Kermit Ruffins is set to take over the Mother-in Law-Lounge on Claiborne Avenue in the Treme, saving another endangered landmark on the New Orleans musical landscape.
While the Treme neighborhood and the working musicians that call it home have received worldwide attention over the past year thanks to the eponymous HBO series, too many of the historic neighborhood’s music venues have closed their doors over the past decade.
The once thriving neighborhood saw many of its lifelong residents scattered by Hurricane Katrina five years ago, a loss that has made it hard to sustain any kind of business in the area, especially one dependent on a steady stream of bodies through the door.
But Ruffins still maintains hope that the Treme will bounce back better than before.
“A lot of the bars closed down because they just weren’t sustainable,” Ruffins says. “But the Treme’s coming back. Sooner or later the Circle Food Store will open back up and that whole avenue will be back up and running.”
When legendary New Orleans musician Ernie K-Doe’s wife and longtime business partner Antoinette K-Doe passed away on Mardi Gras Day 2009, the future didn’t look good for the couple’s Mother-in-Law Lounge on the corner of North Claiborne and Columbus. Her daughter Betty Fox took over after her mother’s death, but couldn’t keep the legendary bar open. When Ruffins saw boards over the windows, he knew he had to do something.
“I was driving around one day and I saw that it was closed, and I thought that looked like a nice corner to have a nice bar,” he says. “I want to reopen K-Doe’s place and help keep his legacy alive. I love that neighborhood. I have a bar around the corner, down the street from the Candlelight.”
Ruffins said he intends to continue the traditions the K-Does started when they opened the Mother-in-Law in 1994.
“It’ll be the same bar, just under my ownership,” he says. “We’ll have as much live entertainment as we possibly can.”
With any luck, Ruffins hopes to have the bar open by Jazz Fest. While this will be the second bar Ruffins owns after he purchased Sidney’s Saloon at the corner of St. Bernard and St. Claude two years ago, he said he has no plans to start a second career as a club owner.
“I do everything really spontaneous,” he says. “I never really plan through anything, and whenever I see an opportunity, I just jump on it. And this is a great opportunity.”