Dancing isn't a special occasion kind of activity in New Orleans. In this town, where spontaneous second line parades happen any old time, and both weddings and funerals inspire dancing in the street, moving to a beat is as natural as eating red beans and rice on a Monday.
What many visitors may not know is that while traditional New Orleans jazz and brass is the ever-present sound track to the city, there is a vibrant music scene to celebrate every kind of genre happening just about any night of the week. From acoustic folk pickin' parties to DJ's spinning bounce and rap to homegrown sludge metal and Cajun waltzing, you can groove to it in New Orleans.
New Orleans does cater to the late night crowd and many of these dance clubs and live music venues reflect that philosophy. But those late night crowds are unlike any other you'll line up with in other cities. New Orleans is an equal opportunity party town. That sense of exclusivity that, say, a city like New York is famous for - you look a certain way, you get in, other than that stay behind those stanchions - is not how we roll. In most cases, crowds are mixed, gay, straight, male, female, older, younger, locals and tourists, a mix which makes for one heck of a good time.
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.
A hotbed of New Orleans' live music, the original "Tip's" is Uptown, rocking out bebeneath oak trees along the Mississippi River. Tip's helped launch the careers of such artists as the Neville Brothers, Harry Connick Jr., Dr. John and the subdudes. Filling out the performance schedule are major rock 'n' roll acts, emerging local groups of all genres and regional Cajun, zydeco, blues and R&B performers. Clubs come and they go, but there's no place like the original Tip's. Most Sundays you'll find a Cajun jam onstage. Get a shirt, the banana logo will be the envy of all your friends. Don't forget to rub Professor Longhair's head for luck - his statue greets you as you come into the club.
The Maison is a bar/restaurant venue on the historic Frenchmen Street in New Orleans. Frenchmen Street is known for its great music and nightlife, and The Maison offers some of the street's and the city's best dancing. This is a great place to go if you love dancing to live music a la horns, bluesy guitar and keys. The venue has three stages, and often they are all being worked by some great local talent simultaneously. There is rarely a cover at The Maison, so feel free to wander here late night when you're body starts fiending some moving and shaking.
From traveling business types to hard-core college students, the Howlin' Wolf draws a diverse crowd that tends to skew on the younger side. Located near the Convention Center, this live music club attracts a number of touring bands and the music menu ranges from rock to blues to Past line-ups have included the Black Crowes and the Reverend Horton Heat. The club holds about 500 people with an upstairs balcony area as well as pool tables in the back. The ambiance is loud, the crowd energetic, and the prices for drinks and cover are affordable. The bathrooms, however, are on the rough side so be prepared.
While local musicians entertain, patrons chill on comfy couches and sip cocktails at this popular Marigny lounge. The relaxed setting appeals to a slightly older clientele, although swingers of all ages show up for the swing dance lessons every Wednesday night. Music ranges from New Orleans jazz to Latin. Despite late night hours, the lounge is busiest in the early evening and shows start as early as late afternoon. Fans of the HBO show Treme may remember that Spotted Cat was a regular hangout for Treme buskers Annie and Sonny. Take a listen to the music outside before heading into the crowd. The cover is always nominal
Another warehouse dance destination, The Metropolitan Club is the premier video DJ dance establishment in the city. The intricate lighting and smoke machines set the mood, as celebrants find themselves lost in the endless beats bumping through the surround sound speakers. The music offerings are eclectic with top 40, hip hop, rock and pop in one room and house, electro, techno and dubstep in another. Flat screen TVs line the walls, so the dancers can follow the DJ from any spot on the floor. VIP table service is offered and valet parking is also a plus. Unlike other large clubs where it takes forever to get a drink, Metropolitan offers 11 bar stations so you're never thirsty.
Bourbon Heat offers a centrally located French Quarter dance club experience on the second level, with a courtyard for chilling with cocktails on the main floor. I suggest eating elsewhere, but if you're looking to party, head up the stairs to the huge dance floor outfitted with a large bar and a DJ spinning the latest pop, hip hop and house. Outside there is a large balcony which is perfect for people watching. Flashing lights and a smoke machine keep time to the music. When you need a break, head for the balcony overlooking the Bourbon Street masses swarming the street below.
Siberia is an alt music venue that rises to the top of the dive bar heap in a city that may just have invented the genre. Like most things New Orleans, Siberia has multiple personalities. It's live rock and roll music venue, well not really it's a Goth heavy metal venue. Ok forget that, you can catch a Cajun band for sure. Or if you're lucky, a somber Balkans folk trio that inspires what looks like Greek dancing. There's a convivial live and let live attitude here that is one of the best things about this town when it really comes together.
Formerly the Shim-Sham Club, this French Quarter favorite features both touring and local acts in genres from rock to metal along with the occasional burlesque show. There's a crowded bar up front that's open most nights, along with a theatre-style club in the back that hosts live music on the weekends. The vibe is kind of tired bordello meets shabby chic which adds up to a cool space to dance and hear music. The Fast Times 80s Dance Party every Thursday is jam-packed with people of all ages and features live Go Go dancers and a super fun crowd of all flavors.
The Republic is a posh and cavernous dance club where you might find the electronica meets R&B act FKA Twigs one night, a house DJ another and Rebirth Brass and Bonerama the night after that. The place is pretty, with crystal chandeliers and two floors for dancing and watching the action. There are multiple bars, an efficient and gracious staff and and enthusiastic and well dressed crowd. The crowd tends to be a little younger, but that doesn't stop everybody else from having a great time here as well. If you're lucky you can catch Bounce night with Big Freedia - twerking will commence.