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Monday, December 22, 2008

A Visit to see The Golden Strings

An ad in the Star-Tribune caught Linda's eye. The Golden Strings appearing at Jax Cafe. Too much nostalgia there for old-timers. We signed up, taking Linda's mom to celebrate her 80th birthday.

I first moved to Minneapolis in the fall of 1967. The Twin Cities was pretty much lacking in diversity in the restaurant scene. But there was no question of what was the best eatery - Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale, downtown. Sure you could get a good steak at a couple of places - say Murray's downtown or Jax in "Nordeast" - but Charlie's was the place to go to for the best dining experience in the area.

But what if you wanted more than just a good meal? How about a show and a dining experience? Then you headed to The Flame Room at the downtown Minneapolis Radisson Hotel. The Golden Strings supplied the show.

Memory plays funny tricks as you age. I would have described the Golden Strings as a group of twenty strolling violin players. Linda said "no, I'll bet it was forty." It turns out that there were just eight violins - but there were two baby grand pianos. Cliff Brunzell founded the Golden Strings in 1963 when he signed a thirteen week contract to play the Flame Room at the request of Curt Carlson, owner of the Radisson. Brunzell ended up staying eighteen years and created probably the best known violin show in the country. By the time Linda and I first saw it, the show included two Olympic sized torches powered by natural gas that truly put the flame in "Flame Room."

This show at Jax featured Cliff as host and lead violinist (I calculate his age at about 87 based on the paragraph about him at this link) along with three or four other veterans of the original group. There were only six violins but as they strolled through the tables in Jax' banquet room you could picture yourself back at the old Radisson, long ago torn down. A couple of younger musicians filled in the string section and Brunzell brought along one heck of a jazz vocalist in Charmin Michell to lead us in a few Christmas Carols.

Jax owner, Bill Kozlack, greeted each of the guests as we entered the banquet room, so I guess he considered it a special night as well. The show was great. Dinner was fine traditional American - I had the prime rib.

And. of course, Jax provided a book of matches on the table for each member of our party - these weren't personalized but I'll bet they strike a familiar chord for anyone who has ever dined there.

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