Check out the first installment of NOLACuse's Guide to New Orleans here.
Here is the thing about New Orleans: there are a lot of bars. A lot. Finding a spot to drink will not be at all difficult. But it can be lame and/or inauthentic. If you stick with my suggestions you should have no problem experiencing a fun, drunken New Orleans weekend. That’s not to say you can’t experience that otherwise of course. Because as I said, there are a lot of places to drink in New Orleans. A lot.
Seriously, there are a lot.
OK, let's explore.
Pat O’Brien’s - If you are doing all your drinking on Bourbon are really only a couple of places and a couple of drinks you need to be worried about. This is one of the places you should check out. It’s been around for quite some time, has a dueling piano bar and has a great courtyard with a fountain that is on fire. The drink that put Pat O’s on the map is the Hurricane. It is a sweet and strong rum-based drink, so if sweet drinks aren’t your thing, steer clear.
Tropical Isle – Here you will find the Hand-Grenade. That is all you need to know about this place. There are a bunch of them up and down Bourbon and they all serve several drinks, but the Hand-Grenade is the one you will be ordering. It is sweet, very strong and I have no idea what is in it. It comes in a fun commemorative plastic cup that is very tall and looks like a grenade at the bottom. I’m pretty sure it is a requirement to drink one of these as a tourist spending time on Bourbon Street.
Old Absinthe House – As the name implies this bar does absinthe, so if you are looking for it while on Bourbon, this is your spot. If you aren’t interested in the famous drink favored by poets and artists I would still check out the bar. Its walls are covered in business cards and if you have a business card you should add yours to the collection and become a part of New Orleans history.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop – Jean Lafitte was a rather famous pirate/privateer who called Louisiana home during the early 19th Century. You may have heard his name before as he helped Andrew Jackson win the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. This bar was once his blacksmith shop (duh). It’s laid back (though can get crowded) and drinks are cheaper here than on the main drag of Bourbon Street. It is also worth noting that this bar is in the gay part of the French Quarter, but it is not a gay bar itself. There are several gay bars on Bourbon you will pass by in order to get to the Blacksmith Shop, but if you are interested in them I unfortunately can’t tell you which may be your best bet.
French Quarter Beyond Bourbon
Let’s be honest, a lot of tourists don’t venture beyond Bourbon to do their drinking in New Orleans. I highly recommend that you do though. If you want to stick to the French Quarter, but want something besides just Bourbon Street the following bars are some great choices:
Chart Room – This is a great bar to kick back and relax a bit. With its dim lighting and cheap drinks it’s a bar I love to go to when I just need to chill out.
Molly’s on the Market – Molly’s is located across from the French Market (hence the name) and it’s a great little spot for good, affordable drinks. They don’t have a specialty per say, but they have been known to have iced Irish Coffee, Hot Totties and/or Buttered Rum, depending on the time of year. For some reason they do gin and juice quite well here, so I tend to get at least one of those when I stop in. They also have a photo booth if you’re into that sort of thing and they have some fun décor on the walls.
Bar Tonique – This place reminds more of a New York bar than anything. It’s a place that celebrates cocktails in their original form and where the bartenders really know their craft. If you are just looking to get hammered or just looking for a beer, this isn’t a great spot. But if you want some real cocktails done right, you should check this spot out.
Pravda – Looking for a relaxed, dimly lit watering hole that offers up absinthe? This is your place! Much like the name would imply you feel as though you stepped into a Soviet-era Eastern European bar when you walk in. Full of comfy couches/chairs as well as the standard bar with stools, it’s a nice change of pace from the bustle of other French Quarter bars. It’s also just a few doors down away from Molly’s, so you it can easily be part of a bar crawl.
I didn’t mention this area in the food section, but it’s quite relevant in the bar section. It is the area just down river from the French Quarter and is therefore walkable from the French Quarter if you want a change of scenery without the cab fare. It’s also a great area for live music.
R Bar – This divey bar is fantastic. There is always some movie playing on the projector screen, but it’s almost always an anime or French lesbian eroticism you’ve never heard of. The bartenders know their stuff, the drinks aren’t expensive and there is a pool table. The bartenders are good here, so you can get anything safely, but I will recommend a local brew that isn’t served at most other bars: Andygator. It’s an Abita beer that is a bock beer that clocks in at a healthy 8% alcohol. I love the stuff. Anyway, this is a funky ass bar that I always find myself going to and I never complain.
Mimi’s – There is a definite hipster vibe at this bar, but it’s worthwhile for either a) the upstairs DJ and/or b) the tapas. There is usually a DJ of some kind playing upstairs and I can’t say I’ve ever really been disappointed. It’s not techno or anything; usually soul or funk, so if that sounds interesting, check it out.
Checkpoint Charlie’s – This is just a straight up bar basically, but it does feature live music and often times it’s worth stopping in to check it out. It’s also just across Esplanade Avenue from the French Quarter so it makes for a great addition to a cross-neighborhood bar crawl.
Frenchman Street – The main strip of Frenchman is lined with music clubs. They all offer up different styles, so you really should be able to find something to your liking. d.b.a. is my personal favorite as it tends to have lively blues music and a great beer selection. But there is straight up jazz on Frenchman street as well as rock, Cajun, "New Orleans" music and sometimes hip-hop. I definitely recommend checking out this street and trying to hit up more than one spot. Your ears will thank you.
Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar – Yes, that Lucy’s. I wasn’t a big Lucy’s guy at SU so I couldn’t tell you how they compare, but maybe it will remind you of home. Fun fact: this was the place a bunch of Saints players (including Drew Brees) flocked to after the SuperBowl parade in early 2010. Drew let the crowd in on the secret wording of his pre-game chant. There is a youtube video out there of him doing it. It’s pretty cool.
Republic/ Ampersand – These are both clubs more than bars really, so be prepared for Jersey Shore style dudes if you go to either one. Ampersand is the more upscale, European-style DJ type of place. Republic is more eclectic in terms of music. You might find rap, rock, DJ, electronica, a burlesque show… I’ve been to Republic, but not to Ampersand, so I can only say that the drinks at Republic are about what you’d expect at a night club: overpriced but strong enough. You go to these places for the atmosphere/show.
Bridge Lounge – This is an out of the way spot that does not feel that way at drinking time. It is usually packed pretty full even though it’s not quite on any main streets. It gets its name from being located very near the Crescent City Connection (bridge), which can be seen from the bar. It’s sparsely decorated (in a "hip" way, but one I actually quite like) with a concrete floor and apparently is quite dog-friendly (last time I was there I didn’t notice an inordinate amount of dogs, but that’s the new word on the street). They usually have some decent drink specials and I always like their cocktails as well as wine selection.
The Avenue Pub – Probably the best beer bar in New Orleans if you are into craft brews, specialty brews, etc. It’s two stories with a balcony on the second floor. Because they cater to beer-aficionados they don’t tend to get too crowded and even when they do it’s a decent crowd anyway. It’s located right on St. Charles Avenue (hence the name).
Parasol’s – This is a Lower Garden District mainstay. Sort of. This bar/restaurant served as the symbolic focal point of many of the Irish in New Orleans for years. It is now in a different building, but the name still means something. The block party here for St. Patrick’s Day is the go-to St. Patty’s party in New Orleans.
Bulldog – There isn’t anything particularly "New Orleans" about this bar, but it’s still a decent place to get a drink anyway. The crowd here is younger (post-college mostly) and there is a good beer selection along with tasty bar food. It’s a good place to grab a few pitchers and hang out in the courtyard, which has a fun beer-tap waterfall feature.
The Columns Hotel – Located right on St. Charles Avenue this iconic hotel is a popular spot for Good Ole Boys, but it’s a good drinking spot anyway. In terms of drinks and prices it doesn’t stand out for anything in particular, but it does have a great outdoor area out front and expansive first floor space which means, even when crowded, you can usually find a spot to sit. The building itself is on the National Historic Registry, so there is that reason to check it out too.
Le Bon Temps Roule – This bar is split into a front bar and a back with a stage for music. They have live music every night and it’s always full of neighborhood characters at night. Good bar food too. I wouldn’t go out of your way to drink here, but I would go out of your way to listen to music here (while drinking).
St. Joe’s – This is a neighborhood bar with a tight interior, pool table and a cozy courtyard out back. Drinks are inexpensive and their specialty is Blueberry Mojito’s. They make their Mojito’s correctly using fresh mint, lime, blueberries (if you get them) all crushed with a pestle before adding the alcohol.
Monkey Hill/ The Boot – These two bars are fairly interchangeable in my mind because they both serve as your go-to spots for Tulane students. I really don’t go to either one much so I couldn’t tell you specifics, but if you wanted to mingle with Tulane students, these two bars would do just fine in that regard.
Dos Jeffe’s – This is a bar for lovers of cigars. They have a good drink selection all-around, but the real drive of this place is the appreciation of cigars. They keep a well-rounded selection on-hand and you can spend anywhere from 6 bucks and upward on a stogie. There is also a killer taco-truck outside this bar on weekends.
This neighborhood is all about neighborhood bars and it really isn’t a drinking area for tourists so much (unless those tourists know someone living in Mid-City). There is one bar in this area I will recommend though.
Finn McCool’s – Here is where I put on my fanboy hat for a minute. This is my favorite bar in New Orleans. I have the owner’s cell phone number in my phone and this is where I proposed to my fiancée. It is an Irish pub run by Northern Ireland natives with a sizeable European clientele (though not so much that any American would feel out of place). It is also a neighborhood bar through and through. Everyone is welcome, all the regulars are on first name basis and the bartenders remember what you like to drink after you’ve visited several times. The bartenders know what they are doing and they are receptive to conversation and improvisation. They poor Guinness properly. They have a pool table, dart boards and a great juke-box if those things matter to you. Before I get on a tangent I’ll just say this place took everything great about Irish pubs and merged it with everything great about New Orleans.
For this section I will simply list some New Orleans/ SE Louisiana drinks I have not touched on already. The sheer quantity of cocktails/drinks that are considered to be unique to New Orleans are so many that more than one book has been dedicated to them, so I will simply cover what I think are important ones.
Sazerac - Some say this is America's first cocktail ever. Whether or not that's true is probably up for debate, but it was created in New Orleans and is definitely a drink you should try if you don't mind whiskey. It consists of rye whiskey, herbsaint (or absinthe), bitters and a lemon twist.
Ramos Gin Fizz - This is a strange one. It is unique to New Orleans as far as I know and perhaps it's because it's hard to sell a cocktail that mixes some pretty strange ingredients. As the name implies it is a gin drink that also incorporates milk, egg white, sugar and dashes of lemon and lime juice. It's actually pretty good if you like gin well enough.
Pimm's Cup - While this isn't a New Orleans exclusive drink, it is in heavy rotation in the city during the warmer months. Pimm's #1, a liquor (gin- based I believe), is mixed with lemonade, Sprite and garnished with cucumber. It's not going to get you hammered, but it's a refreshing drink on a hot day.
Daquiri - They are all over the place here. There are drive-thru places dedicated to the drink even. They are fruity and slushy. There isn't much you need to know besides that is there?
Bloody Mary - New Orleanians love Bloody Marys. Love them. You can find variations all over the city, but be prepared to get damn near a full servings worth of whole veggies in your drink.
Abita - This brewery is actually located on the North Shore of Lake Ponchatrain, but their beer is ubiquitous in New Orleans. Amber Ale is their standard, but there are a lot of varieties. Turbo Dog (a brown ale) is my personal favorite while I also thoroughly enjoy Purple Haze (raspberry wheat), Andygator (bock), and SOS Lager. They have a bunch more, but those are my personal favorites. Anyway, you can find Abita in just about every bar and restaurant in the city both on tap and in bottles. Give one of them a try.
Well, that concludes the drinks chapter. The next and final installment will discuss attractions. Stay tuned!