A Guide To The Balconies, Beads & Bands In The Big Easy
Few places on Earth possess the year-round party atmosphere as does New Orleans.
And it all starts on Bourbon Street.
This is New Orleans’ most famous street, the Amsterdam of America, a place dominated by drinks and drinkers where the cocktail is king and bars stand side-by-side block after block.
Weekdays are hardly distinguishable from weekends. In most cities, the weekend starts on a Thursday. In New Orleans, it has no beginning or end.
That Allan Jackson/Jimmy Buffett song “It’s Five O’Clock somewhere” has a home here. It’s always Five O’Clock in New Orleans.
Bourbon Street is neither decadent nor elegant, seedy nor snazzy, cheesy nor charming. It is simply a friendly block party and it goes on until you decide to leave .
For some, the body says its time to leave far before the clock does; for others, it’s the last man (or woman) standing. In New Orleans, and in particular on Bourbon Street, it’s all a matter of mind, body and soul and spirit(s).
The heart of Bourbon Street is only about 7 blocks in length, but it’s an intense seven blocks. Located right in the middle of the French Quarter, it is a collection of bars, souvenir shops, more bars, strip clubs and sex shows (though it hardly compares to the Red Light District of Amsterdam), and even more bars.
Sprinkled in are a few restaurants, jazz clubs and hotels.
The bars range from dives to small clubs with live bands to places with counters serving frozen drinks, beer and jello shots (some made with Everclear). There is no cover charge at any of them, although bars with bands generally charge more for drinks.
Often, people are allowed to roam freely from one to the other arriving or departing with cocktails.Just pour unfinished drinks in plastic “to go” cups and hit to the street.
In between bar stops, people walk and gather on Rue Bourbon, many peering up at the balconies for girls willing to lift their top for a peek at their breasts in exchange for a string of Mardi Gras beads.
People gather by the hundreds to witness or participate and the balconies are packed for hours on end. This scene reaches its peak, so to speak, in front of the Cat’s Meow.
Bourbon Street action starts early. The band-and-dance bars along the St. Louis Street intersection offer 3-for-1 specials at Happy Hours until 9 p.m. On nice days, all tables on the Pat O’Brien’s garden patio are full. (Hurricane Warning: They serve Hurricanes in the souvenir glass in the daytime but will refund $3 if you turn it in when you leave.)
For New Year’s Eve, Mardi Gras and JazzFest Bourbon Street is one of the World’s Great Parties.
The Bars of Bourbon Street
When it’s time to get off the street and check out the bars, there are multitude of choices.
The prime cut-loose bars for the young and dancing are the Cat’s Meow, The Famous Door, Razzoo, Bourbon Street Blues and Utopia.
Cat’s Meow is a wildly-uninhibited karaoke bar where drunk (or well on their way to getting drunk) patrons take the stage and light up the scene. Friends often “perform” in groups and the crowd sings along and dances.
Upstairs, it’s a totally different scene. Cat’s Meow has that famous balcony where most of the bead-tossing guys and breast-showing girls hang and hang out. On the street below, it’s a madhouse. It has karaoke on weekdays,, which is quite popular.
The Famous Door, simply put, rocks. The bands go hard with Guns ‘n Roses, AC/DC and those bourbon Street favorites, Lynyrd Skynrd. Always crowded and often packed, this one-room bar is one of the most lively on Bourbon.
Razzoo is often Bourbon Street’s best pickup bar. In the front, a band blasts out rock and dance tunes. In the back, people gather on the large patio, the perfect place to meet and mingle.It’s one of the rowdiest bars on Bourbon. After about midnight it’s rock beat turns to hip-hop.
Bourbon Street Blues might sound like a sedate blues club, but in reality it is an energetic dance bar.
Also offering live music is the Krazy Korner. The bands are rock ‘n roll and party dance. Right around the corner from Pat O’Brien’s, it’s aways a lively stop on the way back to Bourbon.
No trip to New Orleans is complete without a visit to Pat O’Brien’s. The Home of the Hurricane is actually three bars in one: The garden patio with its signature fountain is like a giant outdoor house party, the piano bar features two baby grands going crazy in “Howl at the Moon” style and the side bar.
The latter is often the most fun. It has great music, a totally kick-back atmosphere and is filled mainly with locals. There’s no dance floor at Pat’s, just hanging, drinking and meeting (other than the piano bar’s sit-down show).
The signature drink of Pat O’Brien’s – and New Orleans – is the Hurricane.
The drink of choice at Pat O’Brien’s is the Hurricane, a red rum mixture that has made this bar famous well outside of New Orleans. Drinks are more expensive in the piano bar, incidentally.
The second-most famous drink on Bourbon Street is the Hand Grenade. It’s served up at a Jimmy Buffett-style bar called Tropical Isle, and it’s ingredients are a closely-guarded national secret (or so they pretend). Let’s just say it’s green and potent – they promote it as New Orleans’ strongest drink – and the tall plastic green cups in which they are served can be seen all over Bourbon Street. Go in or get ’em to go from the side window bar. There’s also good food – wings and great half-pound cheeseburgers with a stack of fries.
The Tropical Isle has a pretty good band, a small and crowded dance floor and a balcony for bead tossing/retrieving. It also has a small sister location around the corner on Toulouse Street that is preferred by locals. It usually has one guy on stage playing lots of Buffett.
Shots on Bourbon Street, as if all the colored drinks are not enough.
Late at night, after many of the restaurants and even some bars begin to close, staffers make their way to Johnny White’s at the end of Bourbon. A small bar with a pub and balcony upstairs, it has an Aloha spirit because the owner is from Hawaii.
The Pirate bar, just down from the Bourbon Street Tropical Isle, is to people in their 40s and 50s what the Cat’s Meow, Razzo’s and Bourbon Street Blues is to people in their 20s and early 30s. That is to say, a prime place to drink and meet.
New Orleans is known for its jazz and the city’s best place for it is the Funky Butt on Rampart.