The other day, I wrote about the glorious Mardi Gras Indian costumes on display at the Backstreet Cultural Museum. But while it’s great to see them up close (where you’re able to oogle the beadwork) I’d have to think that it’s even better to watch the Indians live and in person. And there’s perhaps no more perfect place to do it on Mardi Gras than at the Mother-in-Law Lounge, in the company of the lovely Miss Antoinette K-Doe.
into a lifelong singing career, and was treated as a local celebrity in the city. White leather couches and a huge television greet you when you step inside, as does a life-sized effigy of Ernie, who is decked out in a costume and available, as always, for pictures. The back room has a stage where for performers, and there’s a side garden decorated with toilet-bowl and tub planters. It’s a hoot and a huge hub for the celebration known to the locals as the “Under the Bridge” or “neighborhood” Mardi Gras.
The Lounge sits along the strip of Claiborne Ave., and it’s in this section of the city where you’ll see many of the traditionally black Mardi Gras elements: the Indians and Skeletons, and the Baby Dolls (which you can see some photos of here).
The Baby Dolls, or “K-Dolls” are a stepping group that Miss Antoinette coordinates; the women wear satin dresses and bonnets, and they welcome all comers – so long as you’re still prepared to act like a lady.
Miss Antoinette remembers watching the Baby Dolls as a child. “When I was a kid I assumed you could play with them. I was fascinated,” she says. “They were ladies doing their own thng. I believed that ladies could have their own identities and not just be pregnant and in bed.”
Eventually, the Baby Doll culture began dwindling, and she stopped seeing as many women dress up each year. “I didn’t want that part of my memories to die out,” she says. “So I started visiting [the old Baby Doll members] in their nursing homes. Most said they wanted to bring the Baby Dolls back.”
Over the past several years, the troupe of women, of all ages and backgrounds, has grown. “You can dress anyway you want and still be a lady,” she explains. “We have career women, doctors and lawyers, and grandmothers. We have a reputation. Everyone carries bottles and makes their own costume. There’s a child in all of us.” When they’re not performing, they’ve become a women’s club that participates in community service– visiting senior citizens, and celebrating Thanksgiving at nursing homes. “We’re always dancing with them,” says K-Doe. “It’s a women’s club with no pressure.”
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On the morning of Mardi Gras, the Lounge opens at 5 a.m., and a few hours later, the Skeletons come to get the Baby Dolls and lead them onto the street for their parade. Miss Antoinette will most likely already have a pot of red beans and gumbo on the stove, and the Lounge will be seething with people.
I asked her how long she stays open. “I don’t have no hours,” she says. “Just swing by. I can’t turn people away.”
Read More: Learn more about Miss Antoinette and the Baby Doll revival here. And read through an anecdotal history of the Baby Dolls here. Check out all of the Mardi Gras Moments in this series, and get an insider’s perspective with our interactive Mardi Gras Map.
Photos: Janelle Nanos