Twin Towers Haunt 'Skyscraper' Eatery in Milan
The signs stand proudly over Via Vittor Pasani in Milan like some strange relics from a past era.
They hang on the front of a restaurant and bar called Al Grattacielo, meaning "at the skyscraper." There are three of them, each two meters wide, depicting the World Trade Center and the skyline of Lower Manhattan in precise architectural detail.
For the past six years, the Twin Towers have served as the logo of this elegant restaurant, appearing on its business cards, its matchbooks, embossed in leather on the front of the wine list.
The restaurant faces a unique problem. What do you do when the symbol of your business suddenly becomes a reminder of a violent attack, loaded with emotional and political resonance?
The owners of Al Grattacielo are still trying to figure this out.
"I love the towers, and if I think of what happened I am obviously sad," said Paola Remaschi, an owner of the restaurant. "But I think they could remain up as a symbol."
Ms. Remaschi said the restaurant, which opened in 1947, took on its current name about 40 years ago in honor of Italy's first skyscraper, the Pirelli Building, which is a few blocks north. But when it came time to choose a logo six years ago, the restaurant went with the more contemporary Twin Towers.
Switching to another logo would cost a lot, Ms. Remaschi said. And she is not even sure this would be the right thing to do.
"The fact is that there has been a drop in clients, especially Americans," she said. "Many people said I should remove the signs."
"But then there was this American woman who came in a couple of weeks ago who began crying and asked for a copy of the menu," Ms. Remaschi said. "She was happy because the Twin Towers were a wonderful memory for her. That is what is prompting me to keep it as a symbol."
Business at the restaurant, where high-ceilinged dining rooms are lined with modern art, has taken its worst drop in 20 years lately. But Ms. Remaschi said she was not sure if the restaurant's name and sign had anything to do with the slump.
At Al Grattacielo, the only acknowledgment of the attack is a small collection of newspaper photos tacked up behind the cash register in the bar, showing the fireballs and smoke of Sept. 11.
Ms. Remaschi said the owners have written to the U.S. consul in Milan to ask what he thinks they should do. If the logo stays, the restaurant might offer discounts to Americans or hold a commemorative celebration each Sept. 11, she said.
Regardless of what is decided, Italians will still come to the restaurant, which is known for its spacious outdoor seating area in the back, Ms. Remaschi said.
Of course, if the restaurant waits long enough, its problem might just fade away. Time has a way of changing the meaning of even the most powerful symbols in unpredictable ways. A newer restaurant across town has a name that might have seemed just as unfortunate a few decades ago: Cafe Titanic.