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Coyote Ugly’s world is a pretty place


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One of Coyote Ugly’s international saloons

If the 600 young women lined up in front of the soon-to open Coyote Ugly bar in Wales were taking the name literally, they might not be so keen on being a Coyote. After all, the origin of the name is taken from one-night stand lore, where a man wakes up in the morning, sees the grossly unattractive woman he brought home from the bar sleeping on his outstretched arm and would rather gnaw off his arm to escape than wake her up.

But that’s fiction—only animals caught in the wild would be that foolish. In real life, these Coyotes are attractive women who can belt out a song, dance on a bar and entice the last dollar from the customers’ pockets for one more drink.

These are not frozen, fussy drinks that require prep time and blenders, but rather beer and hard liquor served as shots, straight-up or, occasionally, out of a Coyote’s boot. Ask for water and you’re likely to get sprayed with the fountain hose.

The chain of 21 Coyote Ugly bars (14 in the U.S., the others licensed or franchised overseas) gained notoriety after a 2000 movie of the same name introduced the concept to the world. “The name gets people through the door. When I call, everyone knows who we are,” says Justin Livingston, vice president of global development. Even in Kyrgyzstan, where its first Coyote Ugly is opening this month.

The movie, although not great cinema (the founder claims to have only watched it once), has achieved a cult status that spawned a reality TV show in 2006 searching for the “Ultimate Coyote” to join the traveling team.

Liliana “Lil” Lovell

Founder Liliana “Lil” Lovell came up with a rowdy bar concept that has an international following thanks in part to its feisty bartenders.

And then there’s the founder, Liliana “Lil” Lovell, who claims she can sell — well, just about anything she wants. In her romp-and-stomp bars, she’s selling a party. Sexy women dance on the bar in cowboy boots, cajole the men into buying drinks and verbally punish men who ask for sissy drinks.

Spraying water on customers, a popular bit in the movie, is done less frequently now in our more litigious environment. Coyotes are trained to “read your customers… and nine out of 10 don’t want to be sprayed,” Lovell says in a telephone interview from the home she shares with her 16-year-old son in San Diego.

Another movie highlight that’s no longer done is lighting the bar on fire. Can you imagine how that would go over with the fire marshal in NYC? muses Livingston. Although they still pour liquor down the bar and light it on fire in Germany, he adds.

The first Coyote

To put her self through NYU, Lovell started tending bar, and her sassy style earned her a loyal following. After graduating, she got a job on Wall Street, but her $250-a-week salary wasn’t enough to cover her expenses, so she started supplementing her white-collar salary with bartending. And you know the rest: She could earn more in one shift at the bar than in one week assisting someone picking stocks.

Lovell didn’t want to return to a life of making frozen drinks, so she decided to open her own style of bar. She and a friend, a screenwriter looking to write full-time, maxed out credit cards to lease a spot. They showed up every day at the construction site to pay the workers from the tips they had earned the night before. “When you have nothing, the risk doesn’t seem that great,” she says. All in all, she put about $100,000 into opening the first Coyote Ugly.

In the early days she did it all, including pouring drinks and dancing on the bar. “Let me tell you I’m no dancer. The bar’s higher now,” she says, referring to the raised bar in dance expertise, not the drinking bar. But she has a likeability factor that overshadowed her footwork, and a female bartender was a rarity in those days. That style of showmanship is what she’s teaching the new generation of Coyotes.

While the majority of the bars in the U.S. are company owned (only two are licenses, including the one in Las Vegas, which is owned by someone who worked on the movie), Coyote Uglys overseas are now franchised deals. The first ones licensed in Russia won’t be converted, Livingston says. The franchisees they attract tend to already be in the nightclub or hospitality business, he says.

Coyote Ugly poster

 A poster announcing upcoming events at the Coyote Ugly club in Russia. The Coyote is beautiful, but she may not be able to “dance a lick.”

In July, they signed a deal for 15 bars in Japan. Lovell prefers not to add kitchens, but in some locales local laws make it unavoidable so they serve normal bar-food fare.

Coyotes around the world tend to reflect their surroundings. For instance in NYC, they’re more likely to be actresses auditioning during the day, bartending at night; in the South, they’re college students; and in Moscow 98 percent have college degrees.

The Russian women are beautiful,  “but can’t dance a lick,” Lovell says, but they know how to entertain and, better yet, sell drinks. While the U.S. has a bar mentality, Russians have a nightclub mentality, she says. The bars there devote more square-footage to a dance floor than in the U.S.

Hiring enough security is paramount in the setting where you have beautiful women selling alcohol, Livingston says. “When they’re safe, they have the security to be themselves,” he says, which means to be bold and playful at the same time. “The joy of the bar is for them to be powerful,” Lovell says about her Coyotes.

Lovell is still actively involved in the training and the business of the bars, but she’s no longer putting in the 90-hour weeks. “I’m at the point now where I want to go to bed at 9:30,” she says, in reference to the 4 a.m. closing times. She’s into triathlons and exercising.

But when he closes deals, Livingston still likes having her at the table. “She’s kinda a big deal,” he says about the reaction of people when they meet her. “People line up to take selfies with her.” Big deal or not, she’s still a bit in awe of the deals her brand has signed up.

“She’s crazy fun, but humble,” he says.

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