If you are on spring break and age 21, you will LOVE New Orleans’ famous Bourbon Street. But everyone I asked for recommendations from told me to stay away. Bourbon Street is fun, if all you’re doing is drinking your face off, but it’s not real New Orleans. It’s neon lights, 3-for-1 beers, and top 40/hip-hop music. Below are some of the best drinking establishments I went to in NOLA that are not on Bourbon, plus two that *are* actually on it. Don’t think about it too much.
Pirate’s Alley Cafe and Absinthe House
The first place we stopped when we got to NOLA was Pirate’s Alley. We enjoyed drinking in their adorable alley out in the sunlight as we hadn’t been able to drink outside in months in New York. Our plans for the day were decided while sipping our drinks – a Bloody Mary for him and a Pirate Punch for me. We later learned from a ghost tour app we downloaded (Wicked Walks New Orleans) that because Pirate’s Alley is right next to both St. Louis Cathedral (home of the cemetery we toured) and the Cabildo (an old government building), this bar is the world’s closest proximity of Church, State, and Bar. It was on said ghost tour because on the site used to be a Spanish prison which held some of New Orleans’ most famous pirates and some of them did not walk the plank willingly.
To be quite honest, it was almost impossible to get a drink at Carousel Bar. I think the last time I waited that long for a drink was from the time I was born until I was in high school. Zing. Okay, it wasn’t *that* long of a wait, but the actual reason I put this bar on the list is because the night we went, there was an AMAZING Beatles tribute band – Jubilation. I’m a huge Beatles fan so I was way into the music, but even better than the music was the crowd – tons of former hippies, drunk, dancing, and wearing Lennon glasses.
Lucy’s Retired Surfer Bar
After our third amazing sandwich of the trip, we stopped at Lucy’s, a cute little beach-theme bar on Tchoupitoulas Street, which we kept mispronouncing as “Chipotle Street,” among other things. We went because our lunch dates had told us about a shot you can take there – tequila with an actual tequila worm in it. If you take the shot, you get a free t-shirt. I was thinking about it, you know, “for the story” (well, and for the t-shirt), but I decided it probably wouldn’t be the best thing for my stomach. We drank really boring bottles of beer instead, with no insects in them – at least with none to our knowledge.
On Saturday night, we canned over to Freret Street and met up with some local friends who we’d eaten lunch with earlier that day. Publiq House is definitely a more local place than everywhere else we went but it has some tourist appeal for sure. I think I tried every one of their “beer cocktails” which is probably why I climbed over a fence to get to our cab on the way back and then didn’t feel so great the next morning. To give you an idea of what a beer cocktail is, the “Floradora” is gin, framboise, lime, and ginger ale and the “Coupe de Ville” is Abita Light, Anejo tequila, lime juice, OJ, and Grand Marnier. I had to try all five of them, but I guess I didn’t need to have all five plus a few others to myself.
Spotted Cat Music Club
I had heard that Frenchmen Street was where more of the locals hung out instead of Bourbon. This was also where we could find some good real New Orleans music. We got there kind of early, as we were told things started hopping around dinnertime, so after a nap in a nearby park with a bunch of hippies and dogs, we wandered over to Spotted Cat Music Club where we found an adorable band, a fun couple to chat with, and a piano in the ladies’ room.
Blue Nile is another bar on Frenchmen Street, visited later that evening, with live music. We originally were going to go elsewhere but the band was just ending their set at the place next store. It was actually really lucky that the other bar had been done for the night, because we came across Blue Nile and an amazing brass band which we may not have discovered otherwise.
These next two bars *are* actually on Bourbon Street, but you should definitely check them out.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
Sure, I have made many a visit to what’s touted as the oldest bar in Manhattan, but Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is said to be the oldest bar in THE COUNTRY, built in the early 1700s. You betcha I wanted to go check it out for that reason *and* for the potential for ghosts. The fireplace in the main room is said to sometimes show two bright red lights that, when inspected, are actually a pair of eyes, red with blood. Rumor has it that Lafitte at one point buried gold underneath the fireplace and killed a man on the site so that this man’s ghost would guard the gold for eternity. My friend and I did not see anything in the fireplace, but he did definitely move seats in the completely dark room in the back while I grabbed beer from the bar in an attempt to scare me. If this had been after our trip to Pat O’Brien’s, the next stop, I may have been fooled.
Pat O’Brien’s is famous for inventing “the hurricane”: a fruity and rum-filled drink served in a glass that looks like a hurricane lamp. We sat down in the piano bar where the performance was just starting up for the night. We requested lots of amazing songs, written on cocktail napkins, just as we would have at one of my favorite NYC bars. The pianists kept telling me they would not play my awesome request of “Buffalo Gal, Won’t You Come Out Tonight” from the best Christmas movie of all time, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but aside from that, it was an amazing time. We had *several* rounds of hurricanes and had so much fun that we didn’t remember what we had done for dinner until much later the next day.