January 6, 2011

Mother-in-Law Lounge. Photo by Barry Yeoman

In Crescent City Blues and in the pages of this blog, we’ve chronicled the ups and downs of New Orleans’ famous Mother-in-Law Lounge. Founded by singer Ernie K-Doe and his wife Antoinette K-Doe in 1994, it was a cozy space full of K-Doe memorabilia that became a second living room for many of the city’s R&B musicians and fans.

Kermit Ruffins. Photo by Elliott Hammer, reprinted under a Creative Commons license.

The Mother-in-Law survived Ernie’s death in 2001, then Hurricane Katrina in ’05, then Antoinette’s death in ’09. But last month Antoinette’s daughter Betty Fox closed the lounge, saying she could no longer afford to keep it going. The final show, we’ve been told, was joyful, nostalgic, and a bit heartbreaking at the end. Musician John T. Lewis wrote to us, “No one seemed to have the ability to leave. Betty put us stragglers out at 1:30 a.m., long after everybody else had left. We all forgot we were leaving. Didn’t seem to be any doors and no one cared.”

We have learned never to assume any change is permanent in New Orleans. Today’s Times-Picayune carried the news that trumpeter Kermit Ruffins will lease the site of the Mother-in-Law, on Claiborne Avenue in Treme, and a new bar will open there. It might even keep the Mother-in-Law name. Reported Keith Spera, “Ruffins and the building’s owner have agreed on terms for a longterm lease and expect to sign paperwork by early next week, Ruffins said. He hopes to open by Mardi Gras.”

The article continued:

“I jumped on it before anyone else did,” he said Thursday.

Ruffins has a month-to-month lease on the nearby Sidney’s Saloon, where he sometimes performs. He is a hands-off owner. He books the occasional band, but mostly leaves the day-to-day operation to a manager.

He anticipates a similar arrangement at his new bar. “I’m going to have as much live music as I can,” he said.

What about the incredible murals that adorn every side of the building, painted by artist Daniel Fuselier over seven years?

Regardless of what Ruffins names the new bar, he intends to leave the murals in place.

“I can’t mess up that beautiful artwork,” he said. “The outside is going to stay the same.”

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