‘Powerhouse’ Liliana Lovell Talks About Coyote Ugly And How It Changed Her Life: BUST Interview

by Robyn Smith

23 years ago, Liliana “Lil” Lovell lived a different life. She worked at her bar till 5 a.m. and came back to open it at 9 a.m. She worked 80 hours a week and got three or four hours of sleep, max.

She was one of the youngest female bar owners in New York City, and she didn’t even notice.

“I’m a powerhouse,” Lovell, who learned she was one of the few when journalists kept asking about it, says. “It doesn’t matter if I’m a woman or not. Nothing was going to stop me.”

When Lovell opened Coyote Ugly at age 25, she already had a large following from years of putting herself through school as a bartender. She didn’t take a single night off—whether she worked the full shift or not, she was at the bar every day.

Now, Lovell’s life is different. This past week, she was in Las Vegas shooting the 2017 Coyote Girls calendar. The week before that, she was in Virginia Beach, scouting out a potential location for a new Coyote Ugly. Next week, she’ll be back in Vegas, and the week after that, she’ll be in Memphis, Tennessee, celebrating the bar’s anniversary.

Her job now consists mostly of “telephone calls and emails.” When we spoke on the phone, Lil was at home in San Diego, California, with her 16-year-old son, who was sick from school.

“While this might sound weird, I kind of enjoy it because it’s the only time he seems to need me now.”

It took Lovell a long time to be able to get out from behind the bar, but she wasn’t always planning on going into the industry. She studied psychology and communication at New York University. Before she went into bartending full time, she was an apprentice on Wall Street, making $250 a week. On that income, the apprenticeship didn’t last long.

“I simply stopped,” Lovell says. “About a year in I said, ‘You know what, this is going to be a long road and I’m making more money doing other things.’”

Her parents weren’t pleased, but Lovell made more in one night of bartending than she did an entire week on Wall Street—right before she opened Coyote Ugly, she made between $700-800 a night. An odd mix of jobs at all kinds of restaurants and bars taught Lovell a few lessons for running her own place. When she worked at a Brazilian Steakhouse, she worked four blenders at once to accommodate the complex menu of 30-plus drinks. She never wanted any of her girls to be so overwhelmed.

“We can sell anything,” Lovell says. “I could sell ice to an eskimo. Even if they come in asking for [complex drinks], you’re going to convince them to get something else that’s easy.”

Despite some of the more difficult parts of Lovell’s journey, her favorite memories from working behind the bar were with customers. One security salesman would come in while she was doing inventory and they’d watch “Days of Our Lives” together.

One particularly unforgettable night involved one of the bartender’s boyfriends. Lovell gave him permission to bring his bike inside because people were jumping on it. He broke its breaks on the curb and crashed into the wall.

“Of course as the owner, I’m worried that someone got hurt,” Lovell says. “All of a sudden people started cheering…I remember thinking, ‘These people are nuts.’”

Though it was all worth it, if she could give her younger self a piece of advice, it would be to take more nights off. As the boss, during slow months, she would pay her employees first, then herself. She was constantly worried about whether or not things would go wrong without her.

“I had somebody once tell me that I had too many keys on my keychain,” Lovell says. “I just worked all the time. I didn’t have a manager for 10 years, other than me being the manager. I didn’t have anybody helping me.”

She took her first vacation when she was 29, on a trip to Paris and London. She’s been back to Paris several times since then.

When the film Coyote Ugly came out in 2000, it did something for Lovell that you can’t pay an advertising company to do. It was international marketing, and all of a sudden, Coyote Ugly was known all around the world. If it hadn’t been for the movie, Lovell never would have thought to expand. Now she has five locations in Russia, two in Germany, and she just signed with Japan.

Though the drinking rules have changed since the movie came out, the girls have not. Coyote girls, made famous by Piper Perabo and Tyra Banks in the film, are known for their beauty, wit and physical stamina.

What makes the perfect Coyote? “Beautiful, but not so beautiful that they don’t think they have to work hard. Witty. Funny, funny, funny, and charming.”

It doesn’t matter where they’re from.

“I could take girls who work in Moscow and bring them to San Antonio and they’d do great, other than the language barrier,” Lovell says. “The dancing is all secondary…I can have a girl who’s the worst dancer, but that can be endearing to the crowd.”

Interior Crowd 3

It takes about two months to get used to being a Coyote. The job is tough—long shifts and constant charisma can be exhausting.

“If a girl doesn’t want to work so hard, they’ll quit in the first week. If they make it through the first two months, they’ll stay for years. I’ve had girls stay for 10 years.”

After working with thousands of women across the world, the one thing Lovell believes they all have in common is that they are natural nesters. In order to be successful, women need to make sacrifices—sometimes that means traveling and being away from their kids. She insists that she is a feminist, though not a traditional one.

“I think that people have this idea that a feminist is supposed to be wearing pants and you know, putting this banner of no makeup and things like that,” Lovell says. “I would say that I’m a feminist and that I believe in women being powerful and free, but if I want to, I will wear a mini skirt and a tube top doing it.”

photos courtesy of Franchise Elevator

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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