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Friday, August 4, 2000
As the Touchstone Pictures movie with the real New York City bar's name prances, clogs and line dances its way into theaters this week, there aren't any cheers coming from one fellow hole-in-the-wall.
"It's not Coyote Ugly, it's Hogs & Heifers," Hogs owner Michelle Dell says. "It's my bar. The bar in the movie is my bar."
In other words, she's saying the movie about the big-city dive bar with the sassy, sexy barmaids who dance on bar tops, breathe fire and dress like Southern-fried Hell's Angels should give credit where credit's due: to the big-city dive bar with the sassy, sexy barmaids who dance on bar tops, breathe fire and dress like Southern-fried Hell's Angels.
And that bar, Dell says, is her Hogs & Heifers, the infamous, celebrity-favored saloon that's been a fixture in the city's meat-packing district for the last eight years. The bartenders all women are saucy and aggressive. Some blow fire. They've been dancing on the counter ever since the joint's first winter, when there was no heat and Dell started kicking up her heels to keep warm. The wall is covered with the bras of thousands of celebrating women who joined her over the years including Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore.
It's the kind of place where customers strain to speak over classic rock and country blaring from the jukebox only to be interrupted by bartenders exhorting the customers to drink and be merry or get lost.
"There's two things I don't want you to say no to: orgasms and shots!" bartender Erica Schweitzer hollered through a megaphone on a recent weekday night.
The film Coyote Ugly is based on an article that appeared in GQ about a bartender's experiences in the bar of the same name. In the movie, small-town girl Violet ("The Dreamer") has visions of music stardom in her eyes and an inconvenient case of stage fright.
She comes to New York and lands a job at the grungy watering hole, where she's taken under the wing of Lil ("The Boss"), a hard-nosed businesswoman who's established a gin joint where women are in charge for a change.
At the bar, Violet learns to dance on bar tops, take on rowdies and, naturally, overcome her stage fright alongside a doll-like Pole, a law student with supermodel looks and a fire-breathing femme fatale. And yes, there's plenty of choreographed dancing, leather halter tops and cowboy hats.
It was about a year ago that director Jerry Bruckheimer's people came by H & H asking if they could film there. When Dell learned that the flick would be named after an East Village rival, she turned him down.
"It was nothing personal Coyote's a great bar," she says. "But I told them, I can't have you taking our look and doing our routine and doing what our bartenders are doing and then put [Coyote Ugly's] name on our bar."
So the movie set up shop elsewhere. Well, sort of. It actually ended up across the street and right next door. Soon, Hogs & Heifers' usual mix of bikers, escapist executives and other would-be toughs was infiltrated by another strain of dime-a-dozen Gothamites: film production assistants.
"There were crew members in my bar left and right," Dell says. "One night, one guy was drafting my front window, writing down what flags and stickers we had up and so forth. One of the crew members showed me a prop list for the movie. He said, 'They're building your bar.' After being told no, they were going to do it anyway in a roundabout manner."
And it didn't stop at the look of the bar. The film crew asked one of Dell's waitresses to try out for a part. She didn't get it, but they began quizzing her about her bar moves and tried to take her on as a "consultant," Dell says. She turned them down.
When the Coyote Ugly trailer came out, Dell was swamped with calls from confused customers who wondered what Dell's bar was doing in a Disney movie. Dell flirted with the idea of a lawsuit she's trademarked the Hogs & Heifers name and its distinctive look but says she doesn't have the energy to pursue it. Right now.
"They say imitation is best form of flattery and I should be hugely flattered, but I'm concerned that they may jeopardize all the opportunities that I have been spending all my time lining up for myself and for the people who work for me," Dell says.
But it may be serious enough to warrant legal action against Disney in the years to come, she says. Dell is looking at establishing Hogs & Heifer bars across the country.
A representative for Disney did not immediately comment on the matter.
But the owner of Coyote Ugly, the bar, which opened within a month of Hogs, says Dell is overreacting.
"The honest truth is, Hogs & Heifers is not alone in any of this," Coyote Ugly's Liliana Lovell ("The Boss") says. "Do I choreograph dance moves for the girls? No, I don't do that. Is my bar about drinking and having fun and girls being wild? Yes, it is. Do I have girls who blow fire? Yes. Are there six other bars doing pretty much the same thing as all of us? Yes. But I'm not taking credit for all of it."
Not that Coyote Ugly, the movie, got it completely right, though. The movie might have the look, but it doesn't have the style, according to Dell and Hogs & Heifers bartenders. They had a few tips for the Coyote Ugly actresses and not the kind that go in a jar.
"When I saw the movie trailer, I laughed my a** off," Sarah Spill, a 24-year-old actress, said. "Stiletto heels? Behind the bar? And if you slide on the bar you'll get splinters up your a**."
And as for the girls in the movie, they mostly seem too delicate for the real-life Hogs, Dell said. "The Dreamer" wouldn't have lasted a round of drinks behind her bar.
"If you can't get up on the bar, you don't get behind the bar," she said. "If you want to be a Girl Scout, go sell cookies. If you want to be a prom queen, go back to high school."
- Michael Y. Park -