We have spent several wilder nights at Coyote Ugly. That means we have watched multiple people get whipped with their own belts, have whiskey forced down their throats, and get their bras ripped off by the bartenders. Bartending at Coyote Ugly definitely takes a certain type of personality and a special surplus of energy, especially if a typical work night involves whipping someone until they have welts on their back. This has happened, we have seen it.
NYU graduate Liliana Lovell founded the original Coyote Ugly Saloon in New York City in 1993 after she left a career on Wall Street. A GQ article about the bar and the 2000 film with Piper Perabo popularized the Coyote Ugly name. Now there are 16 other locations around the world, but the New York one is where it’s at. Having frequented the bar often enough to see some crazy things, we wanted to know more about what it took to bartend at this infamous saloon.
We infiltrated the original NYC Coyote Ugly Saloon with the help of Jules Sanderson, a longtime Ugly bartender and manager and an NYU Tisch alum. Sanderson studied acting and performing, and said she definitely did not foresee a career in bar tending. One might say they never do. During college she started going to Coyote Ugly with friends and was handed an application after dancing on the bar one night. Fast-forward six and a half years, and she’s saloon manager. She left Ugly just last week to move to Tennessee, but not before we got the chance to chat.
According to Sanderson, bartending at Coyote Ugly is all about personality. There’s no need for a bartending license, formal dance training, or any special talents, although it doesn’t hurt to be trained in pounding shots. As long as a girl is comfortable dancing on the bar and interacting with people, she’s good to go.
“If you have a kick ass personality, we’ll take you,” said Sanderson, “and if you make it past a month, you can work here for ten years.” All she looks for is girls who are outgoing; those who can and will talk to anyone.
Working at Coyote Ugly is a lot more about personality than it is about looks. There aren’t many guidelines for a bartender’s style; as long as they are wearing the mandatory cowboy boots, they just need to present themselves in a way that they’re comfortable with. They have to be sexy, said Sanderson, but not in a raunchy way. For the Ugly girls, “sexy is more about suggestion.”
Making drinks is only half the job at the saloon. The Ugly girls learn choreographed dances to perform on the bar. Every bar tender knows the two staple house dances, which go with the songs “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and several others are rotated around.
Coyote Ugly offers an array of ‘special packages,’ meant especially for birthdays and bachelor/bachelorette parties; they do, after all, enjoy “making a show out of it,” said Sanderson. Female recipients are encouraged to get on the bar, usually coupled with free shots and a spray down with water. Bachelorette parties also get free tank tops.
Bartenders whip patrons as part of the packages, but “rarely rip off shirts,” Sanderson said. Penalty shots are $10, and entail bartenders spitting liquor in your mouth. Body shots are $20. Coyote Ugly girls are trained in all of the above. They make every night their own show and they run it as they please, she said.
Because of their wild performances, Coyote Ugly has a fairly loyal customer base, which includes mostly men but many women (guilty) as well. A few loyal customers have been visiting the bar since its original opening almost 19 years ago. They get a lot of locals during the week and tourists on the weekends, according to Sanderson. Monday night includes beer pong, which draws the college crowd. Women often come in with their husbands and boyfriends. And they get every type of occupation, from construction workers to stock traders.
The bartenders have also seen every breed of celebrity come in, including porn star Jesse Jane (who danced on the bar and was “very nice,” we were told), Piper Perabo from the Coyote Ugly movie, Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray Love fame (who also used to bartend at Coyote Ugly), Colin Farrell who was just there to do “research” for a movie role, that guy with the pants from Subway commercials, and someone who looked a lot like Kirsten Dunst.
With 11 other saloons across the country, two more in Germany, and three in Russia, the New York saloon is no longer the only Coyote Ugly, although it remains distinct from the others. The bar itself is a museum of sorts. The ceiling and walls are decorated with a number of souvenirs from locals and tourists alike. There are shirts donated by local firefighters, patches given by the NYPD, license plates from other states, men’s ties, girls’ bras, and lots of photos that chronicle the bar’s history.
For any ladies who think they’ve got what it takes, auditions are on Thursdays from 8:00 PM to 4:00 AM. All you have to do is get on the bar and dance for as long as you can. It’s nothing like the film, which is “the Hollywood version of this bar,” according to the bartenders. The film version of the bar is louder, brighter, and bigger, but it doesn’t mean the real bar is any less exciting. Regardless of interpretation, Sanderson says, “The New York Coyote Ugly will always be a country western rock saloon.”
For her, Coyote Ugly is a family. She can’t get rid of any of the girls because they never want to leave. Despite their slightly scandalous reputation, “all the girls are a good crew.” A good crew that likes ripping our bra off.