Aug/Sep 1998 Nonfiction

In the Drink:
The Bar at the Windows of the World

by Bruce Bentzman

It was an incredible rain that turned Lower Manhattan into a mock Venice, the water level rising up the curbs. I was damp inside my trench coat and beneath my fedora. Below the knees my blue jeans were thoroughly saturated. That dampness climbed my cotton pants by osmosis high above the hem of my coat to reach my pants pockets, the wallet, and the bills contained therein. I was very impressed with the weather. I decided to avail myself of the subway before the water level in my clothing reached my chest pocket and mixed with the ink in my fountain pen.

I was meeting my spouse, Ms Keogh, that afternoon at the World Trade Center. Rain had soaked into the very roots of the skyscrapers. At the World Trade Center station, where the E train terminates, they had closed off one of the platforms because of water. It had actually popped open a manhole cover and was flooding off the platform along a length of seventy-five feet, tumbling to the tracks in imitation of Niagara Falls.

Handing over my dripping hat and coat to the lobby coatroom attendant, I rode the nonstop elevator to the 107th floor, a vertical trip of one minute and ten seconds. Good thing they don't make glass bottom elevators.

The bar at the Windows of the World is a split level room in the southeast corner of the building. You arrive high and become immediately intoxicated by the view. The decor is not as important as the panorama beyond the outer two walls, composed of a row of glass panels, looking out over the city and Upper New York Bay. The term breathtaking applies. The newcomer enters the bar and gasps.

This thrilling view is unimaginable for those of you who haven't been there or in similarly high structures, and just how many of those can there be? It is the kind of view for which some people risk their lives climbing mountains. At that height one expects to be flying and not still anchored to the earth. The floor to ceiling windows allow you to walk right to the edge. Place your nose against the glass and beyond your toes there is nothing to obstruct your view down. The building is a shear drop for over 1300 feet. Of course the glass prevents you from leaning out. I don't care how thick the glass is, I find the experience daunting and have to stand back a foot while bracing my hands against the window frames.

The afternoon of my visit I was witness to the storm breaking apart. Above us were angry clouds, but below us a fog drifting uptown was tearing itself into ribbons on the city below. It looked as if New York had just been blitzed and was now a smoking ruin. To the south the bay was clear of fog and I could see toy ships making trails in the water. Extending my arm, I could hide the Statue of Liberty behind my pinkie.

While sitting on a stool at the bar I was approached by a tall gentleman, a German tourist. We had met earlier in the subway station at Canal Street. He had his family in tow and selected me, asking for instructions on how to get to the World Trade Center. And now his family was drinking expensive ginger ales. The observation deck, which is located in the adjacent tower, he told me was closed, and then we talked about public transportation. Before he left we stood at the east windows together looking far, far down at the magnificently beautiful Brooklyn Bridge spanning the East River. Then my attention was diverted by two young ladies visiting from Philadelphia. The bar is evidently not home to regulars on a Saturday afternoon.

Drinking Tanqueray and tonics, and availing myself of the place's excellent sushi bar Ms Keogh soon joined me. She was the reason we were in New York. She was attending a conference on Estrogen Replacement Therapy. The conference looked good on paper. It was being sponsored by Columbia University, whose conferences are usually of a better quality and more responsible. Ms Keogh was particularly excited by this conference's inducement, costing only $25, it was being held at the World Trade Center, free valet parking, and a free lunch at Windows of the World. For those of you who haven't yet been there, it is an exceedingly fine and expensive restaurant that sits atop the Number One World Trade Center.

Ms Keogh had bowed out of the conference lunch, dry chicken, some rice and vegetable thing decorated with some wilted greens. Although the promised lunch was at the Windows of the World, they had used an outside caterer. I bought her the bar's superb Eggs Benedict with Salmon and had her soon restored to her cheerful self.

The Tower's twin, building Number Two, blocks part of the view from the bar, but itself is an outrageous treat for the eyes. The other monolith reminds the viewer of human achievement, of the very thing that is holding up the viewer. It is a rather intense, expensive, and risky endeavor to create the structure just to support me a quarter of a mile above Lower Manhattan, and to provide me with an exceptional view while I'm having a drink. The two buildings are a miracle by themselves, even individually, but to ponder the city from that height you have to utter "impossible" under your breath. All those people, the logistics of getting food, water, and heat to them, then extracting the other stuff, and then transporting all of those people about, it boggles the mind.

The two towers of the World Trade Center are not beautiful buildings in themselves - can anything compare to the Chrysler Building - so that they are best viewed from the inside out. Still, in keeping with a civilized society, they have placed a bar at the top of this achievement. Time for a drink.


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