THE BEST BARS IN NOLA (Getcha Drank On)
It’s unlikely you’ll ever visit another place quite like New Orleans. French and Spanish influences with a dash of Southern charm and a sprinkle of African voodoo combine to create America’s most intriguing city. NOLA is a special place. Hard times make people come together and you’ll be welcomed by the locals whose joie de vivre is contagious. So relax, be easy, and soak in the revelry at the best bars in NOLA.
Several drinks were invented within these city limits, including one of the oldest American cocktails that gained popularity in the mid-1800s, the Sazerac. Sip the official whiskey cocktail of The Big Easy in a classy setting. On the other hand, don’t forget the Hurricane. A potent drink infamous for its ability to encourage bad decision making and illegitimate children. Limit your intake and beware of sexy strangers. On that note, let’s get to it, here are our top recommendations on where to imbibe.
Maple Leaf Bar
8316 Oak St, New Orleans, LA 70118
Opened in 1974, this unassuming venue hosts live music seven nights a week. Go here on any Tuesday night and see the Grammy award-winning Rebirth Brass Band. Grab a cold beer and dance the night away with locals and college students from Tulane and Loyola University. $20 cover. This is the quintessential New Orleans experience. Try to get upfront for the second set and to really feel those horns.
214 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 70130, USA
Come and sit at this bedazzled revolving bar inside the luxurious Hotel Monteleone. Yes, you heard that right, revolving bar. This iconic Merry-Go-Round has been rotating for 60 years! They’ve got a comprehensive list of craft cocktails, including two their bartenders created. This is one of the most popular bars in New Orleans, so be ready to wait! Food & Wine ranked this one of the best bars in the world. Hey, you might even spot an A-list celeb sitting across from you. Is that you Brad Pitt?
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
941 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA 70116
Built between 1722 and 1732, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is older than the Declaration of Independence. Nobody knows for sure, but it’s probably the oldest building in the United States to be used as a bar. In true NOLA fashion, it’s believed to be haunted and we wouldn’t be surprised if it was. Its definitely got some mystery hidden in those dusty brick walls.
It’s believed that New Orleans’ most infamous pirate, Jean Lafitte, may have used it as a safe place to transfer smuggled goods. His brother Pierre Lafitte was a blacksmith in this building. There’s a sing-along piano bar in the back, which would feel cheesy almost anywhere else, but it works here. It’s one of the few establishments on Bourbon Street worth revisiting. Sample their pre-made Voodoo Daiquiri or wide Abita beer selection.
Going to NOLA? Read next: Where to Eat Your Heart Out in New Orleans
Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House
240 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA 70112, USA
It’s easy to walk by this centuries-old establishment along Bourbon Street without even realizing it’s cultural significance to New Orleans. Adorned with dusty football memorabilia you’d never know it’s considered one of the city’s most haunted buildings.
Jean Lafitte is rumored to still haunt this place. The legend says that he met Andrew Jackson here to arrange a pardon for his smugglers in exchange for fighting to fend off the British in the Battle of New Orleans, the final battle of the War of 1812. The likes of Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, P.T. Barnum, Mark Twain, FDR, and Frank Sinatra have all knocked back a drink here. Why wouldn’t you do the same? Try one of their unique absinthe cocktails.
The Blind Pelican – Closed
1628 St Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA 70130
Please just go to this place! Not only is it located in the beautiful Garden District, but it has the BEST happy hour! From 4-8 pm every day, they offer .25 cent oysters ($3 a dozen) and $10 per dozen chargrilled oysters when you purchase an alcoholic beverage. It doesn’t get any better.
We love raw oysters, but their chargrilled oysters were some of the best we had in the city. They’re Italian style with garlic herb butter, tomato, parmesan, and french bread. Dip the bread in the melted butter, spoon the oysters onto the bread, and blastoff! A pure miracle in your mouth. We also met a few of the friendliest bartenders we’ve encountered anywhere. It’s open 24 hours a day, so you’ll have plenty of time to sober up before the next happy hour. *Update: Unfortunately someone has told us that this bar has now closed.
Spotted Cat Music Club
623 Frenchmen St, New Orleans, LA 70116
The tourists go to Bourbon, the locals go to Frenchmen. There are loads of fun bars on Frenchmen Street but “The Cat”, seems to have the best music. While most of the clubs end their music at 2:30 am this bar can continue past 3 depending on the size of the crowd. Featuring eclectic artists, it’s a small intimate venue that became our favorite on Frenchmen.
516 Frenchmen St, New Orleans, LA 70116
This brick-walled bar has live local jazz and blues music. It feels like you’re in a 1920’s wine cellar, so get a table under the chandeliers and have a ball. Music starts around 9 or 10 pm and typically ends at 2:30 am. We saw @bonbonvivant perform and the energy was magnetic! Their kitchen offers casual Caribbean Creole cuisine, and we liked the crab cakes but the main reason you go is for the drinks and the tunes.
1431 Royal St, New Orleans, LA 701
We went here after a wild evening of live music on Frenchmen St. R Bar is typically open later than the bars on Frenchmen and it’s just around the block. There’s also a B&B upstairs and they offer free haircuts on Mondays!
PJ and Jackie were the bartenders when we strolled in at 3 am, and we had some great conversation with them. Ya know, the kind of conversation that only happens in the gin-soaked hours of the morning. PJ has lived in Nawlins for fifteen years and he gave us several recommendations on where to eat. This dimly-lit haunt is the perfect setting for a nightcap.
718 St Peter, New Orleans, LA 70116
Pat O’Brien’s is home to the famous “Hurricane”, a rum cocktail made with passion fruit, orange, and maraschino cherries. It gets its name from the hurricane lamp glass it comes in.
The bar is set in a historical building, built in 1791, that has a lavish green courtyard. They host dueling piano shows that typically run Monday-Thursday from 6:00 pm to close and Friday-Sunday 2:00 pm to close. Although we wouldn’t say hurricanes are our favorite libations, Pat O’Brien’s is a New Orleans classic.
610 Bourbon St, New Orleans, LA 70130
This tacky tourist bar is not one of the best bars in NOLA by any means, but its claim to fame is having the city’s most powerful drink, “The Hand Grenade”. It’s a trademarked neon green melon flavored concoction poured into a plastic yard glass featuring a cartoon grenade-like man.
We shared one and felt a nice buzz. Safe to say you shouldn’t have one at the end of the night. It’s very Bourbon street, but the live music and kitschy decor make it a fun and dumb thing to do. Order their “Shark Attack”, another comical cocktail, and watch what happens next…
Here are a few other bars we didn’t get the chance to visit, but hope to hit next time.
Have you been to the Big Easy? Where do you like to get your booze on?