By Anne W. Semmes, staff reporter at the Greenwich Citizen

I recently had the good fortune of visiting my son Lawrence Groo in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where he works and lives with his family. (Yes, he is Lawrence of Arabia!)

At.mosphere Burj Khalifa
At.mosphere Burj Khalifa

While there, he treated me to a birthday dinner at the world’s highest restaurant — At.mosphere — atop the tallest building in the world — the Burj Khalifa in Dubai — and it was something I won’t soon forget.

We were booked at 7 for dinner at the restaurant, which sits on the 122nd floor of the Burj Khalifa. The Burj itself is a marvel. It stands 2,716.5 feet tall – more than double the height of the Empire State building’s 1,250 feet. The less than two hour drive to Dubai brought us into the extraordinary density of Dubai, which seems to sprout ever more ingenious skyscrapers on each annual visit I make to the UAE. But the silhouette of the Burj holds a singular magic. It rises ethereally higher than all its aspiring neighbors.

It came alive for us in the dusk of evening — its thin shape suddenly sparkling from top to bottom. “It’s a sparkler,” I cried, “A giant, towering sparkler!”

“For the 40th anniversary of the nation,” said my son. Special lighting, I understand, is built into its surface to give this effect.

As we neared its rounded edges of highly polished stainless steel, its tubular risers reminded me of those elegant Mark Cross pens of yesteryear — but everything about this structure speaks of state of the art design.

Its shape, I learned, was inspired by the three-petaled desert flower, the hymenocallis, according to the designer, Adrian Smith, of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. When our car pulled up to the entryway our party of six all looked up to see the fabulous petal shapes rising ever higher and narrower into the sky.

We were met with the ubiquitous “Merry Christmas” that followed us everywhere during our trip — then we were escorted into an elevator. It looked perfectly ordinary — for an elevator said to travel an unprecedented 40 miles an hour. It was just big enough for the dozen assorted diners. An attendant pushed a button, then waved us off with a smile.

We were unattended.

All eyes were glued to a small window displaying a digital number — the floors as we rose through the building — that swiftly moved from single digits to double, to triple digits. No one spoke – as we arrived (with popping ears) in what seemed like seconds — to the 123rd reception floor! We waited for the doors to open. They didn’t — then suddenly the numbers start falling. Gasps all around. Why are we descending!?

In this super-fast elevator there is no sensation of speed but the numbers swiftly decrease as we stood frozen — some holding onto others. We arrive at level one again. The doors opened and the attendant sees us in surprise, with, “Oops I pushed the wrong button.”

We rise again — so perhaps I will have that birthday dinner after all!

The restaurant At.mosphere is intimate and elegant with curving walls of dark mahogany veneer surrounded by floor to ceiling curved glass windows. Around us all of Dubai twinkles with lights as far as the civilization of Dubai reaches into the desert. The diners sitting around us are from all over the world. More info and photos

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