Penne Baguta and the closing of an institution - Colorado Politics

Penne Baguta and the closing of an institution

Author: Judie Schwartz - May 13, 2013 - Updated: May 13, 2013


While my love of shopping is well known, fewer people know what Mr. Style Matters likes to do. Well, its camping and mountain biking, specifically in Moab, Utah, with good friends and our two sons. The night before each trip, Mr. SM stops at Strings and buys a quadruple portion of his favorite dish — Penne Baguta. He freezes the pasta into a giant block and hides it in the back of his Toyota 4Runner. By the time the sweat-clad, cycled-out group arrives at their first campsite, the penne has melted just enough to be ready for some heating and eating.

Well, no more.

The famous artwork at Strings was on display for the auction — attendees moseyed around to view autographed celebrity photos which adorned the entire space.

Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

Strings has closed, and with it an end to an era for Denver foodies, movers and shakers and the occasional celebrity. Captained by the convivial chef/owner Noel Cunningham, the restaurant managed to stay in business for more than 25 years, a ripe old age in the food industry. Noel passed away last December at the age of 62.

Lobbyist and former state legislator Bill Artist, friend Sharon Owings, and Peter Meersman, longtime head of the Colorado Restaurant Association, rue the closing of Strings. “This was the place to go. Noel helped rid Denver of its cow town image” Meersman said. Artist swore that over the years he brought at least 3,000 customers to the restaurant. “Noel was always wanting to do something for children’s causes,” Artist said. “One year he wanted help in bringing Santa Clause to Strings for one of his kid’s charities. He even got me to get the street closed for Santa’s arrival.”

Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

Noel’s lovely wife, Tammy, plans to return to her first career as a life coach, but not before she orchestrated the end of Strings as her husband would have wanted. Last week, Tammy held an auction open to the public partly to raise funds for several charities she and Noel supported, but also so fans could say their final goodbyes. “After Noel passed away, I didn’t know how people would react,” she said. “But my customers stayed with me. They are so loyal.”

Well-known real estate doyenne Mary Rae and pal Patterson Benero celebrated many an event at Strings including Benero’s 80th birthday. (Those white Chloe sunglasses are to die for.) Mary Rae was a big fan of Strings’ liver and onions dish. Well, each to their own.

Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

The restaurant’s famous artwork and autographed celebrity photos adorned the entire space. As people bid, memories welled up and favorite stories were exchanged. Former managers and wait staff came together for one more serving and if you coaxed them enough (That’s Style Matters “speak” for nagged), they spilled a few juicy tidbits.

Of all the memorabilia, Tammy is most partial to the framed white chef’s coat worn by Noel and signed by Brazilian soccer super star Pele´. Noel was a huge soccer fan. Funds raised from the auctioned off coat will go to a variety of non profits including veteran suicide support.

Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

Did you know that Noel cooked for all four Beatles? Yup. Paul and Linda (no last named needed) ate in the famous back room where many a soiree took place. The best table in the house to see and be seen? Table 16. Sorry folks if you never got to plant your bottom at this exclusive round. I once had dinner at Strings with the entire MCA music department (operators of Fiddler’s Green at the time), and we were not seated at Table 16.

Business leader and lobbyist Manuel Martinez, Wells Fargo Bank executive Pat Cortez, and pal Lynn Villafuerto have been coming to Strings since it opened.

Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

A partial list of who partook of Noel and Tammy’s hospitality and tasty dishes includes in no particular order: Lily Tomlin, Robert Redford, Don Johnson, Shirley MacLaine, Treat Williams, Katey Sagal, Sting, Sheryl Crow, Tom Jones and Michael Jackson, although supposedly he stayed in his limo. That’s not to mention the cast members of national Broadway touring companies brought to town by impresario Robert Garner; they partied at Strings after opening night.

Warren Village volunteer Tammy Abramovitz is the recipient of the organization’s lifetime achievement award. Warren Village provides housing and other services for low-income single families. Some of the monies raised at the auction will be donated to Warren Village.

Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

Some celebrities wanted low visibility; others sent mixed messages. One former manager recalls a request from Sammy Hagar, lead singer of Van Halen at the time. It was drummer Alex Van Halen’s birthday and the band wanted to celebrate very “incognito.” The staff made all the arrangement, only to have Hagar walk in with his flowing long blond hair, lime green leisure suit, yellow shirt and matching shoes. That turned a few heads.

Mile High United Way CEO Christine Benero enjoys a last visit to Strings with regular customer, mom Patterson Benero.

Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

Who knew all this shmoozing was going on at the corner of 17th and Humboldt?

Once in a while, servers were called upon to act as bouncers. One server clearly remembers an argument between two gentlemen regarding a Toys for Tots fundraiser at the restaurant. The dispute over who was to get the credit for organizing the successful event deteriorated into a fist fight with wait staff jumping in to break it up.

Tammy Cunningham shows off the first of the famous ‘Strings’ posters, dated July 22, 1986.

Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

With the closing of Strings, is that yummy Penne Baguta lost forever? Maybe not. Tammy is planning a cookbook of restaurant recipes and promises to include this beloved pasta dish.

Strings — bon appetit.

Loyal customers Anna Jordan-Helser and Theresa Joseph reminisced about their connections to Strings. Jordan-Helser helped raise money for Noel’s Ethiopian charities. Joseph’s sister held her engagement party there.

Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

Judie Schwartz, whose Style Matters columns appear in The Colorado Statesman, is the co-author of two best-selling books on the best places to shop in Colorado. Called “A Fashion-Lover’s Guide to the Best Shopping in Denver and Beyond,” the books are available at Schwartz presents seminars on the importance of a professional image, shopping tips and fashion trends. She can be reached at:
• Facebook: StyleMatters1
• Twitter: StyleMatters123

Rebecca Gschwend bid and won this art Deco print reproduction. She had been pregnant with twins, lost one baby; the other was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit up the street at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center. Nothing particularly valuable about the poster except that it will always remind her that she ate at Strings “to feel normal.”  

Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman
The fabled Strings restaurant on 17th Ave. closed its doors on April 30, leaving many Denverites, and even international celebrities alike, full of vivid memories from over the years.

Photo by Marie Griffin Dennis/The Colorado Statesman

Judie Schwartz

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