Unless something truly miraculous happens in the next several weeks, the Mother-In-Law Lounge, the North Claiborne Avenue landmark opened by New Orleans R&B legend Ernie K-Doe and his wife Antoinette in 1994, will be no more.
Antoinette's daughter, Betty Fox, who has been running the nightspot since her mother's death in 2009, says she has received a 30-day eviction notice from the building's owner for non-payment of rent. She explains that last March a car smashed into the front door of the club and the landlord, who she believes received an insurance settlement, has yet to fix it. Presently, plywood has been put up on the portal.
"I can't make any money because I don't have a door," says Fox, adding that because the club is in a dangerous neighborhood she can't simply leave the door ajar. She also complains that the upstairs living quarters is uninhabitable as there is no heat, air-conditioning or adequate plumbing. So Fox, who also works selling auto parts, has been sleeping on the couch in the bar.
"I want to keep the legacy going," she states. "I know that it's more than a building to everybody."
Named after K-Doe's 1960 smash hit, the club, in part, helped reestablish the flamboyant vocalist's career by keeping him in the public eye. Following his death in 2001, the popular nightspot became a shrine to K-Doe complete with a life-size mannequin. His wife, a mover and shaker behind K-Doe's latter career, kept his legacy alive at the eye-catching, brightly colored and decorated building at 1500 North Claiborne Avenue. She even planted a lovely garden along side the lounge. A multi-talented woman renowned as a seamstress and cook, Antoinette became fabled in her own right.
Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing floods badly damaged the site, which from the beginning was rented by the K-Does. Since the building wasn't insured, the volunteer group Hands On supplied some of the labor and R&B artist Usher contributed money to help ensure the Mother-In-Law Lounge would remain viable.
When Antoinette died on Mardi Gras Day 2009, the job of maintaining the club and the K-Does' legacy fell into Fox's hands.
Fox says she hasn't come up with an exact date to close the Mother-in-Law Lounge. On July 10, 2010 a "garage sale" will be held at the club starting at 10 a.m. Before the bar closes its doors for the last time, Fox plans to throw a party with the hope to raise enough money to pay the overdue rent. "I don't want to be in debt to this man when I leave," she says adamantly.
Weary of her circumstances, Fox, who owns the rights to the business and the Mother-In-Law name, doesn't see much hope for saving the lounge though she mentions the idea of a museum. Yet what it might take to keep this historic spot open, doesn't appear unattainable.
"If there was a guardian angel I would want to have somewhere decent that to live, a way that I could operate this business with a front door and be able to pay my bills. That's it. I never did this for the money."
Geraldine Wyckoff is a contributing writer to The Louisiana Weekly.
Photographs by David Hobbs.
Read more stories from The Louisiana Weekly »