Not-So-Skinny Dipping

A buff bartender bulks up for bathing suit season

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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
619.955.5750
hotelsolamar.com