Phoenix wasn’t the first city to offer a meal on a wheel turning atop a building, but that didn’t make the experience any less exciting in 1976. The Compass Room capped the newly constructed 26-story Hyatt Regency Phoenix at Second and Adams streets, across from the Phoenix Civic Plaza. The restaurant offered entertainment every night, namely a stunning 360-degree view of the city.
But initially, it was more noted for its cocktails and the eye-catching outfits of the waitresses who delivered them to the businessmen and conventioneers who were then the main customers. But the Compass Room’s focus soon pivoted to an upscale restaurant serving gourmet food.
Its opening was 15 years after the nation’s first revolving rooftop restaurant, La Ronde, was launched at Honolulu’s Ala Moana Building in 1961. Next to open was the Space Needle’s rotating cafe, built for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, and almost 40 others soon followed in the U.S., including The Compass Room.
“We wouldn’t have become involved in Phoenix without the Civic Plaza,” said James Howard, the Hyatt Regency general manager, told The Arizona Republic in 1975. “There is tremendous interest in Phoenix as a major convention city.”
The Hyatt’s general contractor was Chanen Construction Co., which constructed the unique building in just over two years. The architect was Charles Luckman, who also designed the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Madison Square Garden in New York.
The 216-seat restaurant made one revolution per hour, allowing guests to go around in circles admiring the panoramic view. In comparison, the Valley’s other famous spinning place, the Celebrity Theater, makes about one revolution every two minutes.
The restaurant’s engineering involves a circular structure that rotates around a central core that contains the building’s essentials, such as elevators, kitchens, bathrooms, and other infrastructure. The seating area rests on a platform that sits on a series of wheels connected to the floor. A motor attached to an angled steel plate propels the restaurant, according to gizmodo.com. Because of the slow speed and fluidity of the turntable’s movement, most patrons don’t sense that they’re in motion. Tiered seating arrangements offer everyone a fabulous vista.
Author Chad Randl compares rotating restaurants to architectural barnacles, as they rely on other “host” buildings or natural features to provide height, customers, and designs. The spinning eateries are typically found on communication towers, mountain tops, and hotels.
The last rotating restaurant in the U.S. was built in 1996 atop the Stratosphere in Las Vegas. By the turn of the 21st century, some perceived the dining theme as outdated. A few of these space-age restaurants around the country stopped spinning because of maintenance issues or were razed along with their host buildings.
But the Hyatt’s, now called The Compass Arizona Grill, remains a favorite tourist destination, which locals enjoy for special occasions like anniversaries, prom dates, and impressing business clients. Where else can you have an adult beverage, use the restroom, and exit, only to realize your table has moved?
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