Kermit Ruffins says he has cut a deal to lease the former home of Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge.
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.
“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.
The ramshackle barroom at 1500 North Claiborne Avenue served as the headquarters for rhythm & blues eccentric Ernie K-Doe, purveyor of the hit “Mother-in-Law.” After K-Doe’s death in 2001, his widow, Antoinette, operated the Mother-in-Law Lounge as a shrine to her late husband – complete with a life-size mannequin she dressed in the real K-Doe’s clothes – and quasi-community center for an assortment of Treme old-timers and young, bohemian musicians.
Antoinette died of a heart attack on Mardi Gras morning 2009. Her daughter Betty Fox, manager of an auto-parts store in Memphis, Tenn., moved to New Orleans and took over the Mother-in-Law Lounge. But she struggled with various financial and logistical challenges, cars crashing into the front door, and the fact that she wasn’t her irrepressible mother.
“The only person who could run Ernie K-Doe’s Mother-in-Law Lounge was Antoinette K-Doe,” Fox said in December. “I did all I could do. I’m exhausted. It’s too stressful.”
She closed the Lounge after a Dec. 12 farewell show, and cleared out the remaining K-Doe memorabilia.
Ruffins says he has not yet settled on a name for the new enterprise. He’s unsure if it will include the words “Mother-in-Law.”
Fueled by Antoinette K-Doe’s legendary red beans and rice, artist Daniel Fuselier worked off-and-on for seven years to cover the exterior of the two-story building with dozens of vibrant, larger-than-life renderings, including cartoonish portraits of the K-Does. 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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