The bartender makes the bar. It's true, and you know it. Need proof? Take one Sandra Polanc, also known as Bubbles, the queen of Michael's Bar and Grill and self-described "freak on the inside, lady on the outside." Michael's is a hotel bar, at the Midtown Best Western, and it looks like one -- a neon Bud Light sign, dueling muted televisions, entrance through the hotel. These are usually warning signs: Sad, drunken loneliness within.
But then there's Bubbles, who explodes into any room she enters, a living, breathing exclamation point in a world of semicolons. She holds court as Michael's bartender five nights a week, and her minions -- mostly male on this night -- lap it up. She draws interesting people to the place, people who laugh and trade jabs while they rhyme her name along with Ice Cube's "Today Was a Good Day," coming from a silver boombox in the corner: "Drunk as hell, no throwin' up.... Today was a Bubbles day." At a table, a double date. A man enters, orders a little bottle of Asti, chugs it down like Gatorade, pays and leaves, all within two minutes.
Bubbles has a lot of drinks up her sleeve: a twigs-and-berries martini, offered with two cherries ("the only two cherries in here," she laughs, scanning the room); a Tootsie Roll martini -- a frightening thought indeed, but it tastes exactly like its namesake; an ace Bloody Mary. But the best of the bunch is the crisp little curio called the Bangin' Bubbles: Hennessey and Asti Spumante -- no shit -- a firecracker of a drink. Bubbles pours the Asti into a champagne flute, then adds a dose of the French cognac Hennessey VS, the juice of rap stars worldwide.
"You should call this drink 'thunder,'" says one patron after sipping a supercharged Bangin' Bubbles. Because both the sparkling wine and the cognac are made with grapes, the mix makes sense. They combine quickly, rich, golden and giggling with electric bubbles, in the flute. Sip on it -- this is special, so show some respect -- while Bubbles plays with fire: a straw, a toothpick, an empty bottle of vodka and a match, and swoosh, flames and a sharp projectile fire into the ceiling. Or ask to see the Bubbles Bam-Bam two-by-four, replete with jagged nails, used to slap troublemakers upside the head. Of course, she'd never use it unless it was completely necessary. With all Bubbles' boys watching her back -- and front -- it won't be. Oh, what fun! And at a hotel bar, no less.