“STELLA’S!” Why am I yelling? I’m not. You are. Or, at least you probably have. “Stella’s!” is the thing most shouted at the subject of this week’s fangirl freakout when she’s out and about. Because she’s the face of the place, unofficially. You know her as Roach, the be-dreaded bartender and mainstay at the city’s trendy whiskey and burger spot. I know her as the same, actually. But I’m slowly working my way into her heart like a sarcastic parasite, and you can too. Since Roach’s specialty is slinging drinks and dealing with the social, drunken habits of literally every young person in the city without murdering anyone, she’s as much of a local celebrity as anyone else I use to fill these spots. If not more. I knew I had to interview her to get behind the badass behind the bar. Behind the boobs. So what better way than to get a little day-drunk and ask her probing questions while she prepped the back bar for a Saturday night?
I sat down at the end of the bar, sipping on a vodka/tonic that Roach had anticipated I would need, and tried to figure out why it was that everyone became so obsessed with this magnanimous personality. What is it about Roach that makes me fangirl over someone who doesn’t even sing me songs? My only explanation is that she’s the gatekeeper. To what? I’m not sure. But she holds the key to whatever it is. And we mere day-dwellers can sense that. She is what is cool about our city because she never insists on being cool. She just does whatever the hell she wants.
She is what is cool about our city because she never insists on being cool.
Like most majestic, ethereal beings, Roach comes to us from the Upper Peninsula. I didn’t realize people actually lived up there, but evidently it’s a magical place that breeds smart-mouthed street-unicorns with an affinity for fishnets and red lipstick. Roach did us all a favor and came to us in 2006 to take classes at GRCC as a precocious teen. But, since street-unicorns can’t be shackled, she took to the wind shortly after that to drive out west. She spent the time living in her car for a six-week stretch and working as a Ferris Wheel-loading carnie in Seattle, which is possibly the best, most logical tidbit I’ve ever learned about someone. She worked under that title until one day she went to the bathroom and never came back. What a metaphor for life.
Returning to Grand Rapids where we’re holding on and never letting go, Roach has been mixing our drinks and raising a sassy eyebrow at brodeos and bachelorette parties since Stella’s opened in 2010. As I sat there, sipping my drink and waiting for her to snap back to me after pausing the interview to sing along to “Hotline Bling” and eat some individually packaged jello with a swizzle spoon, I realized I had made it. I was already in the warm folds of her approval (and her cleavage). But how did I get there? She said herself she didn’t like me on sight. I wasn’t even offended. I simply said, “that makes sense.” After all, her and I have almost nothing in common other than “thick thighs and thin patience”, which is emblazoned on a t-shirt she has and I desperately need. She looks for a warmth in people before they’re invited into her life. And if they can’t make eye contact with her, all hope is lost. This, incidentally, is why she thought I was super sketchy. I mean, I am. She’s perceptive. And I’m pragmatic.
Maybe it’s the environment. The personalities at Stella’s are all pretty delightful. Some of them are delightfully terrifying, but like I said, I’m in the fold. I get a heart-stamped wink from Mandy instead of the disdain a basic-b*tch like me would normally warrant. I get a “meow” from Phil for some reason, and I get to hear B-Hyde say the phrase, “your eyebrows are on fleek” in that amazing tone she has. I’m one of the lucky ones. And you can be too. Honestly. Just be the person Roach would want you to be. Use that advice for everything in life. WWRD? She’d pour a shot of whiskey, adjust her boobs and kick ass. In that order.
Roach is unexplainable. She’s just Roach. She has a wanderlust that she happily feeds. A need to seek out everyone on the fringe wherever they may be. She creates families at every music festival she attends (which might be literally all of them) and ends up with strangers standing in line to receive what she deemed “the family tooth”, but was really just some gold nail polish painted onto the front tooth of whoever was invited into the festival-family. That’s right. She had people waiting in line to have nail polish put inside their mouths. No questions asked. Sure, that might have been the free-flowing drugs that tend to go hand in hand with music festivals, but more likely it was that sparkle of mischief in Roach’s eye. The one that promises you a serious case of FOMO if you choose to ignore it.
So don’t ignore it. Be the person Roach would want you to be. Make Grand Rapids a better place.