A third generation New Yorker, Michelle grew up in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village in the early 70’s, and was raised by her ever determined mother Susan, and her brother Greg. Divorcing shortly after Michelle’s birth, her mother went against the grain of the time choosing to raise her children as a single mother. She waitressed to pay the bills, and in 1976 she and one of her co-workers, opened a restaurant called Sabor. Thus, began Michelle’s education in the service industry.
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.
Over the years, Susan would go on to open several more successful restaurants in Manhattan and she would later spend 13 years working for Martha Stewarts Living magazine where she became a VP and Food Editor. Today she is a respected and sought after food stylist, working with magazines such as Oprah, Bon Appetit, Essence & Domino to name a few.
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.
Following Allan’s death in 1997, Michelle continued on as the sole proprietor of the New York City location until it tragically closed August 23rd, 2015.
In 2003 the city of Las Vegas came knocking at our front door looking for a diamond in the rough to help launch its’ Downtown revitalization project. Loving the odds, Michelle rolled the dice, opening H&H in Vegas in 2005, and she is to be the heart and soul behind the daily mayhem, madness, and the sheer magic that is Hogs & Heifers Saloon.
Below are a few recent portraits of Michelle, followed by more about the history of Hogs & Heifers Saloon. Grab a brew and keep on scrollin’…
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!
Click here for a virtual tour of our New York City Location. Could you care less about that virtual world shit? There are some good old-fashioned film photos below…