Friday, November 5, 2010

A New Orleans life

By John Pope
Staff writer
Alma Victoria "Stick" "Porky" Robinson Irving, a plain-spoken restaurateur and bar owner who was an enthusiastic member of the Original Jolly Bunch Social Aid & Pleasure Club, died Oct. 25 at John J. Hainkel Home and Rehabilitation Center in Uptown New Orleans. She was 95.

A lifelong New Orleanian, Mrs. Irving owned the Good Timers Bar & Restaurant on St. Bernard Avenue, near the Circle Food Store, a longtime community landmark on North Claiborne Avenue that has been closed since Hurricane Katrina.

The Good Timers was "a place where you'd meet old friends," said Rose Lewis, her niece. "A lot of people would come down there because she never would change the jukebox. She had tunes, old blues from the '40s."

Mrs. Irving was only 5 feet, 2 inches tall, but was ready to stand up to anyone whose behavior in her establishment got out of line, Lewis said.

Her short stature "didn't stand in her way," Lewis said. "If you came in that bar and messed with her, you were looking to see the pavement."

The daughter of a Methodist minister, Mrs. Irving graduated from a school she knew only as "the Marigny Street school" and went to work at Reuter Rex sewing factory.

In the 1950s, Mrs. Irving started operating the kitchen at the Good Timers, which her sister Hilda Berg owned.

"She served pot food, like red beans and rice," Lewis said. "Every day was a different menu."
Ernie K-Doe, whose Mother-in-Law Lounge was just around the corner, was a regular customer, along with his wife, Antoinette.

When Mrs. Irving joined the Original Jolly Bunch in the 1940s, the organization's president refused to let women members march, Lewis said. They sat on the back of convertibles, wearing voluminous dresses that hung over the sides and backs of the cars. Instead of beads and other trinkets, they handed out ceramic figurines and other curios, wrapped in tissue paper.

But these parades, which also featured men on horseback, regularly stopped at neighborhood bars along the way. At these watering holes, Lewis said, Mrs. Irving and the other women sashayed into the club and danced inside the establishment until the time came to move on to the next stop.

"She was a fun-loving person," said Darryl Francis, a friend. "She loved everything around her -- dancing and music and people in general."

Mrs. Irving's love of dancing lasted long after her days with the Jolly Bunch. When she lived in Christopher Inn, a home for senior citizens in Faubourg Marigny, she was a regular second-liner whenever a band played, Lewis said.

Mrs. Irving, a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, is survived by nieces and nephews.

A funeral will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at Gertrude Geddes Willis Funeral Home, 2120 Jackson Ave. Visitation will begin at 8 a.m.

Burial will be in Resthaven Memorial Park.

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