Farwell to the Tower of Wine

The American wine experience was forever changed by Windows on the World, just one of the many casualties of terrorism.

Windows on the World is no more. Once stretching over a quarter of a mile into the sky, One World Trade Center is gone. With it, the spectacular Windows on the World restaurant, the more intimate Wild Blue, the Greatest Bar on Earth, a wine cellar 50,000 bottles deep, the Windows on the World Wine School…all of it was blown into oblivion by the madness of terrorists. It is, as others have noted, just a footnote to the human tragedy. Windows on the World, which was most responsible for educating Americans about the pleasures of wine, is one of the many victims of this horrific act.

We at Wine Enthusiast were putting the finishing touches on this issue when the news broke of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Along with the rest of the world, we watched in horror at the carnage depicted on our television screens. In successive days, we have forced ourselves back to work, sick at heart, stunned by the magnitude of the disaster, and overwhelmed by the stories of courage and heroism displayed by those who rushed to help. We mourned the loss of life and remembered the World Trade Center as more than a place of business—as a symbol of our country. And because we are in the business of wine, we lament the loss of the top floors of Tower One, which had meant so much to the enjoyment of wine in America.

Windows on the World offered spectacular views of the glittering city and New York Harbor, and provided locals and tourists alike with a uniquely New York experience. I had the pleasure of dining at this food-and-wine icon many times, and each time was an ethereal experience, with New York laid out before me in all its glory. Essentially, Windows was about New York. Its thrilling panoramic views made one happy—no, celebratory; it was impossible to be sad there. Married life began here for many Baby Boomers, myself included, as Windows became the quintessential venue in which to ask for your lady's hand in marriage. It was, as far as its patrons were concerned, the top of the world. New York's visitors and residents alike would say, "Let's go to Windows to celebrate," no matter what the occasion. Windows on the World was a place where you couldn't help but be happy.

But now, no one's smiling when we think about this legendary wine institution, and the awful fate to which it succumbed. As of this writing, 79 Windows on the World staff members were still missing. Among them are two assistant cellar masters and the pastry chef, Heather Ho. "The Windows on the World operation was round the clock," says Glenn Vogt, general manager of Windows on the World. "As the cleaning people were finishing up, there was staff arriving by 6 am—managers, service people, chefs, the food control department. Purchasing and receiving staff was accustomed to be on the premises that early. Purveyors would pull their trucks into the building by 4:30 am to be sure deliveries were up to the 106th and 107th floors by 8 am.

"People who work in restaurants work long hours—they're working when other people are not working," Vogt points out. "You eat together, work together, share life stories, you spend so much time together you become a family. What we're experiencing is the loss of a family."

Sixty-seven guests of the restaurant were reported missing, but it could have been much worse. Every weekday morning, Windows on the World serviced a private dining club called The World Trade Center Club. Fortunately, most club diners are finished by 8:45 am, when the attack took place. (One dining club member among the missing is Neil Levin, executive director of the Port Authority.) That morning, there was also a special breakfast for Risk Waters, a London-based financial consulting group. Although between 200 and 300 people were invited, most had not arrived by the time of the attack.

Many of us heard how Executive Chef Michael Lomanaco was late to work—and the attack—because he decided to get new reading glasses on the way to work. He, thankfully, is still with us. We are also grateful that the charismatic and brilliant Kevin Zraly, who founded the Windows on the World Wine School, is unharmed. Zraly was largely responsible for the wine program for Windows restaurant. Zraly helped build the largest wine list in New York, selling more wine than any other restaurant in the world, and helped to educate a veritable "Who's Who" of wine professionals in America. Over 15,000 students have had the pleasure of learning from Zraly, and millions more have enjoyed his Windows on the World Complete Wine Course book.

In that spirit, Vogt and David Emil, Windows on the World CEO, established the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund, which benefits the families of all the Towers' missing food-service employees—not just those who worked for Windows, Wild Blue and The Greatest Bar on Earth. Missing also are dozens of employees in the cafeterias on the Tower's lower floors and in the food court venues in the belowground concourse. These were people, says Vogt, "who worked for $10 an hour and less, who supported their families on those wages, and now that support is gone."

On behalf of Wine Enthusiast Companies, I presented Glenn Vogt with a $10,000 check payable to the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund. No amount of money in the world could restore these victims' families, but I wanted to show them that we grieve for them and with them, and care about their welfare as members of our extended American family.

Our "normal routine" of the past couple of weeks seems to be to wonder what we can do to help the victims of last week's tragedy. The best way for those of us who mourn those we have lost at Windows on the World is to remember what they have left behind: families who need our help desperately. I implore you to follow Wine Enthusiast's example, and give whatever you can to help their loved ones rebuild their lives. If even half of Wine Enthusiast's readers give $10 each to the cause, we can raise half a million dollars. It will not bring back the Cellar in the Sky, but may help build a brighter future for the families of those who toiled, up until a few short weeks ago, to give us a meal with a view.

As we head into the holiday season, I suspect that our festivities this year will be marked by a note quite unlike that of most holiday seasons of recent memory. We'll celebrate, to be sure, but we'll also take some time to gather our loved ones around us and give thanks. We'll offer our homes and our hearts to those who lost loved ones in this terrible tragedy, and remember those who won't be seated at our tables.


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