The crowd at Bullet’s all know each other, and if you stick around long enough, by the end of the night they will know you, too. Bullet’s neighborhood vibe is best experienced on Sunday nights, when a rotating selection of musicians serenade the crowd. Come a little early, between five and six in the evening, and you will find rows of tables lined up, each marked with a sign reading “Reserved.” One table is for “Flint,” another is for “Ms Pat.” Slowly but surely, the regulars arrive at their tables, which are already prepared with their “set-ups” (a bucket of ice and glasses). Each table then sends an emissary to the bar to buy a half-pint (or more) of their favorite spirit. Soon the room fills, as do the tables, and it’s apparent that this arrangement allows one to host friends to drinks but it also keeps the bar from getting too crowded with folks waiting to order one drink at a time. The good news is that it’s free to reserve a table; you only need to call ahead and then make sure to arrive before the music starts (otherwise they give away your spot).
Other nights, the tables are moved away to make room for dancing, whether to R&B or zydeco on the jukebox, or to the raucous beat of the Pinettes, an all-female brass band. Bullet’s is not handy for most tourists, but if you want a taste of a truly local night out in New Orleans, get yourself there. KERMIT’S TREME MOTHER-IN-LAW LOUNGE 1500 N. Claiborne Ave. • (504) 975-3955 www.faceblog.com/Kermits-Treme-Motherinlaw-Lounge HOURS 5 p.m-midnight (or later) 7 days a week NO HAPPY HOUR
When you first arrive at the Mother-in-Law, you’ll notice some rather remarkable murals covering the building. One depicts a woman and man who appear to be ascending to heaven. Others contain unusual phrases: “I’m a Charity Hospital Baby” and “Emperor of the Universe.” These are portraits and testaments to the bar’s original owners: Ernie and Antoinette K-Doe, and to understand what the bar means to residents as well as to the larger New Orleans music scene, you first need to know about this couple.
Ernie K-Doe was a rhythm and blues singer in New Orleans, famous for his song “Mother-in-Law,” which reached #1 on the charts in 1961. Though K-Doe never had another national hit, he remained a popular musician who became even more famous in town because of his outlandish and bombastic personality. He often referred to himself as “The Emperor of the Universe,” and he took to wearing a cape and crown. In 1994, he and his wife, Antoinette, opened The Mother-in-Law Lounge, and it became a hub for performing musicians of all stripes.
Ernie K-Doe and Miss Antoinette memorialized on the side of the Mother-in-Law Lounge
The Mother-in-Law Lounge is located on Claiborne Avenue. It was once a beautiful thoroughfare in this historically black neighborhood, a tree-lined gathering place where neighbors could stroll and visit. When the interstate was built in the 1970s, Claiborne no longer served as a community hub. The Mother-in-Law’s presence along Claiborne recreated (on a smaller scale) a place for neighbors to meet. Often crowds from the bar will spill out, not only into the parking lot but also across the street, under the interstate overpass.
When Ernie died in 2001, Miss Antoinette (as locals called her) continued to run the place. She also commissioned a mannequin of her husband, dressed in his elaborate costumes and capes, that was usually propped up at the club. Occasionally, Miss Antoinette would take the statue out with her to other places, and you would see photos of the two of them eating dinner or at another club.
The Mother-in-Law Lounge was severely damaged during Katrina, but it was rebuilt and reopened in 2006 through the efforts of volunteers. Miss Antoinette kept those volunteers fed, serving pots of gumbo and beans that she cooked in the side yard of the bar. It was during this time, during a particularly divisive mayoral election, that Antoinette submitted K-Doe’s name as a possible mayoral candidate, despite him being deceased for more than five years. Though her actions were tongue in cheek, the idea took off, and “K-Doe for Mayor” T-shirts and bumper stickers appeared around town. These sales helped Miss Antoinette rebuild the bar. In 2006, artist Daniel Fuselier started painting murals on the building as part of the rebuilding efforts. He continues to add to the murals, reflecting changes in the bar and New Orleans music scene.
Tipplers taking a smoke break outdoors at Sidney’s Saloon
Miss Antoinette died in 2009 on Mardi Gras day after suffering a heart attack. Just a few days before, she and K-Doe’s mannequin had ridden on a float as grand marshals in the Krewe of Muses’s Mardi Gras parade.
Afer her death, the Mother-in-Law was shuttered for some time, until local trumpeter Kermit Ruffins took it over and reopened the bar in 2014. Its reopening was greeted with much appreciation and even relief. Some worried the club would be bought and the name might be changed, but Ruffins made sure to keep Mother-in-Law in the name. Musicians and DJs once again appear most evenings.
One of the main murals on the building shows the K-Does in full celestial splendor. But the bar is not merely a shrine to the K-Does; every performance there keeps the original spirit of the K-Does going. As K-Doe used to say, “You just good, that’s all!”