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Skylon: where the view competes with the food

The tale is told of the time Alexei N. Kosygin dined here at the Skylon, 775 feet above the thundering falls. In retrospect it is funny. At the time it thoroughly spoiled the meal and rendered one of this world's most spectacular views less than pleasurable for those present.

When the then Soviet premier indicated his preference for stopping at the Skylon during a 1971 visit, Canadian authorities naturally went over the entire building with a fine-tooth comb. Then the accompanying Soviet secret service gave it an even more thorough inspection. Naturally anyone who had reason to be within sight and sound of the tower that day was thoroughly screened. Unfortunately, no one thought to tell the window cleaners to take the day off.

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What would be the use of a revolving restaurant with a spectacular view if dirty windows marred that view? Patrons would complain loudly before they ceased coming altogether. Apart from that, Canadians are a very neat people, so the Skylon's glass is cleaned regularly.

Naturally, the revolving seating hadm to bring the Soviet party around to the very spot, at the very moment, that the scaffolding was let down so that cleaning of the windows -- which do notm revolve -- could begin. Unfortunately the scaffolding let down with a jerk. Moreover it all happened with the (accidental) timing and the precision one has come to expect in a James Bond movie.

Under the circumstances, no bodyguard worth his salt would not react with vigor.Whether Mr. K. was on the soup course at the time or whether he had graduated to the caviar and goose liver pate, no one quite remembers. But he was instantly thrown to the ground and a dozen or so bodyguards threw themselves over him as a shield. A few nervous moments followed before the innocence of the whole event became obvious.

Nothing quite that exciting has happened here since then, and "it never will, " management insists. But it's a great story to tell your dinner companions when next you visit here. The restaurant has recently undergone a transformation. For the sort of annual salary the best of professional athletes coin these days, the dining room was given a totally new look. The idea has been to try to match, indoors, the beauty of the view outdoors. That isn't possible, of course, but the attempt was a worthy one. Even Mr. K. wouldn't recognize the restaurant, were he to return today, except for the 10 Urquart murals depicting historic Niagara scenes.

On a clear day you can see, if not forever, at least all the way to Buffalo in the one direction and clear up to Toronto in the other. It's not the distant scene that counts here, though, but the mighty falls that thunder over the precepice almost at the foot of the tower.

A small 3 hp. motor slowly revolves the restaurant so that it makes a complete turn every hour. Thus in a leisurely meal of 2 hours or so you will get to see the broad extent of the falls at least twice. If you time it right at night, you will get to see them dazzlingly illuminated.

It's worth noting that Skylon costs are pleasingly moderate. While many towertop restaurants base their prices on the altitude rather than on the skill of the chef, the Skylon remains pleasantly competitive with ground- level eateries. When I visited the Skylon for lunch recently, $5.95 brought a fillet of sole to the table and $9.44 a filet mignon. In the evening, Chicken Cordon Bleu ran at $9.25 and prime rib of beef, $13.95.

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About 12,000 years ago the Niagara Falls were some seven miles downstream. Over the years the incredible eroding force of the water has moved the edge steadily upstream at a rate of about 3 feet a year, and that's the way it might have continued for aeons to come but for some man-made interference.

Work on the falls' flanks has slowed erosion. So has other construction, which helped spread the flow over the edge more evenly. These factors have combined to cut erosion to an estimated one foot in 10 years.

All this has made welcome news for Canadian Pacific Hotels. The company poured so much concrete into the construction of the Skylon that it could well be standing 2,000 years from now. At the old erosion rate, the falls would be more than a mile away by then!

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