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 its 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 more to locals than 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 taxi, 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.
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, and by the crowds, you can tell the city is fully aware of that. 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, in one of the only venues around offering that kind of schedule. 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).
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 really chill out and enjoy yourself without having to worry about seating or the lack of drink options. Some of the city's famous Neville Brothers are regulars here, and the crowd is usually void of the type that isn't there solely for the music and the experience. With a full wine menu and regional dining options crafted by their skilled cooking staff, this really is the place to go for jazzy evening.
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 Faugbourg 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.
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.
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 ($30-$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.
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.
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 most Wednesdays through Saturdays, with spotlights on local entertainers like Robin Barnes, Lena Prima and Luther Kent. The cocktail list includes drinks favored by past famous guests including Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.
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. Follow Tips on Twitter for last minute news and specials.
This chill venue situated on the Canal Street streetcar line is a locals' fave thanks to its eclectic line up, great food 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, award winning UK blues pianist Jon Cleary, who lives in the neighborhood, 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. There's a pop up restaurant that dishes up some serious barbecue if you're hungry.
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 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 club recently expanded, offering 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.