It was February 2003 (yes, you read that right) and I had just quit my job as a financial analyst. At 23 years-old, living in New York City, what do you do when you quit a job because you feel miserable? You go get your drink on with your girlfriends! U-duh! At the time, I lived with my twin sister. She had moved with me to the City to try and make it in the fashion industry… which basically meant we were two unemployed, broke-ass chicks with a desire to let loose for one night.
Someone suggested we go to a bar called Hogs & Heifers in the Meatpacking District. They said: girls basically drink for free, especially if it’s a bachelorette party. So, without hesitation, we bought ourselves a few veils, a fake engagement ring, called another unemployed girlfriend to join and headed off to Hogs. We had zero idea what was about to happen and how it would change my life forever.
Back in those days, the meatpacking district still was exactly as the name describes it: a neighborhood full of meat packers… with a couple of night clubs, a handful of restaurants and lots of bikers. We walked up to a corner, and there’s a line wrapped around it with all kinds of people waiting to get in. When we finally get to the door, we are greeted by a bouncer. I had never seen a man that big. It was none other than Big Joe. When he saw the veils, he lit up and said: “Another one bites the dust, hey?” He laughed and opened the door. When that door opened, it felt like I was stepping into a different world. The music was loud, the bartenders were screaming, the crowd was wild.
We go to the bar and the sassiest, yet coolest chick I had ever seen is ordering us to get shots with our beers. I wasn’t much of a drinker at the time, so i ask for a Baby Guiness. Looking back, I’m surprised Justine (the cool bartender) didn’t rip me a new one when I proudly told her the shot I wanted. The three of us take our shots, and I hear Justine yell on the megaphone: “I have a bachelorette party here, who wants to see them dance on the bar?”
Within ten minutes of walking into Hogs, I had taken a shot, chugged a beer and was happily dancing on top of the bar! When the song ended, the other bartender (Little Michelle – never to be confused with Big Mama!!) jumps up on the bar with us to get the crowd cheering. I start yelling at the crowd as well to see if I can get them riled up.
That’s when I see this blonde woman sitting quietly in the corner of the bar call Justine over and hand her a business card. When I get off the bar, Justine hands me the card and asks: “Are you looking for a job?”
I immediately say yes. Justine follows up with: “Good. That’s Michelle. She owns this place. She liked what she saw. She says if you’re interested, give her a call on Monday.”
I look over to the corner of the bar and I lock eyes with Michelle. She smiles. I take that as an invitation and walk over. I put my hand out and introduce myself. We shake hands. She says: “Oh good, a girl who knows how to shake hands. I hate weak handshakes. You interested in a job? If so, call the number on the card. Don’t expect me to answer you on your first call. If you really want this job, you gotta show it. And it starts with persistence.”
I don’t remember much of the rest of the night because… well, we were three girls on a (fake) bachelorette party at Hogs & Heifers on a Friday night!
But I did remember to put away Michelle’s business card and to call her incessantly for what ended up being two weeks of daily messages left with John Stanton. Knowing John the way I do now, I’m not sure if the messages were ever passed on to Michelle, but finally one day she took my call! I told her I felt like I was her psycho ex-girlfriend stalking her, but I was okay with that if it meant I got the job. She laughed. We talked for about 30 minutes. We hung up. I got the job.
It wasn’t clear to me yet how important that moment was in my life. I was just happy to have a job at the coolest bar ever! Well, 17 years later, this little bar is still a big part of my life. I met some of my MOST treasured friends at this bar. I found my strength and my voice behind this bar. I paid for my Master’s at NYU with the money I made at this bar. I learned the value of hard work at this bar. I discovered the importance of being a strong, independent woman because of this bar. I changed careers and ended up finding my passion because of this bar… The list truly goes on as to how this little hole-in-the-wall dive bar has changed my life.
But if I had to sum it up, I would say this:
I am who I am today because of the opportunity Big Mama (Michelle Dell) gave me that day. She opened her doors and her heart to a crazy little Brazilian, and always stood by my personal and professional decisions, even when it meant she would have to let me go. I left Hogs New York in May 2011 for a job in Miami. But I never left the Hogs family, and I never will… Because when you’re family, it’s forever.
Sharing for the first time ever, photos from D’s camera in New York!!
This one is for the old school f ckers…
D currently resides somewhere in Florida… She also still returns to Hogs & Heifers Saloon Las Vegas to tend bar at our larger events, which is raddd!
WE LOVE YOU D!
The History of Hogs & Heifers Saloon:
The idea for opening a bar and calling it Hogs & Heifers was conceived in, of all places, a bar. Allan Dell was a self-proclaimed functioning alcoholic and figured he spent enough time sitting at a bar and that he might as well make some money while he sat there. Allan’s two friends and drinking buddies were a Master Carpenter and a Graphic Design Artist and he talked them into helping him build a bar. They would all drink for free and get laid regularly and for three broke guys in their early to mid twenties, who could ask for anything more. Allan’s father agreed to finance his project if he could find an experienced bar owner to “father” him in the business. Enter Tom McNeil, legend in the Dive Bar business. McNeil owned the Village Idiot in Manhattan’s East Side, which was the Boys’ favorite watering hole, where they could sit for hours drinking ice cold Pabst Blue Ribbon for a $1.75 a can. Allan knew that he wanted to open a bar that had to do with motorcycles and women and the original logo did, in fact, include an illustration of a chopper. The Boys were trying to come up with a name, while sitting in the Village Idiot one afternoon…”Hogs & something”. On the wall above the bar was a sign for a Heifer Auction, and a heifer being a cow that has not yet been bred, is essentially a virgin cow. The name Hogs & Heifers was born. The fact that the bar ended up being in a real meat market was simply due to the affordable rent at the time, but it was a perfect match and had a great deal to do with the success of the business.
Hogs & Heifers Saloon was to be an all American classic country and southern rock-n-roll dive bar. Allan knew he wanted it to have the look and feel of a gin mill and that he wanted to hang “stuff” all over the walls. Other than that, there was little else that he had thought about. He had a lot of friends who liked to drink and planned on throwing a party for them every night. Allan may never have imagined that it would turn into the famous bar it is today, but it was absolutely his pride and joy and he considered it his greatest achievement and reveled in its quick success.
Having entered the picture prior to its opening, Michelle Dell was the first bartender to be hired. The routine performed and style of dress worn by the bartenders behind the bar, which has made Hogs & Heifers famous, was born from Michelle’s heart. Hogs & Heifers opened in November of 1992 during an unseasonably cold winter. There was literally no heat source of any kind in the bar and it was so cold you could often see your own breath. Both Allan and Michelle believed in the notion of less is more when it came to dressing behind the bar and it was always freezing; did we mention the bar had no heat? Finally, Allan bought these little space heaters that did next to nothing to provide heat and with Necessity being the Mother of all Invention, Michelle began dancing on the bar–in the empty bar–as a means to keep warm. She would throw a few dollars in the jukebox and just get up on the bar and dance. Little did she know it would become the trademark theme of Hogs & Heifers and lead to countless celebrities dancing on the bar and donating their bras. The Julia Roberts photo was seen around the world and her bra still hangs there today, albeit hidden beneath some 18,000 bras! Michelle’s famous routine has inspired a Major Motion Picture and a league of copy cat bars.
Essentially, Allan and Michelle, and their friends, were just a bunch of kids with nothing to lose and they threw a party that they enjoyed. They were fortunate and blessed that so many others would love to come to their party and would do so repeatedly. The two were married in Reno, Nevada, on November 16th, 1993. Allan Dell passed away on June 7, 1997. Hogs & Heifers continues to be run by Michelle Dell who was the sole proprietor of the New York City location. She now lives in Las Vegas, close to her favorite saloon!