10 Best New Orleans Cocktail Bars, from Highbrow to Low

Photo courtesy of Hotel Monteleone
By Beth D'Addono, New Orleans Local Expert

Finding somewhere to drink in New Orleans is never a problem. This is a drinking town and booze is sold just about everywhere, from the Walgreens to the drive through daiquiri shop This is the city that invented the cocktail, for goodness sake, a place where drinking on the street is the norm and ordering a go cup for your cocktail is as commonplace as over served tourists.

Choosing where to have that drink is another matter altogether. The breadth of the types of bars available here is astounding. New Orleans has everything from throw 'em back saloons to upscale lounges where worshiping at the altar of the craft cocktail is the religion of choice.  If you are here with your buddies looking for a place to crush beers until the sun comes up, check out a spot like Tracey's.  In New Orleans for a girls' weekend or romantic getaway? Check out Cure, Cane + Table or Bar Tonique for hand-crafted cocktails and snappy noshes. Then there's the true dive bars, which really deserve a list all their own.  Sure, your feet stick to the floor and don't expect a clean bathroom, but the conversation you're likely to have with whoever is sitting next to you is priceless.

Is this the definitive list? For a minute...until your mood changes, you start walking in the opposite direction and you notice another little hole in the wall spot just waiting to be discovered.

10. Monteleone Hotel Carousel Bar
Photo courtesy of Hotel Monteleone

If you think the room is spinning after a few cocktails at the Carousel Bar, you're onto something. Actually it's the working carousel bar that revolves at this stylish spot on Royal, one of three lounges in the elegant Monteleone Hotel. The ambiance is classic piano bar and the crowd varies from traveling business professionals to die hard regulars. The Monteleone Carousel Bar Chas long been a favorite meeting place for locals and celebrities alike. Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams were among its famous patrons. The decor is exquisite and the mood elegant. Local songbirds Robin Barnes and Lena Prima are two regular performers.

9. Cane & Table
Photo courtesy of Saw Howzit

Cane & Table is yet another concept cocktail bar created by the proprietors of successful ventures Cure and Bellocq. This new spot, on Decatur in the French Quarter, describes itself as "proto-tiki" - so don't expect little umbrellas in your drink. Bartenders concoct a variety of rum drinks in their "rustic Colonial" style location, and pair those with an island-themed food menu that includes entrees like local yardbird with sesame and mole deep and fried ribs served with overflowing side dishes. But it's the drinks you'll remember best, refreshing coolers made with fresh juices and pot-stilled rum and interesting blends like the golden lion, a clarified milk punch with pineapple and sherry.

8. The Napoleon House

Although the Pimm's Cup is veddy British, Napoleon House popularized the drink in a setting reminiscent of Amsterdam's brown cafes. The French Quarter bar - which doesn't look like much from the outside - possesses a faded peeling beauty earned the old fashioned way - over the course of more than 200 years of history. The bar is named for the diminutive despot, who was offered asylum by the building's first occupant, Nicholas Girod, in 1821. Napoleon never made it, but the name stuck and the place has been a haunt for the literati and the besotted every since. Ralph Brennan took over ownership of the bar from the Impastato family in May of 2015.

7. Chuck's Sports Bar
Photo courtesy of Chris Waits

Open damn near 24 hours. That's what's on the tired looking awning outside of Chuck's Sports Bar, a fab dive bar located on a quiet street less than a mile from the Superdome. Cheap, strong drinks, a mostly local clientele, including plenty of bartenders late night and a smoke-away policy makes Chuck's a divey gem. There's a pool table and a digital jukebox, but don't come hungry. No chow is served but you can bring something in if you like. You won't confuse this place for the Polo Lounge at the five-star Windsor Court Hotel two blocks away, but Chuck's is a keeper.

6. Bacchanal
Photo courtesy of DoctorWho

Drinking strong, well made drinks or a bottle of wine in the outdoor courtyard at Bacchanal is simply one of the best ways to spend a Sunday afternoon. But really anytime is fine to visit this off the beaten path Bywater classic on Poland Street just a stone's throw from the river. Pick up a bottle of wine at the shop out front and head outside where you can order an inspired cheese plate or just about anything from the kitchen's inventive menu (love the whole grilled fish with tomatillo salsa). If it's rainy the more recently added upstairs bar is lovely, but when the weather is fine, the open air courtyard is the perfect spot for live music and conversation.

5. Bar Tonique
Photo courtesy of rossination

Bar Tonique on the edge of the French Quarter bar isn't the typical PBR slinging dive - not that there's anything wrong with that flavor of bar. But this is the place for a frothy Ramos gin fizz – a favorite libation of notorious past governor Huey P. Long – made with TLC by a friendly enough bartender. All drinks are hand crafted cocktails using fresh ingredients and choice rare liquors. There's a rotating daily special, offering drinks like a Pimm's Cup, Mai Tai or Bloody Mary for just $5. The bar is directly across from Armstrong Park, a lovely wander before or after you imbibe.

4. Cure
Photo courtesy of Cure

When a local bar is one of just 16 American bars to make Drinks International's prestigious ranking of the 50 best bars in the world, it's a big deal. Cure on Freret Street s London's Artesian, New York's PDT and Tokyo's High Five. The accolades are well earned. The barkeeps at this dimly lit lounge make drinks of the highest order. A lot of credit goes to owners Matthew Kohnke and Neal Bodenheimer, who had a vision for change when they opened Cure in 2009 at a time when Freret Street was downright blighted. Six years later and this swanky cocktail lounge has plenty of company on a street that is now a destination for tourists and locals alike.

3. Tracey's
Photo courtesy of Tracey's

Tracey's was the original bar in New Orleans' Irish Channel, dating back to 1949. Its current location is on Magazine Street, and since their reopening in 2010, Trace's has thrived as a top Big Easy sports bar. With great drink specials Monday through Thursday lasting from 11 am to 7 pm, there is rarely a time to not be at Tracey's. They have more than 20 TVs equipped with all the sports packages so the traveling fan can catch their home team play while on the road for business or pleasure. Tracey's food has drawn rave reviews, especially the po'boy section of their menu.

2. French 75 Bar

Intimate, quaint and quiet. The luxury of enjoying the splendor of a cigar is what French 75 Bar is all about. Aficionados can find the finest of tobaccos from around the world in a classic dark wood club-style ambiance. Located across the hall from Arnaud's Restaurant's main dining room, there is an on-site humidor housing an extensive cigar selection. Tobaccos in stock come from South America, the Caribbean, Switzerland, France, London, Miami and New York. The bar also offers an array of drinking spirits. Enjoy a sip of cognac or port, bourbon or scotch to further enhance the total experience.

1. Saturn Bar
Photo courtesy of Photo by Jillian.e

Before St. Claude Avenue was "cool," before there were restaurants opening every other week along this Bywater stretch, the Saturn was there. There's a great juke box and live music on a regular basis, but the real night to dance like a fool is the monthly Saturday night Mod Dance Party - an evening of 60s swagger powered by DJ Matty and DJ Kristen, who stick to a soundtrack of solely vinyl from the period. Put on some lashes, tease the hair and done your best pucci knock off mini-dress, and you'll fit right in. The view from the upstairs balcony is killer.