Not-So-Skinny Dipping

A buff bartender bulks up for bathing suit season


Having worked at venues around the city for the past decade, Chicago native Melissa Huegal is now flexing her bartending muscle at Club Flamingo. But for this recently converted gym rat, the real heavy lifting begins when the sun sets on the vintage-style swimfest, held Sundays this summer at LOUNGEsix atop Hotel Solamar in East Village.

PacificSD: What’s awesome about working at Club Flamingo?
MELISSA HUEGAL: I really enjoy working outside. Being a bartender, you tend to work long, dark, night hours a lot. This is refreshing, with the sunshine, outdoor air and beautiful skyline overlooking Petco Park.

Do you wear a bikini while working?
It’s not a two-piece, so it’s not a bikini, but it is a bathing suit.

Is that weird for you?
Not really. I’m training for a figure competition. That’s kind of my hobby, so I spend a lot of time posing in a bikini anyway. And that’s actually a lot less material than my work uniform.

How did you get into bodybuilding?
I used to be really, really thin my whole life. Like, really thin. But I started lifting weights last May. It felt really good, and I stuck with it. Then I ran into a coach that I really clicked with, and now we’re best friends. They started a team called Team JCreation and asked if I wanted to do a show. I said, “Yes, absolutely.” It’s nice to have a goal and something you’re training toward.

What do you like most about bodybuilding?
I like the challenge. This pre-season, I put on about 40 pounds of mostly muscle, which is something I never thought I’d do. And I didn’t do it by eating fast food or drunk food or anything. I eat whole foods and well-rounded meals all day, and to gain that much weight that way is a bit harder. No one’s called me skinny in about six months. Even the weight of what I can lift now compared to a year ago is like three or four times as much.

What do you do when you aren’t behind the bar or lifting one?
I foster dogs pretty frequently. Basically, when dogs need to get rescued from shelters in other counties where they’re going to get killed, the rescue groups I volunteer with pick the dogs up, and I house them or help get them adopted. I clean them up and get them ready for their forever home. I’ve helped about 20 dogs so far.

Are you a beach person or a pool person?
I’d say a pool person. I love the beach and I love the ocean, but I’m not a huge fan of the sand everywhere. I prefer a swim-up bar and valet parking.

What are the most popular drinks at Club Flamingo?
People seem to like cold shots of silver tequila on a sunny, summer day. Then we have these little pink-flamingo drink holders, and all the girls are crazy about any drink that fits in a pink-flamingo drink holder. Girls are literally coming up to the bar like, “I’ll take that pink flamingo drink.” And I’m like, “That’s not a drink, babe.”

Wet your whistle, along with everything else, Sundays all summer long at Club Flamingo. The party kicks off weekly at 11 a.m. with a (partially) farm-to-table brunch — just wait 45 minutes before getting in the water after eating.

Club Flamingo at LOUNGEsix
435 Sixth Ave., East Village

All in La Famiglia

The story behind an Italian restaurant for (and by) the generations.


Photos by Kate and Michael Auda

Like some siblings do, a brainchild can come as a complete surprise.

Such was the case with Salvucci’s, the new Italian sister to RMD Group’s growing roster of venerable venues.

“We weren’t ready to do another restaurant, but when this location [formerly Común] came along, we couldn’t pass it up,” says Mike Georgopoulos, the “M” in RMD Group, which also owns and operates FLUXX, Side Bar, Ciro’s Pizzeria, Don Chido, Rustic Root and Pop’s Liquor Cabinet. “And I’ve been dying to do Italian.”

Georgopoulos’ “dying” to do Italian stems from his having grown up in an Italian family in Watertown, Mass., a Boston suburb, where meals at Grandmother Carmella Salvucci Renzella’s house were daily delights.

At Salvucci’s, located by Petco Park at Ninth Avenue and J Street in East Village, the menu exudes rich flavors and rich family history. It’s where recipes from generations of the clan (which first laid domestic roots when Loreto and Pasqua Salvucci emigrated to the U.S. from San Donato, Italy, in the 1930s) live on. And there’s an on-site matriarch to make sure they do so.

To maintain his grandmother’s culinary standards, Georgopoulos recruited the next logical choice: his mother, Darlene Renzella, who has joined the team as host, ensuring patrons receive a warm welcome from a loving Italian mother.

“Mom also makes sure the sauce is right,” says Georgopoulos. “And the meatballs.”

Salvuccis Pacific

His uncles (Mom’s brothers) Dave and Dan Renzella, who represent the “D” in RMD Group, are partners in the project, as is East Village hospitality honcho Ken Lovi, founder of the neighborhood’s The Knotty Barrel Gastropub and co-owner of Don Chido and Rustic Root.

Plump packages of pleasure shaped from well-seasoned beef and pork and dressed with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese, Salvucci’s meatballs share table space with other East Coast Italian favorites. Standouts from the appetizer column include fried/breaded cheese ravioli in pomodoro sauce and hand-rolled gnocchi with fragrant pesto. Georgopoulos’ fave entrée is the creamy polenta, which flows with either woodsy mushroom sauce or Bolognese ragu.

Other recipes harkening back to the homeland (in Boston and Italy) include pizzas, elegant pies built on Neapolitan-style crusts. The polpetta sposata, which sports such toppings as ricotta, mozzarella, basil and deluxe San Marzano tomato sauce, features a crowning glory: Salvucci’s pride-of-place meatballs, arranged like juicy jewels.

“We’re not chef-driven, we’re food- and relationship-driven,” says Georgopoulos. “So, if every night at Salvucci’s feels like Sunday with the family, welcome home.”

Derek DiNublia, a chef who cooked at several of celebrity chef Todd English’s (host of Food Trip, on PBS) famed Boston-area eateries before heading west to join his longtime Bean Town buddy (Georgopoulos) at Side Bar, oversees the kitchen.

“We use the Salvucci family recipes to make the menu wonderful,” says DiNublia. “We’re all about from-scratch cooking, homemade breads, homemade pastas and made-from-scratch desserts.”

So dig in. Mom’s already expecting you to order seconds. Buon appetito!


Pacific Shoot May - Salvucci's

At Salvucci’s, located by Petco Park at Ninth Avenue and J Street in East Village, the menu exudes rich flavors and rich family history.  It’s where recipes from generations of clan (which first laid domestic roots when Loreto and Pasqua Salvucci emigrated to the U.S. from San Donato, Italy, in the 1930’s) live on.  And there’s an on-site matriarch to make sure they do so.

Famous State Fair Food At American Restaurants

By Jenn Rice, Special for USA TODAY

Two key fair foods were born at the State Fair of Texas back in the early 1900s: the snow cone and the corn dog. Fast-forward to 2016 and these popular bites are making appearances on menus across the country — along with whacky new creations.

Famous state fair foods across the country:

Locals flock to Don Chido in San Diego for executive chef Andre Alto’s Cinnamon Churros y Abuelitos Chocolate. Unlike regular churros, his version is tempura-battered and fried, dipped in cinnamon, and served with a warm chocolate dipping sauce or seasonal dulce de leche sauce.

RMD Restaurants Don-Chido-Churros

RMD Group Debuts Salvucci’s Near Petco Park


More Italian for the East Village

Launching tonight and open for dinner Monday through Saturday is Salvucci’s, the new Italian restaurant from RMD Group, which counts Don Chido and Rustic Root among its downtown area assets. Two weeks from today, the restaurant will start its regular hours — from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. then 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays, with Sundays added eventually.

RMD Group announced the project in March, when it took over the East Village space vacated by Comun Taqueria and gave it a moderate refresh. Now, hanging market crates obscure the existing open kitchen while handmade pasta hangs in the see-through walk-in cooler and vintage photos decorate the walls.

The menu, influenced by the group’s East Coast roots, revolves around homestyle Italian food by chef Michael Marino and ranges from fried ravioli and meatballs as starters to salads, pizzas and main dishes that include chicken parmesan, lasagna and spaghetti with clams.

Salvucci's Ristorante Opening in Gaslamp

Salvucci’s Ristorante Ushers Old School Italian Into the East Village


Bring on the red sauce

The East Village food scene is filling back in again after several notable restaurant closures; over on J Street, Oscar’s Mexican Seafood has replaced TOAST Enoteca & Cucina and we’re hearing that a local hospitality group has something in the pipeline for the former Table No. 10. And today, the RMD Group announced that it will be taking over the space vacated by Comun Taqueria last November.

RMD Group, whose high-profile projects include the Gaslamp’s FLUXX nightclub, Don Chido and Rustic Root, is venturing east to open Salvucci’s Ristorante, which will specialize in “authentic, home-style Italian cuisine”. Inspired by the group’s East Coast Italian roots and named for one of the partner’s grandparents, the menu will be based on family recipes (including osso buco, spaghetti alle vongole, housemade gnocchi and eggplant involtini), implemented by chef Michael Marino. The kitchen will also bake up pizzas ranging from the classic Margherita to the “Fig & Pig” made with smoked bacon, figs, fontina and mozzarella cheese.

Scheduled to open by late April or early May, Salvucci’s will serve lunch and dinner daily. Moderate structural changes are being done to the space, which will feature copper tables and old school images of Italian families, plus a 12-seat bar pouring Italian and California wines and signature cocktails.

Salvuccis Italian Restaurant - RMD Group

What It’s Like Getting Wasted At One Of The SMALLEST Bars In The Country

Pop’s Liquor Cabinet is not only San Diego, CA’s smallest bar, it’s arguably the tiniest official place serving alcoholic drinks in the country.

Even their reservation page on reads, “reserve your stool.” It’s not a marketing ploy — there are in fact only three stools in the entire 157 sq. foot place.

One fateful night out in San Diego (this is a retelling, so let’s pretend that night is tonight), my friends and I left a drunken dinner at a restaurant nearby with grand hopes of finding a big, fun and vibrant bar to continue our debauchery.

Somehow, we ended up at Pop’s Liquor Cabinet instead.


Where is this place?

In the heart of the whale’s vagina Californian town of San Diego lies the Gaslamp Quarter, 16-square blocks of Victorian-era buildings intermingled with modern skyscrapers, 100s of amazing restaurants and Pop’s Liquor Cabinet, the smallest of small bars sandwiched between two massive night clubs on F. Street.

What’s it look like?


Upon arriving, we were already a bit tipsy. We saw a glow of an ATM from the street parked right outside of the Pop’s Liquor window and like moths-to-a-flame we entered the modest dwellings.

Inside, the decor was basement-chic, a faux window set high against the wall, three barstools, a wall mounted karaoke machine that also doubles as a photobooth for space-saving. Then there was the bar, which was tiny with no visible entrance for the bartender, everything was within arms reach. After my first drink I asked her, “How did you get behind there?!”

The kind face responded, “I hopped over the counter.”

Fair enough.


What to drink?

Everything is craft here — there is a menu on the short counter top with some key cocktails, you can’t go wrong with any of them. They have a mini fridge of beer in the back if you’re so inclined, but the bartender was real proud of her concoctions and rightfully so — the whiskey sour was music to my lips.

What else?

Cash only, thus the ATM at the entrance. Also, expect people to walk in during the night just to grab some cash — you won’t be lonely, even if you’re alone at the bar.

Also, there’s no bathroom. If nature decides to call you, just tell the bartender you need bathroom access. She’ll radio over to the neighboring club and you’ll get to walk into their VIP bathroom.

With a capacity of 8, maybe 6 people comfortably, this place is a must if you want to tell tales of how you and your friends shut a bar down on your last trip to San Diego. And best of all, the photo booth can be your proof of the best night ever–in the smallest place ever.

11 Thanksgiving Cocktail Recipes Straight from America’s Best Bartenders

With cozy Netflix movies queued up, late fall is finally upon us. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up on a little happy hour fun. Sure, it might be time to say goodbye to breezy, beach-side drinks, but tasty Thanksgiving and fall-themed sippers are lovely in their own right. Read on for the best 11 fall cocktails from all over the country and get ready for some serious pumpkin-apple-squash-infused delights. Bonus: The bartenders spilled some of their pro secrets…

Hot Apple Toddy at Rustic Root in San Diego

Rustic Root Hot Toddy Cocktail - RMD Group Restaurant

Don’t think you like bourbon? Allow this cocktail to prove you wrong. With apple cider and ginger-y goodness, it’s hard not to love this simple-to-prep beverage. Happy hour, indeed.
– 1 1/2 ounces vanilla-infused bourbon
– 3/4 ounce ginger-spiced simple syrup
– 6 ounces hot apple cider
Mix all ingredients and serve in tall coffee/tea glass and garnish with an apple slice, or candied apple slice, if you’re feeling fancy.

RMD Group Takes Home Multiple Lamplighter Awards

Thank you to all that joined us on Tuesday, November 10, 2015 at Parq Restaurant & Nightclub (615 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101) as we celebrated the best of the best at the Lamplighter Awards brought to you by RMD Group, an ultra-exclusive VIP cocktail affair where the 2015 Best of the Gaslamp award winners were announced.  This evening of whimsy and elegance featured craft cocktails, delicious hors d’oeuvres from the finest Gaslamp Quarter restaurants, exclusive items and gift packages available through our silent and live auction, and much more. 21+, GQA event.

 RMD Restaurant Management and Consulting

Congratulations to the 2015 Lamplighter Award Winners

Special Recognition for Commitment to San Diego and the Gaslamp Quarter
Jimmy Parker
For his significant contributions and service to the Gaslamp Quarter community
Executive Director from 2004 – 2015
GQA Board of Directors from 1998 – 2004

Rustic Root
Best New Gaslamp Restaurant/Bar
Favorite American Cuisine – TIED
Favorite Pizza
Favorite Nightclub

Menu Moves: Restaurant desserts inspired by state fairs and summer carnivals

Chefs tap into their inner child to create nostalgic desserts. Written by:
Restaurant Managment, Consulting, and Development

Don Chido Mexican Food – Churros

Churros y Abuelitos Chocolate

Never underestimate the nostalgia factor of the fried pastries and midway treats your customers indulged in at summer carnivals and fairs when they were children.  Several restaurants are tapping into this fondness for childhood favorites. At State Fare Bar & Kitchen at the Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage, CA, for instance, desserts include the Funnel Cake ($9), dusted with powdered sugar and topped with house-made kumquat jam and whipped cream, served with a side of Nutella.

Powder Beignet Bites ($12) are among the dessert offerings at M Bistro in the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. The beignets are served with a trio of sauces—chocolate, vanilla and caramel. Coffee and Donuts are on the menu at Avant Rancho Bernardo Inn in California. The doughnuts ($12) are dusted with cinnamon and sugar, paired with house-made Baileys ice cream and topped with espresso foam. At Don Chido in San Diego, the Churros Y Abuelitos Chocolate is a comfort food carnival-inspired dessert ($6), tossed with cinnamon and sugar. Don Chido’s lighter version of churros are tempura-battered and dried, and come with a warm Abuelitos chocolate dipping sauce or a seasonal dulce de leche sauce.

The classic Old Fashioned Rootbeer Float ($6) is a nostalgia dessert offered at Puccini & Pinetti in Hotel Abri, San Francisco. The float, made with vanilla gelato, takes on an Italian spin.  At The Buffet at Harrah’s Resort Southern California in Valley Center, traditional Caramel Apples are included in the buffet offerings.  Mission Point Resort, Mackinac Island, MI, features a Frozen Fudge dessert, crafted on property using Michigan-made chocolate.

San Diego Nightclubs – FLUXX Nightclub

Looking for the best in San Diego Nightclubs?  Check out FLUXX!

Ready to spice up your night with a visit to one of the best San Diego nightclubs? Get your dancing shoes on and experience San Diego’s hottest nightlife destination.

FLUXX nightclub is located downtown in San Diego’s buzzing Gaslamp District. Whether you’re looking for an unforgettable way to celebrate a special occasion, or just trying to hit the town in style, a night at FLUXX is an absolute must.

The name FLUXX comes from the ever-changing vibe of this original venue. The club transforms and evolves every few months by shifting its dramatic themes. A brand new scene is implemented from employee uniforms, performers, and décor. If you’re a returning visitor, you may not recognize it your second time around.

My FLUXX experience was exceptionally magical. I entered just as the candy-striped dancers took their places on stage and the fog machines filled the dance floor. The theme for the evening seemed to be a hot and steamy winter wonderland.

The laser shows, aerial performers, dancers in giant snow globes, and the massive LED screen above the dance floor created a spectacular ambiance for a night of non-stop entertainment.

San Diego NightclubGet your dancing shoes on for a night out at FLUXX!
(Image courtesy of

I especially appreciated the spacing of the venue. While the club was jam packed, I never felt cramped or suffocated the way I do at most of the other nightclubs I’ve experienced.

I was able to successfully make it from one end of the building to the other without ever spilling my drink.

There is a second level above the dance floor where VIP tables and a second bar is located. You heard me correctly…a second bar!

It was so nice to get a drink in less than twenty minutes. If one bar is a little too crowded for your liking, just head on over to bar number two.

Not only was I able to get a drink at top-notch speed, the service was better than any other nightclub I have ever been to. I was very impressed by each of the bartenders who served me.

And last but certainly not least was the music! I experienced one club hit after another. You won’t be able to stay off the dance floor. The DJ was spot on with his choice in artist, mixes and transitions.

FLUXX has become a hot spot for some of today’s most popular disc jockeys and entertainers, featuring DJ’s such as Benny Benassi, Paul Oakenfold, Baaur, Morgan Page and many more. On their main stage, performers like Flo-Rida, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Macklemore, and A$ap Rocky have put on incredible shows.

FLUXX is the ultimate party destination for any occasion. It’s an enchanting arena for the ultimate night out, and the perfect place to celebrate birthdays, bachelor/bachelorette parties and more.

Plus, the VIP tables are perfect for group gatherings. If you’re ready to get a little wild and experience San Diego’s hottest nightclub, than this is exactly where you want to be. You might not remember your night at FLUXX, but you certainly won’t regret it.

By Madison Teague

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