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Photograph: Denny Culbert, Courtesy Jewel of the South

The best bars in New Orleans

Go beyond Bourbon Street to find the best bars in New Orleans in 2021

Written by
Gerrish Lopez
Contributor
Laura McKnight
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New Orleans is a city for drinking, from revered cocktails to go-cups on Bourbon Street. Neighborhood bars, classy cocktail lounges, and historic watering holes dot the city, and the best bars in New Orleans boast both skillful bartenders and tasty drinks – not surprising from the city that is thought to be where the cocktail was actually invented.

The nightlife scene in New Orleans caters to every kind of crowd. Locals have their favorites, going back generations. Visitors flock to boisterous Bourbon Street, where the quality-to-volume ratio is low (but it’s a spectacle everyone should witness at least once in their life). Those who branch out beyond the French Quarter will be rewarded with a bar scene full of characters, personality, and quality drinks.

Whether you’re looking for classic cocktails synonymous with New Orleans — must-try concoctions include the Sazerac, Ramos Gin Fizz, and brunch fave Brandy Milk Punch — an inventive new cocktail, or just an ice cold beer and a bit of camaraderie, these bars have you covered. If you can’t finish your drink, just ask for a go-cup and take it for a stroll.

Be sure to fuel up for your cocktail explorations by dining on iconic New Orleans dishes or start the next day with one of the best brunches in New Orleans; with so many things to do around the city, you want to feel your best the next day.

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Best bars in New Orleans

This landmark, named after the city’s official drink, exhibits qualities that define a classic New Orleans bar: grandeur, quality service and cocktails interlaced with local history. Ease into a seat at the lengthy wooden bar and order the signature sazerac, which legend holds was invented in the early 1800s by Creole apothecary Antoine Peychaud. The white-coat-clad bartenders can also shake up a frothy delicacy: the Ramos Gin Fizz. The drink, favored by storied Louisiana Governor Huey P. Long, is like cake in a glass. It does, however, require some heavy lifting, so be sure to tip your bartender accordingly.

Opened by Chris Hannah, one of the city’s most esteemed bartenders (formerly of the French 75 bar), this modern cocktail destination is tucked into a Creole cottage that dates back to the 1830s. It’s named for a restaurant that was opened by Joseph Santini, inventor of the Brandy Crusta. Hannah has revived this largely forgotten but influential drink—it was the first cocktail to incorporate fresh citrus juice—and has made it the bar’s signature offering, alongside skillful interpretations of the classics.

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Offering house-made ingredients and masterful mixology, Sylvain serves tasty classic cocktails but truly shines when crafting its own inventions. If you’re looking for a complex drink to sip and savor, Sylvain is a must. Though it's at the forefront of modern drinking culture in NOLA, the bar and restaurant exude a historic ambiance given the location in a former carriage house in the heart of the French Quarter.

This Uptown beer mecca is worth a pilgrimage, especially if you’re a beer geek or whiskey devotee. The two-story pub on busy St. Charles Avenue houses a world-renowned collection of brews stacked with Belgian-style beers and rarities from around the world, along with specialty ales from Louisiana craft breweries. Connoisseurs will appreciate the bar’s whiskey list, especially the bourbons. The pub’s balcony offers a scenic view of New Orleans’ downtown, and the first floor remains open 24/7.

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The Elysian Bar, another venture by the Bacchanal team, opened in the fall of 2018 inside Hotel Peter and Paul and has swiftly drawn acclaim for its lush and original design coupled with a drink menu that features French, Spanish and Italian vermouths, amaros and other aperitif wines, many mixed into cocktails. The space radiates a warm pink glow and forms part of the restoration of a historic church complex in the artsy Marigny neighborhood.

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is a treasure. It’s one of the oldest structures in the city (it survived two major fires!) and is said to be the New Orleans base for privateer brothers Jean and Pierre Lafitte. Is it touristy? Yes. Is it haunted? Maybe. And if the outlaw tales aren’t enough to capture your interest, it’s worth visiting to see the building’s French Creole architectural style, briquette-entre-poteaux (brick-between-posts), and enjoy the romantic setting.

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Don’t let the term “proto-tiki” scare you away from Cane & Table’s festive, carefully crafted tropical sippers. The concept plays on Caribbean drinks that preceded the tiki movement sparked by Don the Beachcomber. What you can expect to find: fresh, complex takes on tiki standards and tropical variations on classic cocktails. Aged brick walls and the greenery-lined courtyard are visual reminders of New Orleans’ connection to the Caribbean.

Another unique New Orleans attraction, the Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar features a rotating wheel of seats decorated with tigers, monkeys and other traditional circus animals. The bar, celebrating its 70th year, is not just a sideshow: bartenders know how to make a lengthy list of classic cocktails, including local specials like the Vieux Carre, Sazerac and the Monteleone.

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Perched atop the Pontchartrain Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, Hot Tin serves classic and innovative cocktails alongside one of the best rooftop views in the city. Sip a Sazerac or something more daring like the Master of Chai (Wild Turkey 101 Rye, blood orange, falernum, and chai-spice infused zinfandel) while you gaze at the Mississippi and downtown from the buzzy outdoor area. The cozy main room features eclectic, 1940s-inspired decor. Stop here for a drink before dining at the equally buzzy Jack Rose restaurant.

This former dive bar still retains its welcoming vibe, delighting the neighborhood crowds who stop in for high-quality cocktails. Sip on concoctions like the Minerva Mink (vodka, grapefruit liqueur, Cocchi Rosa, lime) while playing video poker or kick back in the outdoor area with a PBR—all are welcome here.

 

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Tucked into the furthest reaches of the trendy Bywater neighborhood, Bacchanal offers a curated selection of wines and cheeses in a casual backyard setting filled with mismatched chairs, flickering tiki torches and acoustic jazz. The once-hidden oasis has grown in popularity, so your best bet is to visit during the daytime or a weeknight, especially when going with a group. Be sure to order a cheese plate and settle into a seat under the twinkle-lit trees.

Vaughan’s Lounge
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Vaughan’s Lounge

This 50-year-old Bywater hangout is a quintessential New Orleans neighborhood music dive, with barstools worn in by longtime patrons, regular pot-luck-type meals, and—fairly often—a collection of sleepy dogs lying outside near the cypress-stump tables as their owners catch up on gossip. The barroom includes a jukebox stacked with local tunes and spacious floor for dancing, making Vaughan’s a great after-party spot for a group of friends. Thursday nights, trombonist Corey Henry and the Treme Funktet set the place aflame, but any night will be fun here.

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This sophisticated, Euro-accented bar dazzles with its sultry decor and creative cocktails. Attached to the Maison de Luz, the space is accessed from the hotel through a faux bookcase. Sidle up to the bar or settle into a cozy chair and enjoy cocktails such as the Modern Muse, featuring vodka, Pineau des Charentes (a French aperitif), verjus, pepita orgeat and mint.

Like many Irish pubs, Molly’s at the Market serves as a community hub: a starting point for smaller French Quarter parades, a watering hole for journalists and a refuge for service-industry workers. Its walls are festooned with yellowing newspaper articles and first-responder patches from across the country. The bar gives off a Cheers-like vibe, inviting locals and tourists to have a seat, sip a frozen Irish coffee and gaze out of the wide front windows for some prime people-watching action.

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With its expansive patio and various drinks on tap, Wrong Iron caters to a cross-section of New Orleanians who often roll up from the nearby Lafitte Greenway bicycle path. The Mid-City spot, a relatively new one, boasts a wide selection on tap: 50 beers (including local craft brews), along with wines, cocktails and frozen drinks. During cold months, grab a woven blanket from the bar and sip wine by a fire pit. In the summer, enjoy a light beer or strawberry frosé in the shade. 

Looking for something sweet?

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