It takes more than just great food or cheap drinks to make a restaurant or bar-atmosphere matters. New Orleans has plenty of bars with a unique ambiance that keeps people coming back for more than just a drink-to-go, whether they're neighborhood dives or fancy cocktail joints good for a splurge. Here are a few of them:
3835 Iberville Street | 504- 603-2775
Situated in a historic repurposed church, this Mid-City cocktail bar and restaurant is a gorgeous and airy oasis of natural light and exquisite early 20th century architecture. Food options for dinner and weekend brunch are excellent, but, for a real treat, consider coming in at Happy Hour to enjoy a classic cocktail and watch the sun set through the massive westward-facing windows behind the bar.
738 Toulouse Street | 504-522-2260
Get in touch with your 1990s Goth side in this French Quarter bar which, while just steps from Bourbon Street, still feels like a local neighborhood hangout. A campy skull motif and artfully dim lighting help contribute to a sense of this late-night haunt being its own little world, albeit one well-stocked with reasonably priced drinks and bar amenities like a pool table and a unique digital heavy metal jukebox built into a faux coffin. Look for the quasi-secret passage in the back "bookcases" if you need the restroom.
Arnaud's French 75
75813 Bienville Street | 504- 523-5433
Relax in a comfortable chair or just take a seat at the bar in the cocktail lounge of Arnaud's famed Creole restaurant in the French Quarter. The bar's snacks are unique takes on New Orleans cuisine, and the cocktails routinely win national praise, but the most interesting sights are upstairs. A Mardi Gras museum displays dozens of extraordinarily elaborate costumes worn by restaurant founder Arnaud Cazenave, daughter and frequent Carnival ball queen Germaine Cazenave Wells, and others in the family. The museum is free and open when the restaurant and bar are.
801 Poland Avenue |️ 504- 592-7083
Look for the illuminated bar sign and the colorful cat mural to spot this Bywater hangout. Inside, decor blends a mix of colorful kitsch, Elvis Presley memorabilia, and a rotating display by local artists. The bar food is excellent, bartenders are friendly to the eclectic mix of tourists and Ninth Ward eccentrics who visit the establishment, and drinks are strong and cheap. A back patio with a tropical feel hosts music and other performances as well as film screenings.
214 Royal Street |️ 504- 523-3341
This iconic rotating bar in the French Quarter's Hotel Monteleone has won over visitors and locals out for a night on the town for decades. Stop by on a weekday night to beat the crowds, check out the detail on the carousel elements, and make sure to check the online entertainment schedule to catch a live jazz band in action. And don't worry-even if you have a few cocktails, the rotating bar's leisurely pace won't make you dizzy.
Snake and Jake's Christmas Club Lounge
7612 Oak Street |️ 504- 861-2802
Head Uptown near Tulane and Loyola universities to visit this true old school dive bar that's illuminated almost entirely by Christmas lights. Attracting a vibrant mix of students, neighborhood dwellers, and out-of-town visitors, the no-frills service and selection of dirt-cheap beer don't detract from the perennial festive atmosphere. Don't bother to come before 7 p.m.-that's when Snake and Jake's opens-and keep in mind that the bar often doesn't really get busy until well after midnight.
Portside Lounge (PERMANENTLY CLOSED)
3000 Dryades Street |️ 504- 503-0990
Yes, it's a tiki-inspired bar with heavy metal shows, but it still manages to be a tastefully decorated addition to its Central City surroundings. Don't shy away from the neon-colored cocktails that can look especially vivid under the bar lights-they're pleasantly strong without being overly sweet. Local art, usually well-suited to the space, adorns the walls. Food pop-ups are often available, if you get hungry.