Dec 17, 2023

The Best Bars on New Orleans’s Bourbon Street

Look beyond the t-shirt shops and strip clubs to find traditional jazz dens, lively karaoke bars, and iconic drinks

Bourbon Street is arguably the most famous street in the world. Go anywhere, mention New Orleans, and Bourbon Street is the next topic of discussion. While locals may tend to espouse the street's party atmosphere, there is plenty to recommend, from iconic restaurants like Galatoire's to greasy spoons like Clover Grill, just the ticket after a night of drinking. Beyond the strip clubs and t-shirt shops, the stage is set for having a great time at dance clubs and bars with live music and karaoke. No complaining about crowds, assertive shills, and loud music. If that's a bother, a quiet hotel bar on Royal Street is a better fit. But if strong drinks and a party scene is in order, it doesn't get better than Bourbon.

This 200+-year-old bar in the French Quarter is a great stop for an absinthe-based pick me up —get the Absinthe Frappe — though they do boast a cocktail menu of New Orleans's most famous drinks, making The Old Absinthe House a place to bring out-of-town visitors. There's a spacious outdoor courtyard facing Bourbon.

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Although throwing back one (or more) hand grenades will surely lead to questionable decision-making, the distinctively shaped plastic cups are ubiquitous on Bourbon Street. Tropical Isle put the drink on the map during the ill-fated 1984 World's Fair — the hand grenade was the fair's biggest success. While there are a number of Tropical Isles in the Quarter, if you’re going to pick one, our recommendation goes to the Bayou Club, where you can catch Zydeco and Cajun music.

Known for live traditional jazz and stiff cocktails, Maison Bourbon is not to be confused with Preservation Hall, a more serious music venue, around the corner on St. Peter. In the rear of the club is a quaint courtyard with a wrought-iron gate accessing the cozy My Bar @ 635, home to the famous purple Voodoo daiquiri and a second-floor balcony over the action.

With bragging rights to the largest covered balcony on Bourbon, Krazy Korner is bead throwing central during Mardi Gras, and sometimes random other times of the year when private parties take over the space. The Day Walkers zydeco band is usually in residence, live music that always gets the crowds dancing.

Love the best karaoke in the world proclamation, and who knows, it might be true. The Cats Meow is not for the faint of heart, a nonstop, rollicking, and loud party scene with lots of drinking and action like swimsuit competitions with cash prizes and private parties on the balcony. If that scene appeals, fun is guaranteed.

The stage is set for a classy good time at Bourbon ‘O’ Bar in the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. Exposed brick, a long roomy bar, an eye-popping mural, and local art invite a slightly older crowd in for date night. Catch local talent like songbird Ingrid Lucia every night of the week. There are nibbles like crawfish quesadilla at the bar, along with a menu of classic cocktails.

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Fritzel's is known for being the oldest operating jazz venue in New Orleans, a distinction that makes it worth a visit all on its own. Beyond that, Fritzel's offers a departure from other live music bars that dominate the strip, with traditional Dixieland jazz that starts at 12:30 p.m. daily and nightly swing jazz shows curated by music director Kevin Clark. It tends to skew towards a more mature crowd, with the option to take a seat in the (crowded) bleacher-style seating after a long day on your feet exploring the Quarter.

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Home to epic drag competitions, Bourbon Pub Parade opens at noon and stays open late, every day but Monday. Fun year-round but especially lively during Southern Decadence, when the wraparound balcony is the place to see and be seen.

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Located in the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, Napoleon's Itch is a compact gay bar known for its minty mojitos and old-school soul or jazz soundtrack. On the opposite corner from the Bourbon "O" Bar, the pours are strong, and beyond the traditional, there are seasonal flavored mojitos worth imbibing.

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Oz is all about the dance moves, a lively gay dance club with a robust menu of nightly entertainment. Whether it's karaoke, boylesque, drag, queer comedy, bingo, or stripping, this bar is a 24/7 party. Oz is also the epicenter of drag action on Mardi Gras Day.

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Café Lafitte in Exile's claim to fame is that it is the oldest continuously operating gay bar in the country — though it likely wouldn't have been called such in the 1930s when it was first founded. It gets its name because it originally occupied the space home to Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, moving to its current location in the ’50s, hence the "exile." Said to be haunted by luminaries like Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, downstairs has a welcoming bar with cheap drinks and views of Bourbon Street ideal for people-watching, and the upstairs bar with a wraparound balcony hosts weekly events, including karaoke and dance parties.

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Lafitte's, which celebrated its 300th birthday a few years back, is reputed to be the oldest building in the U.S. used as a bar. Said to be the storehouse of New Orleans privateer, aka pirate, Jean Lafitte, its iconic brick-and-shutter facade beckons with its somewhat off-the-beaten-path location, where there's just enough distance from the most hectic part of Bourbon Street to feel like a haven. Visit for a candle-lit, rustic atmosphere, the piano bar, and to try the famous purple drink.

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