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The 10 Best New Orleans Jazz Clubs for Feeling the Groove



Jazz is the beating heart of New Orleans, as important to this city's soul as a rich pot of gumbo, a second line parade and the charming architecture that defines neighborhoods like the French Quarter and the Marigny.  To listen to local musicians play authentic New Orleans jazz, you need to dive into neighborhoods beyond the Bourbon Street scene, although there are still a few must-visit clubs in the French Quarter. 

One of the best places to start is the Marigny, just up from where the Mississippi bends into its famous crescent, an original Creole neighborhood named for a 19th-century aristocrat and good-time-guy Bernard de Marigny de Mandeville. In the past decade or so, the Marigny has emerged as a mecca of nightclubs, bars and restaurants, most of which are frequented by a mix of both locals and tourists.   Here is arguably the best place in town to hear all kinds of live music, including straight-ahead jazz.  On any given evening, you can swing dance at Spotted Cat, hear brass at d.b.a. and most Fridays Ellis Marsalis’ straight-ahead jazz at Snug Harbor.  There are clubs in the Treme, uptown on Oak Street, along St. Claude Avenue. All for your listening pleasure.


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Monteleone Hotel Carousel Bar
Photo courtesy of Hotel Monteleone


All dressed up and ready for some cheek to cheek? This revolving bar in the elegant Monteleone Hotel fits the bill. With live music by talented vocalists like Robin Barnes and Lena Prima, the Carousel Bar makes anybody feel like a sophisti-cat. The working carousel is just too much fun, first installed in 1949 and a draw for celebrities including Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. Generally, the crowd varies from traveling business professionals to die hard regulars and date nighters. Happy hour is always busy, so busy sometimes that the music can be drowned out with chatter. The decor is exquisite and the mood elegant.

Recommended for Jazz Clubs because: Located on Royal Street, this iconic bar has been drawing celebrities and visitors since 1949.

Beth's expert tip: This music venue offers a more sedate alternative to the nutty Frenchmen Street scene.

Read more about Monteleone Hotel Carousel Bar →


9
French Quarter
Fritzel's


Everyone "old and young, from far and near" feels welcome at this cozy German-style beer hall. Patrons, seated near the fireplace or on the patio, puff cigars, down their favorite imported beers or sip cocktails made with European schnapps. The club's live Dixieland jazz never disappoints with local luminaries onstage nightly. Fritzel's claims to be the city's oldest operating jazz club, a fixture on Bourbon Street since the 60s in a 19th-century building with great architectural bones. Although the atmosphere is lively, the audience comes to hear the music, not something too common along this stretch of Bourbon Street.

Recommended for Jazz Clubs because: Fritzel's is a European-style beer hall featuring a very diverse selection of jazz bands.

Beth's expert tip: Come here for traditional New Orleans jazz - the only place to hear it on Bourbon Street.

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The Spotted Cat
Photo courtesy of New Orleans CVB


The Spotted Cat is always crowded, it's true, but if you like gypsy swing and traditional jazz, you'll fall in love with this Frenchmen Street sweet spot. Crowds always spill onto the sidewalks during festival times and game weekends, so expect to stand and even dance in place. Elbow room is usually at a premium. Drinks are cheap and there's never a cover charge. On any given night you may catch blues, jazz, Latin or a mix of genres, always energetic and danceable tunes. The space is intimate and the energy is contagious, so be ready for an experience. There's a one drink minimum per set.

Recommended for Jazz Clubs because: The Spotted Cat is an iconic Frenchmen Street club known for swing dancing crowds and lively bands.

Beth's expert tip: Early shows give visitors afternoon options for music and dance.

Read more about The Spotted Cat →


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7
Historic Bywater
Vaughan's Lounge


Don't let the seedy environs deter you from this casual, comfortable Bywater hangout. Vaughan's is one of the best dive bars in town, brought to local infamy by Kermit Ruffins; regular Thursday night gigs. Kermit retired last year from late night shows, but Vaughan's is still home to funky live jazz every Thursday night. The bar is friendly, drinks are strong and well priced and the crowd is usually more locals than tourists. Vaughan's is off the beaten path, although not as far afield as it was even five years ago - the Bywater is booming. Grab a taxi or Lyft to get to this Bywater bar from the French Quarter. There's a cover, but only on Thursdays.

Recommended for Jazz Clubs because: Vaughan's Lounge may offer the truest old-school style jazz club experience in the city.

Beth's expert tip: Thursdays is the only night for live music at this favorite Bywater dive.

Read more about Vaughan's Lounge →


6
French Quarter
Palm Court Jazz Cafe


Traditional jazz music emanates nightly from the Palm Court Jazz Cafe on Decatur, not far from the French Market. The ambiance is classic and the house musicians, who most likely have been playing for decades, start at 8 pm. Although the Creole menu can be hit or miss, this place is ever-popular with locals and visitors alike, including families with kids. The crowd tends to be older, but the dance floor is rarely empty. The decor features exposed brick walls, tiled floors and a decadently attractive mahogany bar. This is the place banjo talent Danny Barker praised in his song "Palm Court Strut." There's no cover but there is a $5 entertainment charge added to your check.

Recommended for Jazz Clubs because: Palm Court offers traditional New Orleans jazz in a historic French Quarter setting.

Beth's expert tip: Food can be uneven, so your best bet is to grab drinks and maybe an app while the music plays.

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5
Riverbend
Maple Leaf
Photo courtesy of Maple Leaf


Pressed tin walls and a narrow dance floor are part of the charm of the Maple Leaf. Live bands play genres like Zydeco, rock, blues and funk showcasing the city's best talent. Unannounced sit-ins are not uncommon; Bruce Springsteen once dropped in to jam with The Iguanas and Jon Cleary's band was once joined by his frequent employer, Bonnie Raitt. Because the club is close to both Loyola and Tulane Universities, the Maple Leaf attracts a diverse crowd that includes college students, professors, tourists and hard-core music aficionados. The venue is also one of New Orleans' premier Spoken Word locations.

Recommended for Jazz Clubs because: This Oak Street club is an iconic spot for all kinds of local music uptown.

Beth's expert tip: Tuesdays are legendary at this uptown hot spot, thanks to Rebirth always being in the house.

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4
French Quarter
Jazz Playhouse


Located inside the Royal Sonesta in the French Quarter, Jazz Playhouse offers local talent seven nights a week, no cover charge, in a swank, upscale setting. Some of the city's best jazz performers take the stage, including The James River Movement, Michael Watson's The Alchemy, Luther Kent and Glen David Andrews. A few others not to miss includes Germaine Bazzle, a soulful jazz singer and Gerald French and the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, a troupe that defines old school class and style. Every Friday night around midnight, a few of New Orleans' best burlesque performers from the city's top troupes also perform.

Recommended for Jazz Clubs because: At Jazz Playhouse you can come for jazz and stay for the late-night burlesque.

Beth's expert tip: If you are a die-hard jazz aficionado, you'll be tempted to stay at the Royal Sonesta and visit the Jazz Playhouse every night.

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Maison Bourbon Jazz Club


This stalwart spot is where many New Orleans musicians including Harry Connick, Jr. served their apprenticeships. Maison upholds the city's famous jazz and Dixieland tradition, one of the few clubs on Bourbon Street that can stake that claim. The balcony is a fine spot top for an overview of the action, and in the rear of the club is a quaint courtyard with a wrought-iron gate accessing the chill Bar @ 635, a great place for a cocktail. You'll hear local talent here, including bands led by young jazz lion Jamil Sharif, as well as traditional favorites Jamie Wight and Dwayne Burns.

Recommended for Jazz Clubs because: This classy club offers live music in an authentic New Orleans setting.

Beth's expert tip: You'll never pay a cover but there is a one drink per set minimum.

Read more about Maison Bourbon Jazz Club →


2
French Quarter
Preservation Hall


Just show up and expect to stand in line at this wonderful venue just off of Bourbon Street. But you can also order tickets online and go in at the front of the crowds, guaranteeing your party one of the hard bench seats in front of the band. Preservation Hall is a historic New Orleans tradition that spotlights talented local bandleaders and sidemen that draw an international crowd of music fans. The decor is basic and consists of benches and cushions. There is no food or drink allowed in the hall and crowds are usually standing room only. Bring the kids - this is one of the few places that welcome all ages.

Recommended for Jazz Clubs because: Preservation Hall is internationally known as THE place to go for authentic, New Orleans style jazz.

Beth's expert tip: Grab a drink before you get in line and plan to finish it before you go inside - there no beverages permitted in The Hall.

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Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro


You have two options at Snug Harbor, the jazz institution on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny. Sit at the bar or in the dining room and eat - the steaks and burgers are excellent -and you'll hear whoever is performing on live TV. Or pay the cover charge (it's always worth it) and head into the intimate little club called the "classiest jazz club in New Orleans" by The New York Times. Snug, which was frequently mentioned in reverential terms on the HBO series Treme, attracts a crowd of avid listeners, so if you ignore the band and chatter, expect to get shushed. If you can catch drummer Stanton Moore, all the better.

Recommended for Jazz Clubs because: There's no better spot to catch the A-list of local jazz greats.

Beth's expert tip: Most Fridays at Snug Harbor you can catch patriarch Ellis Marsalis and his band in an incredibly intimate setting.

Read more about Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro →


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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

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