New Orleans nightlife is world famous and perhaps at its best during Mardi Gras when the French Quarter, the rest of the city, and communities as far away as Mobile, Alabama and Biloxi, Mississippi explode in a carnival of parades, dance, music, parties, and drinking. But don’t worry if you’ve planned to visit during another time of year. The many New Orleans bars and clubs sway to the city’s legendary soundtrack 365 days a year.
Nightlife in New Orleans
Dozens of New Orleans jazz clubs and music bars will be pumping out jazz or zydeco, Cajun music or rhythm or blues, and brass bands are apt to be escorting a somber funeral procession to one of the historic cemeteries before returning to a Bourbon Street bar while dancing joyously down the middle of the street. Partying is such a part of the city’s heritage that two Bourbon Street music bars didn’t even close during Hurricane Katrina.
The extraordinary New Orleans nightlife benefits from some of the loosest liquor laws in the United States. This is one of the only places where it is perfectly okay to take your drink in a to go cup out on the street and get it conveniently refilled at one of the many walk up windows that many of the New Orleans bars have thoughtfully placed along their stretch of sidewalk. This laid-back attitude extends to the schedules many of the New Orleans jazz clubs keep, which often are hard to ascertain and sometimes depend on whether or not the proprietor has gone fishing or is attending a funeral party. Just remember that most clubs start to rock late and stay open late (or not close at all). Probably the most dependable schedules are those kept by the bars in hotels and by the House of Blues on Decatur Street.
Another very attractive feature of New Orleans nightlife is the relatively low cover charge you have to pay at most establishments. The further away from the city and its famous French Quarter you get, the lower the cover charge. Some places outside of the city won’t have any cover charge at all. The most authentic Cajun music will be found in the swampy regions where these descendants of French Canadians exiled from Acadia first settled in the late eighteenth century. You’ll find these swamps, such as the Honey Island Swamp, on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The North Shore suburbs of Covington and Slidell both have some fine Cajun nightspots. You might even find a legendary music star cranking out some tunes unannounced in a local hangout. While the great blues artist Clarence “Gatemounth” Brown was born in Vinton, Louisiana on the border with Texas, he made his home in Slidell in the latter part of his life. Until his death in 2005, after being evacuated because of Katrina, he was often seen and heard in local bars.
Some New Orleans jazz clubs are actually authentic steamboats that offer evening river cruises on the mighty Mississippi. You can enjoy a scenic cruise and a taste of the city’s history while dining on a sumptuous Creole buffet and dancing to live music. Boarding takes place at the Canal Street pier near Harrah’s, one of the city’s casinos.
You can enjoy New Orleans bars and a dash of education by booking one of the cocktail tours available. Many companies offer these, sometimes using streetcars for transportation as they travel from bar to bar. The best are led by knowledgeable guides who tell you the history of the music scene and have been known to divulge secret cocktail recipes.