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4619Kermit Ruffins to permanently close Speakeasy

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  • Jessica Knox
    Jan 29, 2014

      Kermit Ruffins to permanently close his Treme Speakeasy after Mardi Gras

      kermit ruffins0003.JPGKermit Ruffins outside his Treme Speakeasy in July 2013. Ruffins plans to shut down the Treme Speakeasy following the 2014 Carnival season. (David Grunfeld / NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

      Trumpeter Kermit Ruffins plans to close his Treme Speakeasy bar and restaurant after Mardi Gras 2014. In a Tweet sent out late Tuesday morning, Ruffins said the restaurant “is stopping me from PARTYING!” and was taking too much of a toll “financially, mentally and physically.”

      In a conversation later Tuesday, Ruffins elaborated on his reasons for shutting down the Speakeasy, which opened at 1535 Basin Street in the spring of 2012. “I had that restaurant itch, and I think I scratched it enough,” said the trumpeter, who for years has hauled a barbecue rig to gigs and cooked for fans. “I’m not making any money. I tried and tried, and it’s a lot of fun. But for the most part, I’m not even breaking even.”

      Running the Speakeasy was the first day job he ever had. “I finally had something to get up and do in the mornings.”

      The restaurant is generally open every day except Tuesday from noon til. Ruffins does everything from “going to get the garbage bags to cooking up food to hiring the bands to paying everybody.” He typically cooked red beans, cabbage, stewed rabbit, meatloaf and potato salad over a three hour period every day, leaving the frying of frog legs and shrimp to his employees. He also performs at the Speakeasy on Sunday evenings at 6 p.m. (though he’s taking off Feb. 2 to watch the Super Bowl).

      At one time, Guitar Slim Jr. was featured on Saturdays. The Speakeasy also hosted impromptu memorial celebrations following the deaths of prominent musicians, including the Treme Brass Band's “Uncle” Lionel Batiste in July 2012 and jazz drummer Bob French in November 2012. More recently, Ruffins allowed the Music and Culture Coalition of New Orleans to hold its weekly strategy meetings there, as its members considered how to respond to the city’s proposed noise ordinances.

      But it got to be too much, especially because the restaurant wasn’t making money. The monthly overhead runs between $7,500 and $9,500 for rent, utilities, insurance, etc.

      Ruffins is willing to put other potential restaurant operators in touch with the building’s owner. If someone else takes over the Speakeasy, though, it will be under a new name.

      “My name is coming down the day after Mardi Gras. Unless some millionaire calls me up and wants to buy the name and the business, where I don’t have to do nothing but walk in and cook a little bit. Then I’d leave my name up.”

      His final Sunday evening performance at the Treme Speakeasy is scheduled for March 2, aka “Bacchus Sunday,” at 6 p.m. The restaurant itself will close after Mardi Gras on March 4.

      In other Ruffins news, his other venture, his recently reopened and renamed Mother-in-Law Lounge will roll out its weekly music calendar in February. In keeping with Ruffins’ desire to start and end shows earlier – one of the main reasons he gave up his longtime gig at Vaughan’s – the music will kick off around 7 p.m. most nights.

      Starting on Feb. 3, the Mother-in-Law will host James “The Sleeping Giant” Winfield and Bobby Love on Mondays, trumpeter Kid Merv on Wednesdays, Guitar Lightnin’ Lee on Fridays, and the Treme Brass Band for a 5 p.m. show on Sundays.

      “The Mother-in-Law is quite easy,” Ruffins said. “I order my liquor and hire a couple of bands. And I don’t have to cook.”

      Music writer Keith Spera can be reached at kspera@... or 504.826.3470. Follow him on Twitter @KeithSpera.

      Jessica D. Knox

      HFTA President