I coulda been a Coyote. That's what I was thinking Saturday afternoon when I somewhat enviously eyed the Coyote contenders, who were nervously lined up against the brick walls of the Second Avenue courtyard, above what will be the 14th Coyote Ugly bar in the nation. They were popping their gum in time to the retro rock blasting from a boom box. I've been a baton-twirling high school majorette in a butt-skimming tight skirt and white tassled-boots that clicked smartly on the pavement, catching the eye of the Italian art teacher. As a cocktail waitress in a New York City nightclub frequented by professional athletes, I used to wear a tuxedo shirt, bow tie, cummerbund, black tights and impossibly high heels. I've bartended in a leather mini-skirt and silver-lamé tube top at after-hours gambling clubs catering to mobsters. I've been a Promotional Penthouse Pet, for crying out loud, lounging on the hoods of hot rods at automotive shows, scantily garbed in a French Maid outfit, signing a pseudonym on 8-by-10 glossies for heavily breathing, sweaty-palmed, barely-shaving teenaged boys. That takes talent.
Twenty-five years ago, I would have been hip-to-hip with this defiantly trashy chorus line of Coyote contenders. Tight how-low-can-you-go blue jeans, studded black belts, pierced navels, big silver-hoop earrings and a midriff-baring, breast-thrusting top define the dress code for these good girls desperate to be bad. "From the first time I saw the movie, I knew I wanted to work there," paralegal Jen said earnestly. Line mates Trinity, who works at Gold's Gym, and Tonya, currently between jobs and looking for a "fresh start," nodded their carefully coiffed heads in agreement.
None was quite sure what her talent would be for the audition that awaited them. They hoped they could just dance to the music and wouldn't actually have to make a drink. From the brick wall, the girls advanced in groups of five to a table where they filled out their application: "Name, address, phone, date of birth. Do you have bartending experience? If so, how many years and what type? Do you have dancing experience? If so, how many years and what type? Past employment. Why should you be a Coyote?"
Why indeed? Because I saw the movie, and it looks like fun, and I have a great personality and I'm a people person, and I can sing/dance/twirl a bottle/breathe fire/pour a drink/keep a beat and look good doing it. Hell yeah! And I know that I might never look this good again, and I want to be a star in my own time because in a few years I'm gonna be married and buying a mini-van and a new brick home in a Bellevue subdivision.
Alissain low-rise tattered jeans, a tank top artfully torn to reveal plump breasts perched saucily atop the shelf of a lacy black bra, a newsboy cap tilted coquettishly over one heavily made-up eyeknew just why she should be a Coyote. "I saw the movie, and I knew it was me. I am an entertainer, and a bartender. I am here to advance my career as a singer." Alissa, who had cleverly worn a belt with her name spelled out in big sparkling rhinestones, also sported another tag to distinguish her from the herd: a tube sock on her right forearm cut to leave her fingers and thumb free to pour shots. She already had the look of a Coyote, but did she have the attitude? Jeff Myers, a seasoned bar guy who will GM Coyote Ugly, seemed to think so, but emphasized that all hiring decisions were Lil's, and Lil's alone. Alissa gave Jeff a confident wink as she said "Thanks!" Cocky. I like that in a Coyote.
At the registration table, the girls handed in their applications and received numbered labels in return, which most stuck to their left thigh. A Gretchen Wilson look-alike was #72. Once registered and numbered, the aspiring Coyotes advanced in their assigned quintet to the top of the staircase, inching closer and closer to their come-to-Jesus moment with the queen, Lil Lovell. Spend any time around Coyote people, and the name will come up. Lil was just 24, savvy about both sides of the bar, when she opened Coyote Ugly on First Avenue between 9th and 10th in what was then a crummy New York neighborhood. Lil knew what she wanted, and didn't take nothin' from nobody. A few years ago, one of her Coyotes wrote a story about her Coyote Ugly experience, which appeared in GQ magazine and was ultimately turned into a movie that became a big fat nationwide billboard for the bar, and a siren song for the hundreds of girls who came last weekend from Antioch, Donelson, Crossville, Dickson, Mt. Juliet, Joelton, Clarksville and even Paducah, Ky., because they yearn to howl like coyotes in the dead of night.
From his POV at the registration table, eight-year company veteran Kyle KasaKaitis, a hulking man with tattooed arms and wire-rimmed glasses, scans the girls in line. "There's a lot of blondes in Nashville," he notes. "The outfits are good, but they don't get the shoes. You can't dance on a bar in spike heels. Cowboy boots or motorcycle boots, but no toes on the bar. Lil doesn't allow that." Kyle, whose calm demeanor must have served him well as the head of security in the New York club, will be a manager at the Music City store. He demurred opining on the chances of anyone in line: "Lil makes those decisions."
After Myers escorts one quintet up the stairs, he tells the next five they'll have to cool their spike heels for a bit longer because Lil needs to eat. A staffer had just brought back boxes of food from Jack's BBQ on Broadway. As he took me down the stairs to meet Lil, I asked Myers if I could watch an audition. He looked at me skeptically. "I doubt it. Lil doesn't let anybody but staff sit in on the auditions."
One wouldn't expect a woman who wields such power to be so tiny, but Lil hardly took up six inches of space as she leaned over the bar that reaches from one end of the cavernous subterranean room to the other. Petite, dark-haired with bangs, she obviously leads her corps of Coyotes by example, attired in tight low-rise blue jeans, bike boots and a black tank top emblazoned with the logo "Big Twins." Truer words were never spoken. Lil was picking at a plate of barbecue and being attended to by no less than six male employees.
So, Lil, I asked, what do you think of the girls in Nashville? "They're pretty. There's a lot of blondes here. There's more talent than anyplace we've ever done a girl search. They're a little light on bartending skills. But there's something endearing about their Southerness. Is that a word?" Six men say "yes" at once. If Lil says it, it must be a word. She asks if they brought back green beans, and six men jump to get her some. She doesn't have to ask for dessert; a bowl of cobbler is set beside her, there when she's ready for it. Lil finishes eating. I ask her if I can watch the next five girls. "No." Alrighty then.
She thanks me for coming, nods imperceptibly at Myers, and he appears at my side to escort me back up the stairs. "You will come opening night, won't you?" she asks me. "We can talk more then." You bet I will. I want to be Lil.