In summer 2010, a coyote made news when it migrated Uptown near Audubon Park. But, there's another "coyote" in that area who's been subject to far more media coverage over the years. Entrepreneur Lil Lovell, who started New York's Coyote Ugly bar in 1993, has been profiled in numerous newspaper and magazine articles. In 2000, a feature film turned her Lower East Side watering hole into a household name, and she spent three seasons (2003 to 2006) filming the Country Music Television reality television series, The Ultimate Coyote Ugly Search.
Nearly two decades after opening the first Coyote Ugly bar, Lovell prefers to live a little more under the radar. With seven franchises and 10 bars of her own, she travels often (the newest Coyote Ugly bar is in Kazan, Russia). When she's at home, Lovell spends her time raising her 12-year-old son Jackson, running her businesses from her home office and enjoying what she calls the "little big city" atmosphere of New Orleans.
Lovell came to New Orleans 10 years ago to open a Coyote Ugly bar in the French Quarter. "When I came here, I was just going to stay for six months and then move back to New York," she says. "But I found that life with my son was just easier here. Coming from New York, where you walk everywhere, it was nice that I could live Uptown and walk to the supermarket, coffee shops and boutiques. And I really like that there's a definite culture specific to New Orleans."
Lovell's home, which she chose for its tropical backyard and pool, pays homage to her brand's signature rock 'n' roll sensibility as well as Mediterranean design. "I would describe the house as Mediterranean/bar lounge," she says. "I was always impressed by Italian style. You see that in the faux painting on the walls and the Mediterranean feel of the Italian marble." She also was drawn to its spacious kitchen and family room, which she renovated with designer Natasha Shah to accommodate her love of cooking and the needs of her growing son.
Lovell's day-to-day life may have gone from the fast lane to the carpool lane, but her distinctive style is still rooted in the rock 'n' roll biker look she honed while bartending in the '90s. Petite and fit, Lovell works a wardrobe she describes as eclectic and unconventional. In some ways, living in New Orleans has influenced her wardrobe choices. "It's hotter here, so I wear a lot more dresses," she says. But Lovell styles them in a way that expresses her edgy, urban aesthetic. She pairs vintage handbags and Louboutin, Fendi and Prada stilettos with everything from Levis and tank tops to sequined miniskirts. "Lately, I've been into sequins," she says. "And I have an obsession with heels. It's almost embarrassing how many I have. It might sound weird, but it calms me to buy shoes online." Rocket Dog shoes are a staple in her closet as well.
In New Orleans, Lovell likes to shop at Hazelnut and Royal Street galleries. Clothes shopping is a pastime Lovell indulges while in New York and London, where new trends keep her inspired. Trash and Vaudeville, an East Village purveyor of punk rock-inspired clothing, shoes, boots and vintage items, is a favorite destination.
In Park City, Utah, where she and her son vacation, she opts for ski-inspired wear; in London, she gravitates toward trendy British designs, and in New York, her ensembles mix metropolitan polish with a streak of downtown rebel. "The beauty of my job," she says, "is that I can wear whatever I want."
While the Coyote Ugly image is wild and spontaneous, Lovell knows the importance of discipline. "There are a lot of failures in this business," she says. "One of the reasons [for failure] in my mind is when [people in the business] decide to make it their lifestyle. You can't drink every day and think you're going to be successful. I never wanted the adverse things from the day-to-day bar life to affect my life. It's important to be healthy. It was always important to try to combat that lifestyle and to avoid burnout." To that end, Lovell works out daily on home gym equipment or by practicing yoga. She recently added a new element to her regimen. "Now, instead of only exercising indoors, I try to run or walk a few miles outdoors every day," she says. "It's calming."
Lovell credits her success to her skills as a salesperson and her ability to take care of daily details, develop and grow her business, surround herself with knowledgeable people and see the next big thing. "I'm very lucky; my business is booming," says Lovell, who will introduce a new Coyote Ugly brand of rye whiskey this spring. "[Even] with the economy the way it is, my company had the best quarter we've ever had," she says. "I love doing new things. I love scouting; I love going into a place that's well-managed and dissecting it, going into a place that's not well managed and dissecting that. I love working with the merchandise we sell; I love making deals. I'm not only in the bar business. That's what keeps it fresh and interesting."