Best Nightlife in New Orleans

10Best hot spots for sizzling New Orleans nightlife

Essentially an island squeezed between the Mississippi River and Lake Ponchartrain, New Orleans is a city defined and shaped by waterways. Nicknamed the Crescent City because of its quarter-moon shape, New Orleans was isolated from the mainland for close to 250 years. It's that very isolation that made this wonderful city a hotbed of musical innovation, resulting in Dixieland jazz, Creole cuisine, gospel music, jazz funerals and a sassy stew of cultures and mores that are uniquely it's own.

Jazz, R&B, soul and anything else you can think of fills the air when you walk down the street. The city has produced its share of musical giants, from greats like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Dr. John and Mahalia Jackson to contemporary acts like Better Than Ezra, Hurray for the Riff Raff and Galactic.

While you probably know about Preservation Hall just off Bourbon Street, you may be new to this eclectic line-up of clubs, places that cater as much to locals as to the tourist trade.  From Chickie Wah Wah in Mid-City to Tips Uptown and d.b.a. in the Marigny, each of these spots is a gem. Line up a ride share, have a double espresso and start your engines, the fun is about to begin. And don’t worry if you can’t get every club on your list in one night. You might feel better in the morning if you take one at a time.



Maple Leaf
Photo courtesy of Maple Leaf

The main Uptown music joint besides Tipitina's, Maple Leaf Bar focuses on local musicians, with many taking up residency at the bar. Some of the best funk acts of the city play here, from Jon Cleary to George Porter and Johnny Sketch. Maple Leaf is on Oak Street, which is a prime location for doing dinner and a show. Patrons can enjoy New Orleans best music here seven nights a week. The fame of the Maple Leaf once lured Beyonce Knowles to shoot a promotional video for one of her singles, and the stage occasionally has a special guest jump in to jam (Bruce Springsteen and Bonnie Raitt have in the past).

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: When they're not touring Rebirth is onstage every Tuesday for a later night brass jam.

Beth's expert tip: If you are in town for Jazz Fest, be sure to head to Maple Leaf for one of the "after Jazz Fest" late night shows.

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Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro

If you want to make a night out of listening to traditional jazz music in a comfortable atmosphere while sipping a drink, Snug Harbor, located on Frenchmen Street is the place for you. With its classy grown-up vibe, Snug allows you to enjoy yourself without having to worry about seating or the lack of drink options. A few of the city's famous Neville family are regulars here, and the crowd is usually focused solely on the music and the experience. There is a dining room with a casual menu of steaks and chops and lots of wine options. Snug really is the place to go for a jazzy evening.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Snug is a great spot for a burger before catching live traditional jazz in the intimate music room.

Beth's expert tip: Ellis Marsalis, the patriarch of the famed jazz clan, performs most Friday nights.

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High ceilings, rich brown paneling, and a long, sleek bar adorn this attractive space, housed in an old Marigny building. The bar menu is extensive and the assortment of single malt whiskey will delight even the most discriminating connoisseur. A TV, pool table and pinball machine keep everyone entertained, and a hot lineup of live blues and jazz bands performs nightly. With a massive rotating selection of draft beers on tap and plenty more in the bottles, this Faubourg Marigny club is a popular haunt with beer drinkers. Cover charges are kept to a minimum for later shows, making this a great place to duck in for a good time.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The original d.b.a. is in NY, but we're partial to this one on Frenchmen Street for its great music offerings and intimate vibe.

Beth's expert tip: There's rarely a cover if you catch an early show at this Frenchmen Street venue.

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French Quarter

Walking into One Eyed Jacks in the French Quarter is like stumbling into a shadow-filled red wax museum. Then you walk through the double doors and you're in a full-blown (if slightly seedy) theater, with multiple bars and a big dance floor. That kooky decor, combined with the edgy blend of acts that come through the doors makes this place a hidden gem. In any given week you can catch burlesque, comedy, death metal and folk. Drink prices are reasonable compared to many other French Quarter establishments, and the rules are loose. Oh wait, there aren't any rules. Even better.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: One Eyed Jacks is the premier intimate venue for alt touring acts and a locals' fave.

Beth's expert tip: 80s dance night every Thursdays should not to be missed.

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French Quarter

Preservation Hall is a historical jazz venue located on St. Peter Street steps away from Bourbon in the French Quarter. Admission first come first served is $20, or reserve in advance ($40-$50) to assure a seat close to the action. Folks line up early to get one of the limited bench seats in the intimate room, after that it's standing room or floor seating, but nobody seems to mind. Top notch jazz performers are regulars here and the vibe is old school magic. This place is one for the bucket list. A band CD or a vintage looking t-shirt are great souvenir options.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Preservation Hall is a legendary place that draws an international audience of traditional jazz lovers.

Beth's expert tip: This is one of the few kid-friendly indoor music venues in town.

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French Quarter
House of Blues

The House of Blues in New Orleans is unlike any other venue that shares its name. Opened in 1994 in the French Quarter, this historic blues house offers standing room viewing of a stage that gets concert-goes right on top of the performers. Each stage contains a box welded to the bottom containing original Mississippi mud, ensuring "that every artist has the roots and the spirit of the South planted beneath their feet". The New Orleans location has more than 298 pieces of folk art that line the walls and hallways of the interior. The calendar is always packed with not only blues artists, but top names from every genre.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The third House of Blues to open nationally offers not one but two music venues and a line up of big name and local acts.

Beth's expert tip: Check the concert calendar before your trip and get tickets in advance as shows tend to sell out.

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Monteleone Hotel Carousel Bar
Photo courtesy of Hotel Monteleone

The Carousel Bar is an infamous stopping point in the revered Monteleone Hotel on Royal Street in the French Quarter. Built in 1949 and renovated in 2011, the 25 seat bar gently spins its patrons around as they sip a drink from the endless cocktail menu. Non-revolving seating is available for those drinkers who'd rather stay stationary when they take down libations. The Carousel Bar has a vintage feel, taking its guests back to a more formal time. Live music is featured every night, with spotlights on local entertainers like Robin Barnes, Lena Prima and Antoine Diehl. The cocktail list includes drinks favored by past famous guests including Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. Light bites are available.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The 25-seat rotating novelty is the only bar of its kind in the city, with a history that dates back to 1949.

Beth's expert tip: There's usually a wait for one of the 25 revolving seats at this iconic bar, so avoid peak hours for a better chance of climbing aboard.

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Tipitina's began as a neighborhood juke joint in 1977, opened by a group of young music fans (The Fabulous Fo'teen) to provide a place for Professor Longhair to perform in his final years. Named for one of Longhair's most enigmatic recordings "Tipitina," the club has survived multiple owners and a brief closing in 1984, only to come back stronger than ever. The venue can hold up to 1000 or so fans standing room only, making this an intimate, sweaty, exhilarating place to hear the likes of Dumpstaphunk, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas and Galactic - the group that purchased the club last year. Follow Tips on Twitter for last minute news and specials.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Tips is synonymous with New Orleans roots music, an uptown institution not to be missed

Beth's expert tip: Check out music during the Foundation Free Fridays promo for free admission every Friday during the summer months.

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Chickie Wah Wah
Photo courtesy of Chickie Wah Wah

This chill venue situated on the Canal Street streetcar line is a locals' fave thanks to its eclectic line up and grown-up vibe. Expect an older crowd of mostly locals since not too many tourists find their way to this friendly club, even though it's not hard to find. If you're lucky, Grammy award winning UK blues pianist Jon Cleary will be playing his regular Tuesday gig. Showtimes are generally on the earlier side than you'll find elsewhere, and often there's one artist early on and another at 10 or 11 pm. The kitchen is closed at the moment so eat before you arrive.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: Chickie Wah Wah is a chill club that caters to an older crowd in a relaxed and comfortable environment.

Beth's expert tip: Outside of Chickie Wah Wah is one of the best places in town to catch Endymion during Mardi Gras.

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The Spotted Cat
Photo courtesy of New Orleans CVB

While local musicians entertain, patrons chill on comfy couches and sip cocktails at this popular Marigny lounge. The relaxed setting appeals to a mature clientele, and the music ranges from New Orleans jazz to swing to klezmer and blues. Early shows appeal to an older crowd, and there's usually no cover, just a one-drink minimum. Although food isn't served there are plenty of places on Frenchmen to nibble if you feel the need. The expanded club now offers more elbow room, although finding a seat is still tricky. Spotted Cat was featured frequently on the HBO show Treme, and you might hear The Davis Rogan Band perform - Rogan is the real-life person that the DJ character of Davis was based.

Recommended for Best Nightlife because: The bar offers live music in an authentic New Orleans setting.

Beth's expert tip: There's a terrific night art market just next door, open every night from 7 pm, definitely a must-shop.

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Meet Beth D'Addono

Beth D'Addono is a food and travel writer obsessed with flavor, exploring cultures, street music and the city of New Orleans.

Beth writes about New Orleans and other destinations for outlets...  More About Beth