So Lil ordered herself five shots of Wild Turkey. She slammed the shots down, one after the other. Then Lil beat those little pricks once more just to teach them some manners. Anyhow, that was my boss. I was afraid of her.
I wanted to be her. I'd never been behind a bar before I came to work at the Coyote Ugly Saloon. Lil trained me herself. She didn't overload me with information at first. She didn't try to teach me how to mix drinks or even how to use the cash register. Basically I just followed her around and tried to absorb everything I could.
I was obviously clueless. Not only could I not tend bar but I'd also shown up on my first night ridiculously dressed in tidy slacks and a buttondown charcoal gray wool sweater. During that first shift, my new boss gave me just two specific instructions about bartending. One: "Get those drinks out, and get them fast. I have always hoped that Nazi Dave's nickname was an ironic joke. Lil hired and fired many bartenders in her constant search for the perfect Coyote Ugly Saloon staff. Of course, she hired only women.
Since most bar patrons were men, this was a great gimmick. I'll never understand why it's not a more common practice. It was not always obvious what Lil was looking for in her women or why she was dissatisfied with those she discarded. She was ruthless. She gave no explanations. There were many bartenders at the Coyote Ugly Saloon whose careers lasted a single night.
This could be perplexing. Many of the women that Lil fired were not only attractive but also perfectly competent bartenders. Better than me, for instance, since they may have had previous experience at real bars, where one would be expected to know how to make a woo-woo, a mud slide or a grasshopper.
But there could be one thing about the girl that Lil didn't like, and that would be it—out the swingin' door. There were bartenders who seemed to get fired because they were too fragile or too shy or too polite, of all things. Early in my own Coyote Ugly Saloon career, I made the mistake of saying to a customer, "Here's your beer, sir. I meant to say, 'Here's your beer, douche bag. And I though, Oh, I get it, but I am a very quick study. Some bartenders were gorgeous but not sexy, so what's the point?
Some bartenders laughed a lot but were not funny themselves, so that didn't work, either.
It all sounds ridiculously capricious, but Lil had a good eye. And what did she look for in us? Ultimately, Lil loved us only if you loved us. Because if you come to a bar called the Coyote Ugly Saloon and you order a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and a shot of Old Weller, then you are seeking a very specific experience. I myself was saved by Redneck Lou. Redneck Lou—the huge tattooed South Carolinian collector of Confederate-flag belt buckles—was one of Lil's best friends and the bar's consummate regular.
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Redneck Lou came into the bar during one of my early shifts, and we sang a Johnny Cash song together. I told him it was my favorite. Well it was Redneck Lou's favorite, too. He reported later to Lil, "I love that new bartender. I was in. But I was never really sure how long I could stay in. As a Coyote Ugly Saloon bartender, I was to lure people into that place, keep them there as long as I could and make damn sure they came back the next week.
Our jobs depended upon this, and Lil never let her bartenders forget that. No excuses were accepted. The bartender was responsible for bringing customers in. Lil could do it. Lil could get crowds in that bar, and they'd never leave.
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If they started thinking about leaving, she would start feeding them free shots. She would press them to put their favorite songs on the jukebox. She would mercilessly tease them in front of their friends for being wimps. Whatever it took. Lil was expert at making patrons realize that while they may have needed to leave the bar, they didn't actually want to. People who thought they were on their way out found themselves, instead, suddenly buying a round for the whole bar.
Lil could pack that place during a Christmas-night blizzard and she believed that any decent Coyote Ugly bartender should be able to do the same. That was only fair. She could also out-drink every single customer in the crowd.
She believed any decent Coyote Ugly bartender should be able to do that too. I was pretty good at filling the bar, but I couldn't drink on Lil's level.
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I could not toss back Kentucky bourbon for eight consecutive hours and still articulate English. Much less count change. So I invented a little trick made public here for the first time to save my life. I would pour a shot for the customer. I would pour a shot for myself.
I kept a mug of Coke beside me at all times. The customer would swig, and I would swig. But I would not swallow. I would pretend to chase my shot with a slug of Coke, and then I would secretly spit the shot back into the Coke. Nobody ever knew.
OK, some people knew. Bud Lite Lou knew. Bud Lite Lou was one of the few Coyote regulars sober enough to notice my ruse. Which he found amusing. He would beg me to sell him the mug full of whiskey, spit and Coke at the end of the night.
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But it didn't matter whether it was actual drinking or just the appearance of drinking. It honestly didn't matter. We were expected to be a little bit larger than life, or to pretend to be, or—at the very least—to want to be. We were the good-time girls. We were a cross between Old West dancehall hookers and gangsters' gun molls. Crack that gum, swing that ass, drink that shot, keep that change.