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Coyote Feminism

I wasn't sure why I was even going to the Coyote Ugly SaloonCoyote Ugly Saloon I'm not a fan of watching scantily clad women frolic around for the entertainment and pleasure of seedy guys. And guess what? One of the first things I noticed upon walking in was a gray-haired dude making awkward catcalls as he repeatedly pawed at the ass of a female patron who danced on the bar. Blatant objectification of women? Check!

Still though, I'd come to help Coyote Ugly celebrate its third anniversary in Fort Lauderdale, and I was gonna give it a fair shot. Because if it could win over a cynical feminist, it could win over anyone, right?

Ambiance: About half a dozen girls danced on the bar, including a chubby, curly haired chick, two bartenders, and a microsized brunet whose teeth were filed into sharp fangs. The dark-wood bar was very long and quite wide, and bras of all colors, shapes, and sizes hung over the marker-scrawled mirrors behind the bar. The place was decorated with red lights, flags, posters, hubcaps, and license plates.

Just then, a bouncer came by and sternly instructed the gray-haired gentleman to stop manhandling the girls dancing on the bar. "I can't touch you anymore," he yelled up at the girl, just before exploding in a drunken cackle. At least the bar didn't condone stupid behavior. That's one point to the saloon.

Anniversary: To celebrate its third anniversary, the bar offered drink specials every hour. I know this because the big-voiced Coyote Ugly bartender with the mic continued to inform us: "It's a celebration, bitches!" Dio's "Holy Diver" punctuated the bartender's explicit orders to consume many, many shots, which was also my cue to start talking to people.

I ordered a Bud Light, and the dark-haired, pierced bartender seemed to have little patience for anything under the $10 minimum — meaning, you'd be charged $10 even if you didn't order that much booze. When I received my drink, I held it to my chest to protect it from the pairs of cowboy boots stomping across the bar.

After a few minutes, I was instructed by Tim, a blond, very tall bouncer, to smile — or at least drink more. I guess I had my game face on. Tim said they call him "Baywatch" because he's a lifeguard by day.

"Have you ever had to throw anyone out of here?" I asked.

"No, not really. Anyone we tell to leave, leaves," he said. "I used to be a bouncer at America's Backyard, and I had to throw people out all the time. But here, the girls pretty much take care of themselves."

"Hell yeah," I agreed. "They scare me."

Coyotes: The bartenders — rather, Coyotes — all had ballerina bodies and bright smiles. They wore a staple uniform of ripped-up jeans and one-piece bathing suits — all in bright colors with large intentional gaps in the fabric to reveal the girls' tummies. It also seemed to be their job to try to coerce every unwilling woman in the bar to get up and dance on it. I watched their canned moves through narrowed eyes — hip, hip, spin, hip, hip, spin — and dared one of them to mess with me.

A dark-haired Coyote, whose bar-top pirouettes and flourishes caused me to joke that she was a ballroom-dancing-school dropout, grabbed a nearby Pittsburgh Steelers fan. The woman wore earrings shaped like Steelers helmets, gold and black beads, and a Steelers shirt. The Coyote pulled her up onto the bar. The Steelers had just won, so the woman had no problem shaking her ass a little. Next, the Coyote went for me.

"I can't," I said. "I have a sprained ankle."

"Oh my God. I'm so sorry," she said, still dancing. "I didn't know!"

"Hey, it's OK," I said. "I'm lying."

She laughed, futilely tried to pull me up one more time, then danced down the bar, her arms flourishing gracefully. These sassy bartenders are magical, bar-dancing, supertoned fairies. At the end of the song, the lovely Coyote dropped into a split right in front of me. "Hi!" she said, before jumping back up and running back down the bar.

"I think I'm in love with her," I said.

My companion rolled his eyes. "Two seconds ago, you hated this place."

Coyote corporate: Bouncer Tim took me over to Lil Lovell, the dark-haired, petite founder of the Coyote Ugly Saloon. She was in town for the party. She's probably busy most of the time making many dollars off her bars, the Coyote Ugly movie, and the CMT reality TV show. She told me she was enjoying the party, and she seemed flattered that I was familiar with her blog, Lil Spill. Then she directed me over to Daniel, one of her managers.

I asked Daniel about raucous shenanigans that had occurred inside the four walls of Coyote Ugly.

"As soon as you get on that bar, you're protected," Daniel told me. "You don't have to worry about anything. I mean, if you're off the bar and your man's grabbing your boobs, that's whatever. But we've got more bouncers than any bar in the area, and if you need help, we're right there.

"And we've had 90-year-old women up dancing on the bar before. Now that's awesome."

Talk about equal-opportunity bar dancing.

Patrons: Daniel introduced me to Jax, a broad-shouldered guy with buzzed hair and a dressy, long-sleeved T-shirt. He's a regular who's been coming to the bar for two years. "Let me ask this: It's Coyote Ugly's birthday today," I said. "What was the best birthday you ever had?"

"Oh man," he said. "I've had lots of birthdays at strip clubs, so I could go that route, but no. I think the best birthday I ever had was when I was 13. My dad took me to the mall, bought me a hat and some videogames, and then took me out and let me drive. I was scared shitless, but it was cool."

"That's supersweet," I said. "So why do people come here?"

"You come for the dancing and the girls at first," he said. "But then you end up coming back because it's a really cool, laid-back place."

Dancing queen: I'd noticed Jacqui for a while now. She had thick blond curls, a black off-the-shoulder dress, and soft black boots that came up to her thighs. She rejected anyone who wanted to dance, and she seemed to be monitoring the bar top with the hawk eyes of a woman living vicariously.

"I'm the choreographer," she said simply. "I came up with most of these dances."

I glanced at the bar. Girls were shaking and gyrating, but there didn't seem to be any particularly stunning synchronization at work.

"Are there certain dances?" I asked timidly.

"Yeah, in all locations, there are choreographed moves to certain songs," Jacqui said. "I worked at the first Coyote Ugly location and have been a Coyote since it opened. Lil and I are friends; we go way back."

As if on cue, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" started playing over the speakers.

"This is kind of like the theme song of Coyote Ugly Saloon," Jacqui told me, "since we were originally a Western-themed bar. This was the first song we had a choreographed dance to."

Sure enough, two girls hopped up on the bar and, in unison, skipped, clapped, danced, and made exaggerated peering motions to the beat and lyrics.

"Why are only two of them dancing?" I asked.

"Well, they're the only two approved," she said. "A girl can't dance to a song until she's approved by her dance captain."

"I didn't really want to come here today," I told her. "I thought it was going to be sleazy and degrading."

"I used to tell girls when I was training them, 'People are gonna think you're a slut, but you're not,' " Jacqui said. "We're a woman-owned, woman-run sort of business."

"What about the guys who wanna feel them up?" I asked.

"Oh, the girls can handle themselves," Jacqui said. "Usually all they have to do is give them a look." She gave a slit-eyed glare that I'm sure she'd bestowed upon many a raucous customer in her day. "And that's about all it takes."

I believed it. The Coyotes' cool control is something respectable and powerful. Frankly, I'm not going to be a professional bar dancer anytime soon. But I might be willing to come back to this saloon for another drink sometime. And maybe for Coyote Ugly's fourth anniversary, I'll consider jumping up on the bar myself.