Like to go ‘off the beaten path’ when you travel? Want to avoid ‘touristy’ places? I totally understand. But you’ll have to throw away your classification system for New Orleans, especially for the French Quarter. Sure, it’s full of tourists, but the culture is magically authentic and interesting. It’s unique in the world. Here are a few of my favorite nighttime places to hang out.
Old Absinthe House
For this traveler, Old Absinthe House is the most divey bar on Bourbon Street. Football helmets hang from the ceiling, and visitors’ business cards cover the walls a couple of layers thick. (Mine is there though probably buried by now.) The great cocktails are inexpensive, and the music is cool. They do serve absinthe, of course, but it’s fun even having a beer.
I discovered this Bourbon Street institution in 1997, and when I returned recently, I was pleased to find it looked exactly the same. Want to be a part of history? Have a seat at the bar, enjoy a cocktail, find your favorite team’s helmet on the ceiling, and tack a business card to the wall.
This music venue has been around since 1961, started to “preserve, perpetuate, and protect traditional New Orleans Jazz.” The nightly shows are extremely popular… and for good reason. You’ll almost certainly need to buy tickets ahead of time, and if you want to sit down during the show, you’ll want to show up at least a half hour before it starts to stand in line. Luckily, it’s in the Quarter, so you can grab a drink from any nearby bar to sip while you wait.
Once inside, there’s no photography and no talking as the band plays genuine, authentic, historically accurate New Orleans jazz. The music is so well played, it’s like you’ve been transported back to NOLA in the 1920’s. The venue itself is intimate and acoustically interesting. It will be an evening you will not forget.
Cane and Table
This is an atmospheric tavern with a tiki feel. They serve great cocktails and even a few gourmet small plates. The decor is the best part; it’s like you’ve stepped into the movie, Casablanca.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
Housed in one of the oldest buildings still standing in the French Quarter, this bar is a piece of history. Legendary pirate John Lafitte supposedly owned it as a blacksmith. Now, it’s a relaxed bar where you can sit surrounded by the original brick and listen to live piano or great popular music. And? On one of the rare cold evenings in New Orleans, you can even get warm by the fire.
The Best of Bourbon Street
… is an epic live jazz bar open since the 1960’s. An incredible band plays traditional jazz in a historic building. There’s venue seating in the back room, surrounding a small stage, but you can see and listen from the bar as well. It’s always crowded, but it’s worth it. For this traveler, the clarinetist was particularly outstanding.
Molly’s at the Market
Hitting the French Market for shopping? Have an Irish Coffee here afterwards. This divey pub is relaxed and welcoming. Their world-famous Irish Coffee will give you whatever energy [and gumption] you require for your evening’s activities.
French 75, or, The Monkey Lamp Bar
This is my number one favorite bar in New Orleans. Why? Because it makes me feel classy and cool. It’s associated with–and next door to–the famous NOLA restaurant, Arnaud’s. It’s chic and fancy without being pretentious. There are monkey lamps, leopard print chairs, outstanding cocktails, and an ‘old school’ atmosphere worthy of Frank and Dean.
I was told the local bar crew hung out here late night, so on a night I was out unusually late, I decided to pay a visit. I loved the relaxed atmosphere and friendly clientele. I had a great conversation with a waitress who’d traveled the world and settled in New Orleans. If you’re out late in the Quarter, I recommend enjoying that one last drink here.
If Old Absinthe House is the most divey bar in the Quarter, Aunt Tiki’s is the second most. I like the DARE lights above the bar and the spooky Halloween-ish atmosphere. There are cute sofas and cheap alcohol. It’s a great place to unwind for a bit, especially on crowded nights like during Mardi Gras.
This outstanding restaurant is a couple of blocks away from the busiest part of the Quarter, and the food is superior gourmet Cajun. Note my travel companion’s Po’ Boys below. Seriously outstanding food. The decor is great, too, especially the art.
Wander. You never know what you’ll find. But you can know it will be interesting.
If you visit any of these places, comment and let me know what you think! And if you’re curious for more, see my other posts on New Orleans.
~Page Light Studios