Filed Under:  Entertainment, Local, News

Kermit’s Tremé Mother-in-Law Lounge – open at last; Speakeasy likely to close

27th January 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Wearing a dashiki shirt and his usual big smile, Kermit Ruffins celebrated the grand opening of the Kermit’s Tremé Mother-In-Law Lounge on Martin Luther King Day, January 20, 2014. The noted trumpeter and vocalist “held court” while sitting at the corner of the bar in the club that was originally established by legendary R&B vocalist Ernie K-Doe and his wife, Antoinette, in 1994 in order to revive the extraordinarily eclectic singer’s career and become his headquarters. Nothing could have seemed more natural than to have the much-loved Ruffins take over operations. His robust presence made it easy to speculate about what might have become of the iconic North Claiborne Street nightclub, which closed its doors in December 2010, if it had fallen into different hands.

Live music, for now all provided by New Orleans natives, will once again emanate from the stage in the back room of the lounge starting this February. On Monday nights, the versatile vocalist and keyboardist Bobby Love will hold a regular spot along with soul man, vocalist James “The Sleeping Giant” Winfield. Wednesdays feature Mervin “Kid Merv” Campbell, a gifted trumpeter who performed with an array of New Orleans finest brass bands and knows and blows the tradition. Every other Friday, Guitar Lightnin’ Lee takes over for some old-school rhythm and blues. The musicians will play for the door – either a $5 or $10 cover plus tips – and except for Lee, who will come on at 10:30 pm, will hit early at 7 p.m. The weekends and other nights are still up in the air with Ruffins still undecided about which evening he’ll perform. “I’m enjoying having my Thursdays off,” he says, obviously referring to recently curtailing his over 20-year standing gig at Vaughan’s Lounge.Mother-in-Law-lounge

Ruffins was onboard with his Barbeque Swingers for the grand opening and strode onstage appropriately, for the day, playing “We Shall Overcome.” Glen David Andrews took up the strong sentiment with an amazing, gospel-like vigor vocally and on trombone.

Before its closure, the Mother-In-Law Lounge was a gathering place on Carnival Day for Mardi Gras Indians traveling on North Claiborne towards Orleans Avenue. Antoinette K-Doe, who passed away on Mardi Gras morning in 2009, was responsible for rejuvenating the baby doll tradition that once was an integral part of the Black community’s Carnival Day. The club naturally became a jump-off spot for the group. The Northside Skull & Bone gang, which starts its wanderings at the Backstreet Cultural Museum, would make a stop at the Mother-In-Law.

Ruffins promises that those traditions will continue. “We’ll be open bright and early at 8 o’clock in the morning on Mardi Gras Day,” he proclaims. “Hopefully, we’ll get the baby dolls and skeletons out there. I remember that there was always a nice, huge, happy crowd out there.”

Another probable big change in the life of Kermit Ruffins is that he is seriously considering closing his Basin Street restaurant and club, Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy.

“I think, and I’m quite sure, that I’ll be closing the Speakeasy down the day after Mardi Gras,” announces Ruffins, who had signed the lease for the Mother-In-Law just before the Basin Street locale became available. “I always wanted a restaurant and it scratched that itch. I figured, ‘I’m not going to be able to open it {the Mother-In-Law} for a long time,’ so I thought I could have both of them and I jumped on it. But it’s stopping me from partyin’ physically and financially – especially financially. I finally got a day job, and I did it for awhile and then I got tired of it. It’s workin’ me.

There isn’t a kitchen at the Mother-In Law though Ruffins says he’ll be barbequing from time to time. “I’ll make sure that I’ll always have red beans there like Antoinette used to do and for the big shows, I’ll get one of my barbeque friends there like I did for the opening.”

Ruffins wisely incorporated his personality and image into both the lounge’s name and look while keeping Ernie and Antoinette K-Doe a core. What if a new owner had decided to completely paint over the bright murals depicting the couple? What if the name Mother-In-Law, which comes from K-Doe’s 1961, number one hit, had been vanquished forever?

Minus the renowned, life-sized mannequin of K-Doe, photos and other decorative paraphernalia that used to prevail, the interior of the lounge, understandably, is no longer a shrine to the vocalist, the self-proclaimed “Emperor of the Universe.” Ruffins purposely has kept the decor simple.

“I like that good old empty wall feeling – I think a lot is a little,” says Ruffins who has installed bars that line the walls and plans to purchase stools. He’s eager to get a big picture of Ernie and Antoinette to grace the front room. “I would like to have K-Doe in there from time to time,” he says of the mannequin though he doesn’t know who has possession of it. Ruffins will definitely install big screens in order for football fans to watch the Saints and with a camera directed at the stage allow folks in the front room to watch the band.

A problem with the club has always been the wall that separates the bar room from the music room. With the help of his friend, known widely simply as Bullet who is the owner of Bullet’s Sports Bar where the trumpeter blows every Tuesday, Ruffins hopes to remedy that.

“Bullet says he can cut a hole in that wall with the help of a contractor for little or nothing,” Ruffins explains, “so hopefully we’ll have a nice peep-in window. The upstairs (apartment) is almost finished, so if I’m too drunk to drive home, I’ll just go upstairs and go to sleep. Friends and family might want to spend the night too.

Another signature element of the Mother-In-Law Lounge was how Antoinette K-Doe had created a comfortable, garden park in the adjacent lot complete with a Hawaiian-style Tiki hut bar.

“We’ll probably put a bamboo fence around it (the lot) and fix up the Tiki bar real good,” says Ruffins who has been paying for the grass to be cut for several years. “When the crowd gets big, we’ll open the (side) door. Since the club is no smoking, it’s a nice spot for people to go out there to smoke.”

Ruffins’ daughter Twanna Gib­son, who’s been running the Speakeasy, holds the club’s license. “Basically, it’s her club for the taking and I’m just more of a frontman,” Ruffins explains.

“I was so blessed to see K-Doe every day for about two years when he lived next door to Joe’s Cozy Corner,” Ruffins says of an era about 22 years ago when Joe’s, a now-defunct Tremé landmark, was swinging hard.

With Ruffins at the helm, the Mother-In-Law Lounge is destined to maintain the spirited atmosphere that gained the club its world-wide reputation as a place to find the real New Orleans. Ruffins personifies that spirit as did Ernie and Antoinette K-Doe. As K-Doe, who left us on July 5, 2001, would sing, “Taint It the Truth.”

This article originally published in the January 27, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Readers Comments (0)

You must be logged in to post a comment.