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The Greatest Bar on Earth

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At approximately 1am on September 11, 2001, bartender George Delgado was met at the foot of the World Trade Center by his wife, Frances, and their infant daughter.  Delgado was beverage director at The Greatest Bar on Earth, which sat atop the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the North Tower, and on the night of September 10th, he, along with master bartender Dale DeGroff, was hosting a cocktail seminar in what was once the highest lounge in the world.

The battery in Delgado’s car had died that night, making him late for the event and later causing him to rouse his wife and daughter for a ride back home.  As reported by journalist Elizabeth Johnson, who had attended the class at Delgado’s behest, Delgado later recounted, “I had my wife and my baby at the Trade Center not knowing what was going to happen six hours later.”  Fortunately, the entire Delgado family was far away at home in Hackensack, N.J. when the tragedy stuck.

The stories surrounding the events of 9-11 are countless, as they should be – lest we  ever forget that day – so I don’t feel short-sighted focusing on a bar and one of the final drinks ever made there.  The Greatest Bar on Earth, along with Windows on the World, the Cellar in the Sky, and a few other spaces which occupied the 106th and 107th floors of the North Tower were the brainchild of the legendary restaurateur Joe Baum.  Baum, who had launched the original Windows, returned to open the new complex, which had closed following the 1992 terrorist attack on the building.  If anyone could take customers’ minds off such events, it was Baum, mastermind behind the Rainbow Room, the Four Seasons, and Tavern on the Green.  Baum was also no stranger to recognizing talent, and the new Windows family of venues included tenures by wine legends Kevin Zraly and Andrea Immer Robinson along with DeGroff, Delgado and chef Michael Lomonaco.

The Greatest Bar on Earth was, of course, as much about the spectacle as the drinks.  The Chicago Bar Project – which has an incredible piece on the bar, its history, and those who remember it – quotes Citysearch: New York in describing the venue as “an intoxicating combination of circus sideshow attractions and the mile-high club”.  More than just a place to drink, it was a place unlike any other from which to take in the spectacular views of the city, a place to dance, celebrate, and forget.  On the night of the 10th, Delgado and DeGroff entertained the 30 members of the cocktail class while they taught them how to make the perfect margarita, as documented by Elizabeth Johnson:

We learned how to delicately brush the lime only on the outside of the cocktail glass to capture a light covering of salt. We learned the perfect ratio for any drink with both sweet and sour ingredients: 3/4 ounce of the sour (in this case lime juice); 1 ounce of the sweet (Cointreau) and 1 1/2 to 2 ounces of the strong (tequila).”

This, along with Delgado’s La Rumba (a drink for which I cannot find a recipe), was among the last drinks ever made at The Greatest Bar on Earth.  It may be only a small gesture, but I’m going to make this margarita today in memory of all those who were lost, all those who came to the rescue, and all those who had their lives forever changed on a day that, though a decade past, still remains as clear as yesterday.  It may be just a cocktail, but today, it’s a way of saying that we haven’t forgotten and that our thoughts continue to be with them, one and all.

More: The Chicago Bar Project has been good enough to archive a copy of The Greatest Bar on Earth menu.

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