It seems like at least 3 times a week somebody will come up to me and ask, “How did all of this (Coyote Ugly) get started?” The birth and development of Coyote Ugly spans more years than I care to count, but here are the events from Coyote’s rough beginnings to where we are today. This is my story.
The Coyote Ugly legend began with a girl, a dream, and a little bit of Wild Turkey.
I grew up in a lower middle class family in New Rochelle, New York and attended a very snobby Catholic High School. For the record, YES it is true what they say about Catholic school girls. I think part of my drive came from watching all my friends get into their new BMW’s, given to them for birthday presents while I worked 2 jobs to pay for school and put gas in my ’67 VW Bug. Surprising to most I am sure, I really liked the nuns at my school! In fact, they were responsible for making me believe I could accomplish anything. Although I am sure that they had different plans for me instead of dancing on top of a bar and sucking every last dollar out of my customer’s wallets. However, for this gift, I will give thanks to god and the nuns of Ursuline High School in New Rochelle, New York.
After my high school graduation, I was bound for NYU. Unfortunately, without the nuns, I was a little more distracted in my college years. Instead, the next person who would help shape me was my pool hustling boss of Trevis Italian restaurant, a local joint at which I was thankfully employed. He taught me the ins and outs of pool and I ended up teaching him how to make money in the bar business. Even though I was only 17 years old and a waitress, it seemed like I had a natural instinct for making money.
My first chance soon came as one of the bartenders went on vacation and I was asked to fill in. I made several hundred calls to ensure all my friends visited me on my premiere bartending night. It went over pretty well and I was given three bartending shifts a week after that (I am sure Danny still wishes he hadn’t gone on that vacation). That is where it all started. When I became more comfortable behind the bar, I would have a few drinks and I found myself on top of the bar singing to whatever came on the jukebox, hustling drinks for customers (and for myself) while making a lot of money doing it. I did so well that the owner closed down the kitchen and turned his place into a bar that only sold liquor.
As time went on…
I found myself working in countless places bartending, waitressing and I even sold windows over the phone (I was desperate). During this time, I was still in college, changing my major every semester. I even considered social work as a career but when I found out you needed a masters to be successful, I quickly moved on to something else. My parent’s mantra “get a real job” kept echoing through my head (much like the sound of a police siren).
So I decided to work on Wall Street but I found that there are two problems with apprenticing to be a stockbroker. The first problem, YOU MAKE NO MONEY as an apprentice (not making money is something I am MORALLY against). Secondly, being a stockbroker doesn’t require you to know anything about the market; you just need to be a good salesman. I am an incredible salesperson but I still can’t pick a stock to save my life. My lack of funds forced me to get a second job bartending to pay the bills. I made $250 a week at the Wall Street firm while I would make $250 a night bartending. Obviously, I opted for early retirement from my stock market career.
I felt comfortable being back behind the bar, my blood pumped whisky (we won’t talk about my liver). The bar I was working at this time was called Anacondas. This place had a “Brazilian theme” and they really pushed their frozen drink specialties. Unless you have ever bartended, you have no idea how much making blended drinks suck. One time, I was making so many of these time consuming, annoying, fruity drinks from hell that I blew out the fuses in the building! After that, the blenders were “broken” quite often.
After being in that environment for a little while, I badly needed a change. Just then, it would seem as if champagne had fallen from heavens, velvet ropes parted and the door to the Village Idiot (a local dive bar) opened with Tommy (the owner) standing out front offering me the bartending job that would change my life. Actually, to more accurately describe it, Jim Beam fell from the heavens, the homeless guys out front rolled over to part a path to the door that was propped open by Tommy’s foot (he rarely stood). This was my kind of place and I began to really shine. The Idiot was an old man’s bar by day but when the sun set, the music was loud, I was on the bar, every woman in the place at least one drink in each hand and I left with no less than $500 in my pocket. Within 2 months, Tom promoted me to manager and I worked my butt off. I hired beautiful girls, trained them to sell and most of all, how to appreciate the country music in the jukebox. I logged in at least 55 hours a week at the Idiot and I saved every dime.
I knew that this was all too good to be true and that there would soon be trouble in paradise. Yes trouble in Paradise. Word on the street was that the Idiot was going to close. So I kept my ears open and was offered an opportunity to rent the vacant space across the street. Through some weird circumstances I found myself partnered with a friends’ friend, Tony. Good bye Italian restaurant, hello Coyote Ugly.
Beautiful Girls + Booze = Money
Tony spent all his money to get the bar opened but had no desire to work there. He was trying to become a full time writer. I in turn, let him spend his money while I would operate the new bar venture. On January 27th, 1993, the Coyote Ugly Saloon first opened its doors to the public. It was an instant success and I finally had my own place! Not only did I not have to make frozen drinks, I didn’t even buy blenders. I was able to do whatever I wanted to.
Patron: “Lil, can I have a Midori Sour?”
Lil: “No you can’t and for making that asinine request, you are getting a shot of Wild Turkey for you and ME!”
Eureka! I now knew what the nuns were talking about when they said that I could do anything I wanted to and NOW I WAS! During the night I would dance on the bar, sing to the crowd and insult anyone who wasn’t man enough to take me on in a drinking contest. As a consummate salesman, I was very good at this. To this day, the people who were around from the very beginning say that I was the best bartender we ever had.
I developed my business plan here and that has propelled me to where I am today: beautiful girls + booze = money. I began training my girls to perform my shtick. Some were good dancers, some were good singers, and others could yell at the crowd and entice them to drink. Very few had all three qualities, so I had to improvise. I would pair up the dancer with the comic yeller. Maybe the singer can be trained to dance a little better and it all began to work.
And the rest is history…
A few years later, I had perfected my bar and Coyote Ugly Saloon quickly established itself in the hearts of New Yorkers as their preeminent drinking establishment. It gained national attention in early 1997 when a story called “The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon” written by former Coyote bartender Elizabeth Gilbert for GQ magazine: shined a spotlight on the little bar in the East Village.
Shortly after that, Hollywood came knocking and the movie rights to Lil’s story were sold. Coyote Ugly opened in August 2000, starring Piper Perabo and Maria Bello. It has grossed over $100 million and a worldwide audience quickly learned what the phrase “We don’t serve water here!” meant.
Serving cheap tequila from a boot, bartending with boa constrictors, and just doing whatever the hell I wanted are what made the Coyote great. Even though things have changed in my life—I now have a beautiful son and live in San Diego—my Coyote Ugly Saloons are still run with the same mission statement. Quick wit, unshakable assurance, and the ability to take your last dollar has made Coyote Ugly what it is today.
It is funny to me that to this day my family still asks when I am going to put my college education to use. I say it is my education that got me off the streets of New York and that has spawned a successful business and a movie and television series about my bar. Thirty years and a million bar antics later, Coyote Ugly is now a household name. Thanks, Sister Jean Baptiste! (I wonder if she ever saw the movie?)