It gave haters a massive hangover — but to die-hard fans, “Coyote Ugly” has aged like a fine whiskey.
Released 20 years ago Tuesday, the movie starred Piper Perabo as Violet, an aspiring songwriter from New Jersey who winds up bartending at the raunchy and rowdy NYC saloon owned by Lil (played by Maria Bello) and helmed by a trio of bartender babes (Tyra Banks, Bridget Moynahan and Izabella Miko).
The cheesy “small-town girl with big city dreams” trope was not a hit with big-screen pundits. In fact, “ugly” was an understatement. The Post’s review declared it “soulless,” while the Village Voice critic said he’d “rather eat ball bearings.”
Despite being skewered by critics, the cult classic grossed $113 million and is that type of movie fans watch again and again, doing shots and quoting lines like “Hell no H2O!”
“It’s so funny, I was in the movie so briefly, yet still feel very connected to its legacy,” supermodel Tyra Banks, 46, who had a cameo as bartender Zöe, told The Post. “I look at the screen, though, and ask, ‘Who is that girl?’ Because she’s [now] so much wiser and … wider. Yay, curves.”
Though she has dozens of film and TV credits under her belt, actress Maria Bello said she’s most often stopped by “Coyote” fans, both men and women, of all ages. “I get, ‘You’re the owner from ‘Coyote Ugly’!” Bello, 53, told The Post. “I really think this movie travels generationally. I didn’t know how gigantic it would be and that it would turn into this cult classic.”
Just don’t tell that to the owner of the wild joint that spawned it all.
“I watched it once in my whole life,” Liliana Lovell told The Post of the film, loosely based on the real-life Coyote Ugly Saloon on First Avenue and 10th Street, which has grown into an international franchise of bars with 29 locations as far as Kyrgyzstan.
As far as similarities go, she said, the booze and babes are about it.
“I will never see it more than once because the Lil character bought the bar a round when the health department comes in,” the self-described “hardass” Lovell, 52, said. “That drives me nuts. Who the f - - k would do that?”
Truth is crazier than fiction
An NYU grad and briefly an apprentice broker on Wall Street, Lovell, a Westchester native, saved up tips from bartending at the Village Idiot to open her first Coyote Ugly in 1993.
The name, she says, refers to “when you get so drunk that the next day you wake up in bed with some awful guy and you’d rather chew your arm off than wake them up.”
The film — for which she got a “consultant” credit — got that part right, Lovell said, but didn’t even scratch the surface of the real bar’s crazy antics — especially since it was filmed on a set in Los Angeles rather than the actual East Village dive. (For NYC shots, they rented Lovell’s friend’s bar on the Upper East Side “because Coyote was too small and I wasn’t going to close the bar down for that amount of time.”)
When asked if she hosed down anyone who ordered water, Lovell said “sometimes,” with a devious grin. Did they actually light the bar on fire? You bet. That infamous shot out of a cowgirl boot? “That will be 500 bucks,” she said.
But that’s not the half of it, Lovell said, admitting she now has to “filter” her stories since she has a 20-year-old son, who is studying to be a field biologist and wants no part in the family business.
“I had a guy pay $1,000 to do a shot out of my underwear so I cut my thong underwear off and pulled it out and he did a shot out of it. I don’t get it personally. I wouldn’t do it, but they do. To this day, they still do.”
‘I’ve seen some crazy s - - t, my friend.’
– Liliana Lovell
Then there was that time one of her regulars accidentally crashed his motorcycle into the bar and nearly destroyed everything — which the cheering customers thought was staged. “I remember thinking, ‘Did they actually think I f - - king planned this?” she said. “The absurdity of how the crowd just loved it when they could have just died.”
There’s also a celebrity incident or two. Lovell recalled an A-list kerfuffle out of a location in Tampa about 12 years ago: A female celebrity who showed up “already drunk … missed the toilet when she went to the bathroom — No. 2.”
The bottom line: “I’ve seen some crazy s - - t, my friend,” Lovell said.
Coyote Ugly opened in 1993 on 153 1st Avenue in New York. “The stuff going on then was a lot crazier,” Lovell said. “I was awesome back then. But my bourbon years might be over. I switched from bourbon to high-class wine.”
Coyote Ugly in Tampa, Florida.
Women dance on the bar at the NYC Coyote Ugly in 2000.
Jerry O’Connell dances on the bar at the opening of Coyote Ugly Las Vegas in 2001.
Coyote Ugly in Gwangju, South Korea.
Women dance on the bar at the NYC Coyote Ugly in 2000.
In 2006, CMT aired “The Ultimate Coyote Ugly Search.”
WireImage for CMT: Country Music
Coyote Ugly in Nashville, Tennessee.
Coyote Ugly in Memphis, Tennessee.
The enduring cult of ‘Coyote’
Twenty years on, diehard fans still beg cast members to hop on the bar for an impromptu twirl.
While making a film in South Africa a few years ago, Bello visited a furniture gallery, Amatuli, which has a replica of the bar in its Johannesburg showroom.
“Every Sunday night, they had ‘Coyote Ugly’ night,” she said. “I came and talked to the crowd, gave out drinks and stood on the bar. The whole thing was hilarious.”
Moynahan, 49, told The Post her fans “just can’t understand that Erin Reagan from ‘Blue Bloods’ is also Rachel,” her character from the movie. Still, “people will be like, ‘Get on the bar and dance,’ and I’m like, ‘No, I’m just gonna drink,’ ” the star of the long-running CBS cop series said. “You can’t ask me to get up on every bar … I wouldn’t even know how to do that dance anymore.”
It’s a “hysterical” moment which LeAnn Rimes — who sang the film’s theme song “Can’t Fight The Moonlight” — is often asked to recreate, too.
“There are places I have been to where they intentionally put on the song and clear off the bar a little, smile and look at me as if asking if I want to hop on up on the bar and sing,” Rimes, 37, told The Post.
After shooting a jokey impromptu “Moonlight” music video with husband Eddie Cibrian in lockdown, Rimes said she’s celebrating its 20th anniversary on Aug. 15, performing her songs from the soundtrack for a streaming show on Stageit.com, as well as dropping a new anniversary MegaMix.
“[Songwriter] Diane Warren, [producer] Trevor Horn and I knew we were creating something special but we had little idea then that we were creating something together that would have such an empowering effect for women,” Rimes said. “It always brings a huge smile to my heart.”
Lovell said female patrons still come in internationally “singing that freaking LeAnn Rimes song.
“Nothing wrong with LeAnn Rimes — but after hearing it a million times … ”
It spawned a ‘sisterhood’
Of the film’s enduring appeal, Lovell said, “I don’t get it, but hey, dude, it’s helped me out! I’m humbled at the fact that my business was interesting enough for people to make a movie out of. I never thought Coyote would be my big success story. Then all of a sudden with the movie, I realize, ‘Dude this is your ticket to try and make Coyote something bigger.’ ”
Lovell said she still keeps in touch with some former New York bartenders — most of whom have gone on to successful careers. It was former Coyote Ugly drink-slinger Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the 2006 best seller “Eat, Pray, Love,” who wrote the 1997 GQ story that caught the attention of the film’s producer, Hollywood heavyweight Jerry Bruckheimer.
“It’s a stepping stone to do other things,” Lovell said. “These are individuals that are empowered women.”
On set, Bello said it was also a “sisterhood,” noting that she believes it’s “my most impactful film that I’ve made social justice-wise.
“It was very rare to have a movie that centered on all women, that was a female-led story, that was about female friendship and dreams and empowerment.”
When the film came out, Bello said the cast had to defend it against interviewers who thought it was “objectifying women’s sexuality.”
But, she said, “There was nothing exploitative. All of those women worked so hard on those dance numbers and were so focused.”
At 31, Bello was considered “too old” to take part in the “hardcore” choreographed numbers. “It was very ageist in that way back then,” she said.
But “it wasn’t a big stretch to teach the other girls how to flip bottles and pour drinks,” Bello said, since she spent time bartending for six years in the West Village before moving to LA. Moynahan also worked as a waitress before modeling.
In fact, the actresses said they still identify with the story, as both are former small-town girls with dreams.
“When I was 21, I moved to New York City with two trash bags filled with clothes and $300 and didn’t know a soul,” Bello said. “[‘Coyote Ugly’] was really kind of weirdly the story of my young adult life.”
Moynahan said she even plans on watching this “badass chick flick” with John, her 12-year-old son with legendary NFL quarterback Tom Brady, to celebrate its anniversary Tuesday.
“I think we will have a movie night at the Moynahan house. I am sure he has not seen it,” she said. “He’s turning 13 so maybe he’s ready. When he starts rolling his eyes, maybe that’s when I should show it to him and say, ‘Look, your mom was cool!’ ”
“Coyote Ugly” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime and YouTube.