Apr 4, 2015

A commoner’s 10 most tolerable Bourbon Street bars

My next pilgrimage to New Orleans is right around the corner, and I’m very excited to bring The April with me on this trip.  She has not been to the Big Easy since the 1990s (I can’t even imagine missing New Orleans for that long), and like most first-time tourists, or those who have not been there in forever, I recommend spending at least one night on Bourbon Street.

As a frequent visitor, I usually prefer to go to the less touristy drinking establishments in town, but I do “get it” when it comes to Bourbon Street’s allure.  With that in mind, here are 10 Bourbon Street bars I find most tolerable (many, in fact, I truly enjoy):

10. Old Absinthe House – I recommend a stop here for historical purposes, if for no other reason.  I find the drink prices here extremely high even for Bourbon Street, but you can’t beat the atmosphere.  Plus, the actual bar is one of the coolest you’ll find on Bourbon Street and predates Prohibition.  It’s worth one drink for the experience.  But if you really want to order absinthe, go to Pirates Alley Café instead.

9.  Krazy Korner – This is place if perfect if you miss that frat house party atmosphere from the college days.  The hurricane doors are always open, so you can hear the night’s cover band blaring from the street.  Stop here only late at night.  It’s really not worth it in the daylight. 

8. Fritzel’s – Fritzel’s is small, cozy, and slightly run down, seating is cramped when bands are playing.  However, it’s my favorite place to see real New Orleans jazz on Bourbon Street. 

7. Razzoo – If Krazy Korner will remind you of a college party, Razzoo may remind you of Spring Break.  The full complex is quite large, the live music from the stage near the entrance is always loud (even though the bands backs are to the street), and the dance floor is consistently crowded.  If you arrive early, take advantage of the 3 for 1 happy hour special; if you stumble in late, catch up with a test tube shot.  And if you need a place to unwind where you can hear people speak, step out back to the large patio area where they have a flaming fountain (I wonder where they got that idea from?). 

6. Rita’s Tequila House – Relatively speaking, Rita’s is an oasis of calm among the louder bars on Bourbon Street.   Why do I like coming here?  Does having more than 125 tequilas on hand answer that question?  There’s no better place on Bourbon for a margarita.  I actually prefer to come here in the daytime, but then again, I really enjoy day drinking.

5. Ricks Sporting Saloon – I had to include one strip club on this list, since Bourbon Street is so famous for them.  I like Rick’s because they’re NOT a chain.  I like this location because it’s where my personal favorite New Orleans strip joint Big Daddy’s used to be.  Fortunately, they kept the window with the swinging legs above the Bourbon Street sidewalk. 

 4. Funky Pirate Blues Club – It’s another bar in the Tropical Isle chain (see below), but I feel it deserves its own recognition.  The music here is worth paying a cover for.  Do yourself a favor and see Big Al Carson and the Blues Masters if they’re playing.  

3. Tropical Isle Bourbon/Tropical Isle Bayou Club – Two locations; same basic idea.  Both offer nightly live entertainment and serve one of the city’s most famous drinks – the hand grenade.  The drink is as potent as it sounds.  But, you must try one.  Just don’t be a tourist and insist on having it served in a regular cup instead of the souvenir cup.  It’s cheaper and just as tasty.  And, their other signature drinks are almost as good.  

2. Johnny White’s – The only reason this is not No. 1 is because the original Johnny White’s Sports Bar – the one that never closed during Hurricane Katrina – finally did close, only to reopen as Johnny White’s Corner Pub.  It is a complete remodel, and the place has frankly lost some of the dive bar grunginess which I loved so much.  Fortunately, Johnny White’s Hole in the Wall remains next door and retains all of its old dive bar charm.  Have at least one drink at each, please.  You and your wallet will thank me.

1. Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop – Once you get past the first eight block of Bourbon Street craziness and into the residential part of the Quarter, you’ll find Lafitte’s.  It’s one of the oldest buildings there and looks every bit like it.  I covered Lafitte’s, its ghostly past and its current charm as a must-visit New Orleans treasure in an earlier blog post, so it should be no surprise that Lafitte’s tops this list. 

Of course, the best part about a Bourbon Street bar crawl is finding so many bars that are even better less than a block off Bourbon on one of the cross streets.  Pat O’Brien’s is famous for obvious reasons, but I also love places like the Alibi, Erin Rose and others.  That’s where you tend to find the locals and discover the true charm of the city’s bar scene. 

Still, there's nothing wrong with one night focused on Bourbon Street.  It's one of the most famous streets in the world for a reason, and frankly sometimes it has to been seen to be believed.  

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