By Kevin Wilkerson, PubClub.com New Orleans Nightlife Blogger
When New Orleans locals go to party – and they DO party – rarely do they head to Bourbon Street.
Instead, they make the move to the many other bars about town. Some of these we’ve detailed in our guide to the French Quarter (click on the above link). But there are many other places surrounded by the neighborhoods of New Orleans. This is where to get to know the people of this city and live as they do.
But first, here’s a quick guide on where to be and when to be there.
Best Bars/Best Nights of the Week
• Mondays – House of Blues, Decatur Street. It’s SIN (Service Industry Night) and on their night off, all the bartenders and waitresses have to go someplace. They choose the House of Blues. There is no live music, but the place rocks.
• Sundays and Tuesdays – Listed together because it’s the same place. The Maple Leaf is REAL Nawlens down-home fun. This large, rustic bar features some of the city’s top local bands. There’s a $10 cover but if the Rebirth Blues Band is playing the cover is likely to double. So, too, will the crowd. Take a taxi; it’s beyond Uptown.
• Wednesdays – It’s Uptown night. Start after work at The Superior Grill, but be up the street at Samuel’s by 11. Superior Grill is an indoor-outdoor cantina that’s packed along the narrow bar pathway, on the patio and even spilling into the sidewalk. People like the margaritas at Superior Grill. Samuel’s is a cool bar in a classic Southern house. It has an old-style porch, a well-used wooden bar and a great crowd on Wednesdays.
• Thursday’s – Lucy’s and/or Dino’s Bar and Grill in the Warehouse District. Plus Vaughn’s Lounge.
• Fridays-Saturdays – It really doesn’t matter where these people start the night because those looking to hook up end up at Snake & Jake’s Xmas Club Lounge (7612 Oak St., 861-2802, near Tulane). We don’t mean to flat-out say this is a pickup bar, but take a look at the name and also note people don’t arrive until 3 a.m. Anyone going to a bar at that time of the night is up to no good. Before 3, it’s just a bar, nothing special. After 3, though, it becomes very special for some.
Frenchman Street in the Fauborg Marigny Area [MAP]
Just a short walk from far the end of the French Quarter (bordering the Esplanade) is a lovely, boutique-style neighborhood known as Faubourg Marigny. The street name to look for is Frenchman, and within its few blocks are classy yet comfortable shops, restaurants and bars.
It’s a great place for an afternoon stroll but an even better place for well-off-the-beaten-path nightlife. As an indication of the crowd, this revitalized area is attracting Mercedes and BMWs into the parking areas. The best nights are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Live music can be found at d.b.a., an intimate bar. If you’ve been to New York and it sounds familiar, there’s a reason – it’s a spin-off of the club on First Avenue in lower Manhattan. This is a real happening bar.
As its name implies, Cafe Brasil (2100 Chartres St., 949-0851) is a hot Latin-spiced dance club. It’s where the Europeans in town go to party. Quite often, the party spills out onto the street and around one of the owner’s antique cars parked outside. The drinks are strong and for food, it’s well known for huge hamburgers.
Dat Dog is a hot dog stand on steroids with a happening balcony and bar. It’s a good place to watch sports.
For dinner and drinks, locals soak up the New Orleans-style seafood at Aldopho’s bar and restaurant.
The Warehouse District [MAP]
Rebuilt warehouses on the edge of downtown have become a locals’ hotbed. There’s a half-dozen place, all within walking distance of one another. In true Nawlens tradition, all are casual.
Dino’s (1128 Tchoupitoulas St. 558-0900) is one of the better places. The aforementioned Lucy’s (701 Tchoupitoulas Street, at Girod Street, 523 8995) has hot bartenders, only two of them who actually pour drinks (the others tend to stand around and look pretty). It’s mostly for after-work, Happy Hour happy times. The full name of this Tex-Mex place is Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar and Restaurant. The Red Eye Grill (852 S. Peters Street, 593-9393) is a brewhouse with a young crowd, low prices (the two tend to go hand-in-hand) and pool tables.
On the other end of the bar spectrum is the Howlin’ Wolf, a howling 1,000-capacity live music venue (828 South Peters, 522-WOLF). The Rebirth Blues Band are among the popular local bands that play here.
Uptown Bars, The Garden District [MAP]
The locals’ scene is far different from the frenzy on Bourbon Street. Generally speaking, locals enjoy drinking in a more toned-down atmosphere.
But that doesn’t mean the bars are not lively. Take The Columns Hotel, for example.
Walking into The Columns is like stepping into the 1800s – without the slavery, thankfully. It’s a plantation-style house with creaking wooden floors and a quiet reception desk guarding an old staircase leading up to the rooms. Its signature white columns on the porch just invite people to stop by and sip mint juleps on a warm day or evening. This is where the movie “Pretty Baby” was filmed.
The bar has a fireplace, booths, a circular couch and lots of locals happily getting buzzed. It once had “Big Mike” Smith behind the bar and locals loved him so much he was named New Orleans’ Best Bartender five years running. The bar can get quite loud with laughter. Tuesdays are one of its best nights. The Columns (3811 St. Charles Ave, 899-9308) is a bit difficult to find as it blends into the other great houses in this largely residential area. It is two blocks, and on the other side of the street from the Superior Grill. Just look for those white columns.
Superior Grill (3636 St. Charles, 900-4200) boasts a large tequila selection. What the Superior Grill does have is a superior crowd. It’s big night is Wednesday and it used to be THE pick-up place in town for the professional crowd. It’s a bit fished out now, but is still packed with potential.
Around the corner is one of New Orleans’ classic bars, The Mayfair Lounge, with doorbell to gain entrance and the 90-something hostess Miss Gertie (no address available but it’s the yellow sign just down from Superior). Miss Gertie will dance with you, tell you all about the party here and on the street when the Mardi Gras parade rolls by and may even do one of her signature shots with you. Mardi Gras beads hang from the ceiling, it has a juke box and possesses enough character – and characters – to enliven any trip to the city. This is where residents always bring their friends who are visiting New Orleans.
In the newly hip area of Magazine Street is Le Bon Temps Rouler (4801 Magazine St, 895-8117). The name is French for “let the good times roll.” It’s a straight-up bar with live music. It’s nothing fancy, but that’s hardly a requirement in this town for a fun bar.
The previously mentioned Maple Leaf (8316 Oak St., 866-9359) is a hot, sweaty dance club and bar that brings people in by the swarms to listen to favorite local bands. The look of the place is something best described as early fishing cottage. Sometimes, bands don’t start until 3 a.m., so around 2, there’s a steady stream of people walking through the door. There’s a patio on the side and a super-dark one in the back, plus a “hanging-out” bar in the rear. But it’s on the dance floor where the place cuts loose.
For more music, the Mid City Lanes Rock ‘n Bowl (4133 S. Carrollton, 482-3133) has live music combined with bowling. Best for groups; not awesome for meeting people.
Then there’s F&M’s Patio Bar (4841 Tchoupitoulas, 895-6784) a rowdy bar where people dance on pool tables late, late at night. It also serves good food well into the night.
Every cool town must have a least one truly off-the-wall bar, and in New Orleans it’s Ernie K’Does Mother in Law Lounge. Erine wrote the Mother in Law song, making him a true one-hit wonder. He died recently and received a true jazz funeral. The bar, which is in his old house, is still going, however. You drink in his living room and pay for the drinks by leaving “what you think you owe” in a jar on the counter. Live R&B and soul. Located at 1500 N. Claiborne, 947-1078.
For guys, the few blocks on Bourbon Street just past the Tropical Isle are the center of New Orleans’ gay life. For women, The Rainbow Room is all-lesbian. There’s not much to it, a dive full of dikes, but it’s about the only place in town for females seeking females.
PubClub.com covers nightlife, bars, festivals and party events around the world. I have been to New Orleans – and the French Quarter – many times.