When I was a kid I dreamed of dining in a spinning restaurant. Perched high above the skyline, I’d eat shrimp cocktail and sip Shirley Temples, while my sophisticated friends and I sat in an elegant booth and watched the world move around us.
Yes, in the 1980s revolving restaurants were still that cool.
The first revolving restaurant was built in 1959, and throughout the 1960s and 70s each city in the world wanted to build its own.
But here in the United States either the expense of maintaining the structures became too exorbitant, or our enthusiasm for eating in a restaurant that slowly rotates around the top of a skyscraper began to wane. In many of parts of Asia, however, they’re still building revolving restaurants on new buildings.
Either way, the number of rotating restaurants in use has decreased dramatically. My 1980s inner child thinks this is a tragedy, so I’ve decided to research where in the United States you can still eat shrimp cocktail and drink Shirley Temples as you look out at a 360 degree view of the city. Here are four of the remaining 15 or so in the United States.
SkyCity: The Seattle Space Needle
Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the top of the Space Needle has one of the most well-known revolving restaurants in the world, and it’s the first one built on the continental United States. SkyCity (originally named the Eye of the Needle) and the Space Needle overall are very much a relic of the Space Age. Gazing up at it you can imagine the Jetsons — which also began in 1962 — zipping in and out in their flying cars.
Sadly they’ve updated the interior; it would be really cool to dine in the original mid-century modern space. The menu includes entrees that start at around $40, so even though the concept of the revolving restaurant has lost some momentum (get it?), they’ve maintained their classy, or at least expensive, cuisine.
And yes, they do have shrimp cocktail, though they call it “Chilled Wild Gulf Prawns with dry fly vodka cocktail sauce.” I’m sure Shirley Temples are available on request.
BonaVista Lounge: Westin Bonaventure Hotel and Suites
Though downtown Los Angeles is currently experiencing a revival, for years it was a decaying, crime-ridden area that mostly shut down at night. If you wanted to have (legal and safer) fun in L.A. you went to Hollywood or headed west to Santa Monica. The Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown, however, offers amazing views of the city and people argue that it’s reason enough to spend time downtown at night.
Built in the mid-1970s, the style of the revolving restaurant is incredibly different than SkyCity. Architect John Portman, who designed quite a few buildings with the purpose of revitalizing relatively abandoned downtown areas, took a “neo-futuristic” approach, which diverged vastly from the midcentury-modern style of spaces like the Space Needle.
Much like SkyCity, the interior of the cocktail lounge doesn’t resemble its original interior, and also like SkyCity, entrees start at around $40.
What do they call their shrimp cocktail, you ask? “Peel and eat cajun boiled shrimp: meyer lemons, spicy remoulade, tomato horseradish cocktail sauce, mini tabasco hot sauce.”
The Eagle’s Nest: Hyatt Regency Indianapolis
Indianapolis’ Eagle’s Nest doesn’t have the same je ne sais quoi as some of the other revolving restaurants. While it was built around the same time as the BonaVista Lounge, the exterior much less sexy. The building is a drab brown, and the revolving restaurant is perched on the top of a very rectangular, functional structure.
The interior, however, includes a large atrium — popularized by Mr. Portman mentioned above, which makes it much more appealing than the outside might indicate.
There’s not a whole lot of information on the Eagle’s Nest, which is strange considering it’s one of the few revolving restaurants left. Even the hotel website doesn’t promote the fact that the restaurant revolves; it mentions the amazing views, but the revolving is an after thought.
Yep. Shrimp cocktail: “Blue Prawn Cocktail: Spicy Cocktail Sauce, Preserved Lemon.”
The View: New York Marriott Marquis
John Portman, of BonaVista fame, also designed the New York Marriott Marquis, which opened in 1985. A decade after the BonaVista, Portman began building hotels that more closely resembled the Hyatt Regency in Indianapolis. The exterior of the New York Marriott Marquis is also an uninteresting brown, but the interior includes another beautiful atrium.
At 48 stories, the View has really amazing, well, views of the city, even though it’s only half the height of the Empire State Building. It takes an hour to make an entire rotation, but if it were any faster it would probably make eating the $89 prix-fixe dinner a nauseating affair.
Another interesting fact about the hotel is that it was built on Times Square, but the rooms face the interior atrium. This is because in the mid-eighties Times Square was considered a sketchier part of town (see BonaVista), and it wasn’t yet bursting with wholesome international tourists snapping photos of themselves in front of giant glowing ads.
The View deviates from the standard shrimp cocktail appetizer, but underneath the fancy description and creative flavors, it’s still the same thing: Poached Jumbo Prawns: Jicama Cashew Nut Relish | Flavours of Thailand.
So what happened to the restaurant that I longed to dining at, elegant eight-year-old Natalie, craving a glamorous life in my hometown, Kansas City? Skies fell to the same fate as many of the other revolving restaurants in the U.S. The hotel that I dreamed of eating shrimp cocktail and drinking Shirley Temples in is now a relic of the past.
Located in what is now the Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center, it opened in 1980 and survived a good long life of 31 years. The hotel itself has a tragic history: in 2011 part of the atrium (can you see an atrium theme here?) collapsed during a party in 1981, killing more than 100 people.
I can’t find the final Skies’ menu, but I like to imagine a simple shrimp cocktail, a la 1987, and a wide selection of virgin cocktails. Since my dream of dining at Skies will never be realized, I’ll have to travel the world in search of the perfect revolving restaurant.
Like I need another excuse to travel.