Susan wasted no time in putting her children to work, both as a means to keep them by her side and to provide them with the tools of consciousness and appreciation for the value of a hard earned dollar, and earn it they did, from setting the tables, to washing the dishes. Michelle would prove that even as a child, she was as capable (and in most cases more so) than most adults. At the age of nine, Michelle could be seen riding her blue bicycle with mini ape hangers and a banana seat through the streets of Manhattan with, unknown to any onlookers, thousands of dollars in Amex chits in her pockets, furiously pedaling her way to the bank to cash them in.
Michelle attended public schools in New York City, and was accepted into the High School of Performing Arts where she spent her teenage years as a student in the Drama Department. She went on to attend SUNY Purchase, where she spent her first year of College before transferring to Bennington College in Bennington Vermont, on scholarship where she double majored in Literature and Psychology. Bartending and waiting tables throughout her college years, Michelle managed to finance her education and make ends meet, but she left Bennington in her senior year, before completing her thesis, due to a family tragedy.
Intending to finish her thesis in absentia, Michelle quickly set about finding work in Manhattan in order to pay her rent often holding several jobs waiting tables and bartending. Making ends meet, quickly became Michelle’s priority and completing her thesis fell to the waste side. .
Michelle returned back to New York to stay. In early November 1992, Michelle walked into what would soon become Hogs & Heifers Saloon while the bar was still under construction. Wearing blue jeans, cowboy boots, a cowboy hat, a cropped denim jacket and a long white duster, Michelle met Allan Dell, who upon meeting her said “You’re pretty and you’ve got the look I want and if you steal from me, I will throw you in the fucking river”. He hired her on the spot. Laughing about it both then and now, Michelle says it was love at first site!
Allan moved in with Michelle that December, they were engaged to be married within six months and foregoing a huge wedding, they eloped in Reno Nevada and were married on November 16th, 1993 on a cliff overlooking Lake Tahoe by the esteemed Nevada Reverend, Dr. Love.
Hogs & Heifers Saloon opened for business on the day after Thanksgiving in November 1992 with Michelle behind the bar. The early days were tough, mostly because there were no customers, and therefore no money. That being said, there was also no heat and Michelle would come to work wearing tiny little leather halter tops in the dead of winter, and with the always wet floor (rubber floor mats were not in the budget yet) Michelle’s motorcycle boot clad feet were cold, wet and covered in cement! Alone in the bar and freezing, Michelle started dancing on the bar as a means to keep warm. She says that her clogging on the bar was inspired by a scene from the movie A Coal Miner’s Daughter, starring Sissy Spacek. Michelle had a love for country music and immediately felt at home at Hogs & Heifers. She would walk to work in the morning from her West Village apartment, through the Gansevoort Meat Market and invite all of the meat packers and construction workers to come visit her at the bar, and they did! Hogs & Heifers had a bustling day business, long before the night time business caught on. On any given day you could walk into Hogs & Heifers before 6PM and find a bar full of meat packers, iron workers, construction workers, plumbers, electricians, operating engineers, dock workers, city workers and so on.
On December 23rd 1992, a freezing cold night that first winter, Michelle and Allan were the only two people in the bar, Michelle behind the bar and Allan drinking on the other end, when in walked a man wearing a baseball hat. He sat down and ordered up a drink and he and Allan and Michelle spent a few hours talking about any variety of things. He was getting ready to leave and handed his hat to Michelle as a parting gift, when Allan suddenly asked him what he did. He replied that he was a DJ. On Christmas Eve of 1992 Hogs & Heifers was given its first real press hit, when legendary Tony Pig gave it a shout out during his WPLJ Radio show.
Over the last eighteen years Michelle and Hogs & Heifers Saloon have been repeatedly featured in: People Magazine, Playboy Magazine, The New York Times, Rush & Malloy’s Daily News Column and The New York Post’s Page Six, to name just a few. Hogs & Heifers has also been featured in several movies, and countless entertainment and travel shows, including: Entertainment Tonight, E! TV, and Law & Order. In the early 1990’s, Brad Pitt insisted that his first interview with Siskel & Ebert be shot at Hogs & Heifers. The best part was that he arrived and departed alone on his bicycle.
The list of celebrities who have been to the bar, danced on the bar and have even poured drinks behind the bar, is too long to list. However, some of the earliest and most memorable celebrity moments helped Hogs & Heifers cement its reputation, and have helped it to become a world wide recognized brand.
The photo seen round the world was one such moment, and it happened one night in September of 1995, when perhaps the most famous celebrity photo ever taken at the bar was shot; it was of Julia Roberts, who was then at the height of her tabloid fame. Julia came in unannounced and proceeded to dance on the bar with the bartenders, and then, as is custom, she donated her black, Maiden Form 34B Bra to the growing collection.
Little did any of them realize, that photo would shoot around the world like a lightning bolt, and make the cover of the New York Post, as well as become the lead item of every entertainment show in the world for days. Although Hogs & Heifers had already become a successful and established business, the photo turned it into a World Famous business – overnight – and soon after the customers began lining up down the block to get in.
Ironically Michelle was not present for either the Julia Roberts or Paul McCartney appearances, and she has always regretted that fact, however, she has hosted countless other major celebrities, all of whom have walked out the door feeling like they just left an old friend in their old hangout back home, and many times returning every chance they have when they are in the neighborhood to see both her, and the bar.
So what draws celebrities to Hogs & Heifers? Michelle responds by saying that Celebrities are like anyone else, if they have a good time somewhere, they tell their friends, however, in most cases, their friends are often celebrities as well. “Everyone is swept away by the moment at Hogs & Heifers”, says Michelle, “we have a unique ability to bring out the best and the worst in people”, she laughs. But perhaps most of all, it’s New York City, and people aren’t really fazed by much, especially the H&H regulars, so they don’t really bother the celebrities, or perhaps even notice them and the famous can relax and be themselves and for a few hours remember what it was like to be a regular person.
On June 7th, 1997 Allan Dell passed away suddenly and the life and times of Michelle Dell, Allan’s friends and family, and Hogs & Heifers Saloon, were changed forever in an instant. Allan’s death came as a shock to many and was front page news across the Nation. His funeral procession led by the Hogs & Heifers Bronco and followed by motorcycles as far as the eye could see, was accompanied by a New York City Police Motorcycle Escort and spanned several blocks of New York City arriving at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home where hundreds upon hundreds of people crowded inside to pay their respects. When the funeral services began, a loud speaker had to be turned on outside the funeral home because so many people were unable to fit inside. In a television documentary on the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, a spokesperson for the funeral home talked about Allan’s funeral as among one of their most memorable in that bikers were standing next to women in Chanel Suits standing next to Vietnam Veterans in full uniform; and that it was such an eclectic assortment of people with such an outpouring of emotion for one man, who had clearly moved so many.
After Allan’s funeral, there was a great deal of speculation as to whether or not Michelle could keep the bar going in Allan’s absence, and the regulars were taking bets as to how fast she would be out of business. Michelle was firm in her determination to honor Allan’s memory and the memory of what they had built together, by seeing to it that Hogs & Heifers did not fade into obscurity. She put on a strong front and went to work every day and has always been grateful for the overwhelming support she was given by her family, and that of several close friends and long term employees at the bar. With the support of her husbands two best friend’s, one of whom had been an employee since the first day, they stood by her side through what would be a very difficult few years.
Over the next three years Michelle endured an estate battle as well as a year long trademark battle with an establishment that was using the Hogs & Heifers name in Peoria, Illinois. For two years straight Michelle and her controller skipped a pay check twice a month to meet payment deadlines and the mounting legal fees. It took several years for her to get her company back on track financially, but not before one more blow would come her way.
In Early 1999 the movie Coyote Ugly went into pre production and it was apparent almost immediately that the movie would be borrowing more than a few key elements from Hogs & Heifers. In fact, they outright copied it down to the memorabilia on the wall. They even tried to copy Michelle herself, who bears more than a striking resemblance to the main character Lil, played by the actress Maria Bello, and whose attitude in the film, while certainly dramatized for the screen, also seems to bear more than just a coincidental similarity to the well known management style of Michelle Dell.
Michelle was approached early on prior to production to be the location site for the bar in the film. After learning that they would not use the Hogs & Heifers name, she turned the offer down, saying that she would not lend her trademark theme, look and routine to a movie with the name of another real competing bar as its title. Soon after her bartenders began to report to her that a casting agent had come to see them at work and had asked them to come in for an audition for a movie about a bar. Upon attending the audition, the girls were told that they were not looking for actresses but were looking for bartender consultants to work on the film, with the caveat that they quit their jobs at Hogs & Heifers. Crew members working on the film, that were customers of Hogs & Heifers, would walk in say to Michelle, “they are telling us to build YOUR bar!” The exterior shots for the bar scene, in Coyote Ugly were filmed less then 500 feet away from the front door of Hogs & Heifers and is almost an identical replica of the façade of Hogs & Heifers at the time. The interior front section of the bar is also a replica.
“People were coming in daily holding scripts and drawing pads and drafting pictures of our interior, we were constantly throwing them out”, says Michelle. Tyra banks came in during filming, “but it was like pulling teeth getting her up on the bar”, says Michelle. The women eventually hired as the bartender consultant worked for Michelle as a bartender at Hogs & Heifers for four years and left within weeks of Allan’s death. The producers of Coyote Ugly have said that they used bars all over the country for inspiration, but at the end of the day, Michelle has always said, “if it looks like a rip off and sounds like a rip off, then it must be a rip off!”
Still reeling from the past years estate and trademark battles, suing the production was not a financial option for Michelle and she allowed the press to decide; and, in fact, the majority of press on the film Coyote Ugly makes mention of the surprising similarities between the bar portrayed in the film and Hogs & Heifers Saloon. Of the success of the Coyote Ugly bars and their owner Lilliana Lovell, Michelle says she is happy to see Lil experience so much success. Any woman who can pull off owning a bar deserves to have all the success in the world, but she will contend to this day, albeit her beef is with Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney, that the success of the Coyote Ugly name was built on her own blood and sweat, in that the bar portrayed in the movie is a clear copy of her establishment. “They even ripped off my own personal sense of style”, Michelle says, recalling the cover of Maxim Magazine that arrived in her mailbox one morning where gracing the front page were 5 of the film’s actresses decked out in pleather lace up pants with huge belt buckles, tiny pleather tops and cowboy hats. With fifteen pairs of custom made, lace up, low slung leather pants lining her closet walls, twenty or so cowboy hats each fitted in their own hat cubby, countless pairs of motorcycle and cowboy boots, more belt buckles than you can purchase on E-Bay and hundreds of leather halter tops for bartending in, Michelle has no issue calling the producers on that one saying “I created that look and I did it a full 8 years earlier”. The character of Lil in the movie also bore more than a striking physical resemblance to Michelle (and oddly enough does not resemble the real Coyote Ugly owner, Lilianna Lovell). They even managed to find an actor who resembled Michelle’s long time Head of Security, which was likely not an easy task. The dance routine performed on the bar at Hogs & Heifers was never part of the original Coyote Ugly Saloon’s bar theme and to this day Michelle teaches her bartenders to dance on the bar saying she does not need to hire a choreographer to teach others what she can do herself. The reality is, Michelle says, “no real bartender is wearing mini-skirts and heels, and sliding across a wooden bar on your butt would leave you with an ass full of splinters, the whole thing was a joke, but hey, it certainly made money for Lil’…”. “Timing is everything in this world”, says Michelle and sometimes you’re a frontiersman clearing a path for others and sometimes you’re walking close enough behind on that path, and with the view cleared for you, you can be fortunate enough to capitalize on the vision made possible by another”.
In June of 2000 Michelle was asked to be one of six women selected to ride from Colorado to San Francisco for a Discovery Channel special called Motorcycle Women. The show aired in September of 2000 and was a pivotal moment in Michelle’s life. Motorcycle Women profiled and highlighted the lives of three east coast women from New York City and three west coast women who all shared the love of riding motorcycles. Motorcycle Women was a especially beneficial to Michelle’s business, in that she was one of the only women in the show who had an actual establishment that viewers could go to and meet her, and they did. Michelle believes that the most important message that Motorcycle Women relayed to its viewers, was the one that broke the stereotype of the typical “Biker Chick”, who can be seen plastered in every motorcycle magazine in the world, on the back of some guy’s bike in various stages of undress. These six women were on their own bikes and dictating their own direction in life completely in control of their own destinies.
Hogs & Heifers Saloon NYC Hosts two major charity events annually, The Annual Gary R. Marano Memorial Toys for Tots Run to benefit St. Mary’s Foundation for Children in Bayside Queens, NY, and Bras for Breast Cancer which benefits the Breast and Prostate Cancer Research Foundation in New York City. Hogs & Heifers Las Vegas presently hosts four major annual charity events, Hog Wild for Kids to benefit the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation’s week long summer program, Camp Cartwheel, sending kids in treatment along with their siblings to camp for a week. The Miracle on 3rd Street Hogs & Heifers Toys for Tots Run to benefit the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation and Sunrise Children’s Hospital. The Bras for Breast Cancer charity event takes place annually during the month of February and then comes together with 97.1 The KOMP’s Save the Boobs ride which benefits the American Cancer Society. Tommy’s Ride is an annual ride in honor of a former H&H Las Vegas employee who was the victim of a violent crime that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Tommy’s Ride benefits “Kids on the Go”, a program of the Variety Children’s Charity that focuses on adaptive mobility equipment, providing childeren with severe disabilities specialty wheelchairs, adaptive bicycles and prosthetic limbs so they may continue to reach their physically active potential. Both Hogs & Heifers Saloons in NYC and Las Vegas contribute regularly to multiple community fundraisers by making monetary donations and giving gift certificates for goods and services, as well as providing staffing assistance. Additionally, both establishments donate a percentage of their sales to various Veteran organizations on every Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Rolling Thunder.
On the morning of September 11, 2001 Michelle was getting dressed for work when the phone rang and a friend told her to turn on the news. As they looked on in horror with the rest of the world, the first Tower fell. After the friend safely arrived at her apartment, they both frantically moved to the roof of her West Village Apartment building, where what they saw and heard sent chills down their spines, and as smoke and ash billowed through the air just blocks away, a fighter Jet screamed overhead, clearly prepared for battle. As the eerie silence was broken, they could see and hear Army troop carriers rolling down the Westside Highway toward the buildings – a sight that they thought they would never see in New York City, and one that they hoped they would never see again. America was under attack.
After calling her friends and family, the next two phone calls would be the hardest for Michelle to make. J.D. Levi and Mike Warnock were both Port Authority Police Officers and were very close friends of Michelle’s and many members of her staff. Mike Warnock had been a Marine and was a Navy Sea Bee Reservist, and had been a close and loyal friend of Michelle’s for many years. J.D. Levi had been one of the first customers to come to Hogs & Heifers when it first opened and he was definitely their first regular customer. J.D. was given the first leather Hogs & Heifers Patch by Allan and Michelle, which have become a legendary prized possession of some of Hogs & Heifers most valued employees and respected customers. Less than 50 patches have been distributed in 18 years. J.D. was loved by the staff of Hogs & Heifers and was like a father to many of them. He called Michelle his daughter and he consoled many a teary eyed young lady and gave supportive advice to many confused young men that revolved through the doors of Hogs & Heifers. Mike Warnock, as it turns out had been away at a mandatory Reservist Training Camp weekend on September 11th, sadly Mike lost his partner of 20 years on that fateful day. J.D. Levi’s remains were found at the World Trade Center under Tower Number 1. J.D. was originally scheduled to be off on Tuesday September 11th, but picked up an extra shift at the last minute, which would enable him to leave town early that week and go to his country house with his fiancé for a long relaxing weekend. His unit was one of the first responder teams to arrive at the World Trade Center and he was lost to the world when the first Tower fell. Ironically J.D. had been one of the first responders to the 1993 bombing, in which he helped to save countless others. He spent his last evening on this earth shooting pool at Hogs & Heifers with his friends. His funeral included a Port Authority Police Motorcycle Unit Escort from Hogs & Heifers to the church where the riders joined the funeral profession.
After September 11th, Hogs & Heifers began a fundraising effort to benefit The Port Authority Police World Trade Center Disaster Survivor’s Fund. Donating the first $10,000 herself, Michelle posted a goal chart at the front of Hogs & Heifers aiming to raise $50,000.00 by that Thanksgiving. In the end Hogs & Heifers raised over $90,000.00 which was donated in full to the Port Authority fund. Michelle and Hogs & Heifers Saloon continue to donate money annually to the Port Authority PD Widow’s and Orphan’s Fund.
In 2002 a man walked through the doors of Hogs & Heifers in New York, introduced himself, and said that he worked for the City of Las Vegas, and was traveling around the country looking for businesses that would be a good fit with the, yet to be created, Downtown Las Vegas Entertainment District. Michelle told him that she was interested and to let her know when they were “really” ready. Eighteen months later that call finally came, and Michelle was off to Vegas. Michelle fell in love with the Downtown area of Vegas saying that it reminded her of the early days of Hogs & Heifers when meat packers, club goers, transvestite hookers, and drug dealers shared the streets and went about their business on an ever rotating 24/7 schedule. The idea of being able to self finance the project, as opposed to a Strip location which would have involved investors, was also much more appealing.
After two years of lengthy negotiations and monthly visits, a downtown location on 3rd Street opened, just one block North of the Freemont Street experience complete with designated motorcycle parking directly in front of her establishment, located just one block North of the popular Freemont Street Experience and directly across the street from a large Hotel/Casino that was in the midst of a complete renovation. Unfortunately, the hotel project turned into a debacle and the promise to renovate fell flat, leaving Michelle to do what she does best, building up a neighborhood one customer at a time. The hotel/casino property is now slated to be open by the end of 2013. Hotel or no hotel, with a 20 year lease and nearly 7,000 square feet of space, including a large merchandise store and huge storefront, Hogs & Heifers Las Vegas, opened for business on July 6th 2005. A large portion of the memorabilia that adorns the walls of Hogs & Heifers Las Vegas was trucked in from the former Upper East Side Hogs & Heifers location, which had recently been sold. The soft opening was a decorating party where guests were asked to bring memorbilia to hang on the walls, making those who donated an integral part of the Las Vegas establishment’s history.
The Official Grand Opening was held on September 14th 2005 where Mayor Oscar Goodman arrived as a passenger on the back of Michelle’s motorcycle and presented Michelle with a Key to the City. In return, Michelle presented Mayor Goodman with a brass engraved Bar Key to Hogs & Heifers.
It will always be the guy in jeans and construction boots walking in my door ahead of the one in Gucci’s standing on line. While she can appreciate the fashion sense, she reveres the average Joe, after a lifetime of hands on work, Michelle considers herself one of them – just an average “Jane”…
The spirit of Hogs and Heifers will live on long into the future, and it is about the atmosphere that Allan and Michelle Dell created, which in short, is about; Family, Good Friends, Good Times, and celebrating Americana…