You spin me right round: revolving restaurants (Quintessentially)

When it comes to retro dining experiences, or charging a culinary moment with socio-economic history, there’s nothing quite as emotive as having a pianist play Purple Rain, lounge style, on a low-fi Casio, while you eat a particularly greasy wiener schnitzel in the cracklingly nylon 60s environment of the revolving restaurant three quarters of the way up the 368 metre Fernsehturm in the middle of Berlin. Round and round we go, slowly, yet twice as fast as the restaurant revolved before the fall of The Wall, when this place was a kind of Soho House for German Democratic Republic movers and shakers. Now all that’s left of the past is a kitschy interior that promenades faster than before and the brutalist concrete GDR plazas below.


Revolving restaurants are as 60s in spirit as Vidal’s bob and Paco’s metallics. They are a bricks, mortar and steel kind of techno ecstasy; a shorthand sketch of the space race and a future of jetpacks and TV telephone sets. Better…. Faster… stronger… an impossibly thin 4H pencil line of a building with a flying saucer on top to eat in.

Though Will Schwarz created the first, the Florianturm TV Tower in Dortmund in 1959, it was John Graham’s Space Needle in Seattle at the World’s Fair in 1962, following on from his success with a similar in Honolulu a year before, that created the world’s short-lived hunger for the revolving restaurant, surely the most modern structure ever to exist.

Though the concept of the revolving restaurant is now seen as decidedly retro futurist, a certain fascination has never faded. There is a touch of the Ballardian about it – no matter how far society at ground level sinks into its own effluent, you’re high above it all, forks in the clouds. There’s also a philosophical aspect to it: The circle is constant and mesmerising. There’s a statement here, if you want it while you’re enjoying buffet lunch, about mortality and futility. In 2001 the artist Tacita Dean made a film inside the restaurant at the Fernsehturm, a meditative piece with an anamorphic lens, studying the change in light from sunset to night, and how the mood changed the social nature of the space – the dark makes the windows effectively mirrors to the diners, with the view now internal; things become focused on the inside rather than the out, and the below.

There are still revolving restaurants worldwide, from the CN Tower in Toronto, to the Ginza Star Lounge in Tokyo and the Ostankino Tower in Moscow, which has suffered many an ill-fated incident and blaze over the years, as if to parallel the state of the nation. Some are often culturally invisible and their existence comes as a surprise, like the View Restaurant at the Marriot Marquis in Manhattan which gives some superlative perspectives on the neon carnival of Times Square. Others, like the Post Office Tower (or indeed BT Tower) in London are an integral part of the fabric of a city’s skyline. Eric Bedford’s Dalek-like 1966 building closed its doors in Fitzrovia to the public in 1980 in the wake of terrorist paranoia. The restaurant, however, is still up there. It’s a timewarp and an underrated gem of high-rise London, as is nearby Centrepoint. The building harks back to the glory days of that aforementioned ‘techno ecstasy’, when computers represented all there was to care about in terms of the future, but when just one of them could fill the whole wing of a building. The restaurant itself is a beauty, with a mirrored central core, offering a view from every internal vertical surface.

Wherever there’s a revolving restaurant (or one that’s still open, at least) there’s a queue. We all still want some of the excitement of the future promised to us back in the 60s. We want to reach for the stars. And on a more simplistic level, there’s no escaping the basic genius of the revolving restaurant: It’s a building and it moves. And no matter how jaded you may be, that’s still not something you see every day.


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