cost advantages of a huge operation with central dishwashing and garbage disposal, one central kitchen, and Central Services for baking rolls and chopping onions and skimming stock. Right now, in the Trade Center's concourse, where crowds from subways and the escalators of the Hudson Tubes converge in a motley human millrace every morning, the master plan is showing its muscle...The entire project--35 restaurants in 9 locations spread over 170,000 square feet in the two towers--is scheduled for completion sometime before the end of the year...'There are no changes in grade anywhere in the building,' says Baum. 'All our strip steaks are prime.'...Functioning like a culinary ringmaster with a 12-ring circus to control, Baum likes to think of his whole operation as if it were one single entity...And his system does finally come down to a very highly ramified program for marketing simple products like chicken and butter and flour...This kind of basic versatility and central quality control affects many areas of the operation...Central Services bakes bread twice a day...Here, Jacques Pepin and his special crew of chefs produce the mother sauces and soup bases for dozens of dishes...Pepin has prepared a special recipe book that is really a system for prdoucing almost infinite variations on a small number of well-thought-out themes. For instance, he has devised 21 basic soups that can each be varied at the point of service with a range of garnishes...Dennis Sweeney,...who runs Central Services, likes to talk about the 'exploding chicken' that flies out of his bailiwick in a variety of forms, from fricassee for the Market Bar to chicken and corn chowder for the Coffee Exchange to batter-fried chicken at Sky-Dive to James Beard's chicken hash in Windows on the World. Food makes its way upstairs in special aluminum containers strapped to pallet-lift trucks that race along the truck docks, fly upward on a specially padded passenger elevator to Windows on the World or whiz along a hidden corridor...quality rests not so much on machines and systems and computers--if it did, airline food would win prizes--but on people. 'It's simple,' Baum says, 'The only difference between us and a high-school cafeteria is care...I don't want this to sound like a missionary spiel. But you can transmit your values to your staff if you believe in them."
---"Joe Baum's Food Machine," Raymond A. Sokolov, New York Times, March 6, 1977 (p. 216)


"For the last year and a half, much dining attention has been directed skyward to Windows on the World, the glossy, glassy eatery that tops off the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Meanwhile, quietly painstaking and ingeniuosly, a complex of fascinating and stunning restaurant has been developing on the ground floor concourse of the center, adgacent to the Vesey Street entrance. Set on the site of what was once the heart of Washington market...the four eating facilities here rim what has become Market Square. By fall, it is expected there will be a real food marketplace her on Saturdays, street musicians of various kinds, cafes and a combination of lively activities to create an enclose stret atmosphere akin to that in Italy's fabled gallerias of Milan and Naples. Even now, fruit and pretzel vendors come out for the going-home rush..."
---"Restaurants: World Trade Center is Cooking at Street Level, Too," Mimi Sheraton, New York Times, July 15, 1977 (p. 57)


"The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced yesterday that the Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Company had won the fierce competition to renovate and run the two-level restaurant complex atop the World Trade Center which closed in Febraury 1993 after a terrorist bombing. Mr. Baum and his team designed and built the original Windows on the World, which opened in 1976 and at its peak in the late 1980's took in more than $24 million year in gross revenues...The new operators plan to revitalize the food and decor at Windows on the World, redesign the bar area, and retain but move the wine-oriented Cellar in the Sky dining room...The Windows complex is expected to repoen in the fall of 1995."
---"Familiar Face Behind New 'Windows'," Bryan Miller, New York Times, May 13, 1994 (p. B3)


"It is high anxiety at Windows on the World. One week remains before the restaurant reopens and the breathtaking panorama from the107th floor of the World Trade Center competes once again with the chef's creations. But for those who remember speeding up in an ear-popping quarter-of-a-mile elevator ride to the multilevel restaurant complex that has been closed since the bombing in February 1993, not much besides the stunning view will be the same. 'It has become a different world in the 20 years since Windows first opened,' said Joseph Baum...who was in charge of creating Windows I in 1976 and who won, in a hotly contested competiton among prominent restauranteurs two years ago, the contract to develop Windows II. In its heydey, Windows on the World, which officially reopens June 27, was the highest grossing restaurant in the county...Whether the food ever matched the view is open to question. But by the 1990's it was clear that it did not and had become another reason why connoisseurs avoided dining on the top floors of the buildings. its original menu, devised by James Beard among others, had become an expensive listing of dishes one might find in most hotel dining rooms. 'We want to convince people that it's a great restaurant again,'... With a multicultural team of chefs, the new Windows on the World has taken on a globetrotting spirit of adventure, if not daring, in its approach to food. The question will be whether this reatuarn, facing far more competition than it did 20 years ago, can successfuly chart such a course and once again become a magnet for New Yorkers as well as visitors...As before, the spotlight will be on the main restaurant. Its original gilded modern ocean liner elegance designed by Warren Platner, has been replaced by a more colorful and whimsical design by Hugh Hardy, the new architect. But the restaurant remains a venue for formal dining, jackets still required by neckties now optional...Informality has taken over in an alternative up-to-minute dining option called the Greatest Bar on earth. It has replaced the more intimate City Lights Bar and Hors d'Oeuverie. The term 'bar' does not do the new room justice: it is more like a three-ring circus, with performing chefs at separate stations rolling sushi, shucking oysters and stirring shabu-shabu on stone induction cookers in a stagy space that held 300 people...These customers are younger than the restaurant-goers who came to the original Windows on the World. They often work in the neighborhood...they also live there...Mr. Baum hopes to tempt this crowd with microbrews on tap, vodkas galore, wines by the glass and an international array of some 25 dishes, including barbecued 'hot tips' oysters, Siberian peimeni, personal pizzas, grilled quail wrapped in vine leaves, tagines in colorful pottery, slabs of charcuturie on a wooden board, grilled jerk pork on skewers and fish and chips piled in a silver basket."
---"Can the Food Ever Match the View?" Florence Fabricant, New York Times, June 19, 1996 (p. C1)


"New York has many bars and restaurants with views of the city. Windows on the World was something else, a resataurnt that seemed suspended halfway between earth and the moon. From 107 stories, the views extended for 90 miles...Those windows were something else too. They ran floor to ceiling, and intensified the giddy sensation of soaring over Manhattan. Diners lusted after the tables alongside them. They offered the ultimate New York experience, sitting high atop the world's tallest, most powerful city--A-number-one, top of the heap. It may merely be a footnote to a national calamity, but the collapse of the World Trade Center's two towers ended an era in New York City dining. As a terrorist target, the towers represented American economic power. For hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, the untold numbers of tourists, it was a place to eat. From the beginning, Windows on the World, and the busy hive of small food operations down below that fed thousands of workers every day, represented a grand experiment, unterdaken at a time when New York's economy had hit rock bottom. Could a vertical city rise over the bent, untertwined streets of Dutch Manhattan? Could its population be fed every day in anything more than the most perfunctory way? And could any one restaurant match the sheer audacity of two 110-story buildings? Improbably, the answer to all these questions was yes. The human cost is still not known. The two restaurants and bar on the 106th and 107th floors of 1 World Trade Center--Windows on the World, the Greatest Bar on Earth and Wild Blue--employed 450 people. Seventy-nine were on duty Sept. 11...Some were doing prep work for the evening, others were serving 500 people at a corporate breakfast seminar. All were still missing yesterday. The World Trade Center did not start out as a powerful symbol of the city's spirit. At birth, it was reviled as a waste of public money and an architectural monstrosity. If ever a building project had an image problem, the World Trade Center was it. The change in public perception was brought about by Windows on the World. 'It conveyed a level of respectability to what was a vilified complex,' said Michael Whiteman, who helped plan the trade centers food operations...Within a year of opening, in April 1976, Windows on the World was one of the most talked-about restaurants in New York...Windows on the World, originally attacked as elitist--it was a private club by day--evolved into the centerpice of a populist entertainment complex. The restaurant was never cheap, but it was not intimidating either. The Greatest Bar on Earth had a technicolor fun-house decor and an atmosphere to match. It was loud and a little wild, especially on Thursday nights, when Latin bands attracted partygoeers...Wild Blue, by contrast, was one of the most charming, romantic restaurants in New York, a 60-seat cozy cocoon in the sky that felt as snug and safe as a ship's berth. And then, in the blink of an eye, it all disappeared."
---"Windows That Rose So Close to the Sun," William Grimes, New York Times, September 19, 2001 (p. F1)


"Joe Baum the innovative restauranteur, insists he never does the same thing twice...Some 30 years ago, long before it was fashionable, Mr. Baum went to unheard of lengths to obtain the freshest ingredients for the Four Seasons...He even had amateur mycologists, among them the late John Cage, the composer, bring wild mushrooms to the restaurant. In addition to the Four Seasons and the Rainbow Room, Mr. Baum's impressive credits have included such high-profile places as the original Windows on the World...The long list also includes the less exalted likes of Charlie Brown's and the Brasserie. Someday...he would like to own a road hous, 'a country-western place with beer, booze and no food.'...He started early on his career as a host. His parents owned Gross & Baum, a hotel in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where he was born in 1920. After studying hotel management at Cornell University, Mr. Baum worked for a number of restaurants and hotels before Restaurant Associates, a New York company, hired him in 1953. He was never a chef. In many of the company's enterprises, Mr. Baum not only insisted that the food be American, but also commissioned Americans to design and make the dinnerware and serving pieces. Before him, only the likes of Limoges would do in luxury surroundings. He came up with a myriad of other details...[such as] the serve who announces, 'Hi, my name is Jennifer and I'll be your waiter tonight.' What has become an annoyingly cliche was supposedly started at the Tower Suite in the Time & Life Building...Mr. Baum left Restaurant Associates in 1970 and formed his own company, which has now become the Joseph Baum & Michael Whiteman Company. Its latest project is rebuilding the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Centers in Lower Manhattan. The challenge has been to come up with something new. 'People's expectation are different today than they were 20 years ago,'...Those who know Mr. Baum say he is driven by his intellect and generosity, not by his ego."
---"Love Theme Restaurants? Here's the Man to Thank," Florence Fabricant, New York Times, September 13, 1995 (p. C8)
[NOTE: Mr. Baum passed away in 1998.]

Windows on the World artifacts/Smithsonian Institution
Photographs/Cornell University

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3 January 2015