Tag Archives: Pacific San Diego

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.