New Orleans makes no secret that it’s a city that likes to drink. In fact, New Orleans has more bars per capita than any other American metropolis. With its extended festival season, bars that never close and a liberal go cup policy, drinking has long been integral to the Big Easy’s identity and social fabric. And for visitors who want to experience the real New Orleans, a round or two at a neighborhood bar offers a low cost chance to rub shoulders with locals, get tips on the best places to eat, and to experience the flavors of the city’s numerous, distinct neighborhoods.
Unlike upscale lounges, neighborhood bars aren’t dominated by the hipster scene or looking to make a splash with the latest review; nor are they inhabited by patrons who can’t stop checking their Facebook page. In fact, some of the bars below don’t bother with websites. Instead, neighborhood bars are “be-in-the-moment,” sneakers-and-shorts places that feel like an extension of the local aesthetic and surrounding blocks. These social intersections, (indeed often located in corner buildings) make space for diverse backgrounds and attract regulars who arrive on foot or bike.
While some neighborhood bars offer drink specials and house crafted cocktails, for the most part these establishments are about reasonably priced beer and basics that encourage patrons to pull up a stool, linger for a few rounds, order some pub grub, and chat about local gossip–or watch the Saints’ latest win.
Here are some of our favorites in four great New Orleans neighborhoods:
It can be easy to forget that the French Quarter is not just a tourist destination but a real neighborhood where locals live, especially in the blocks towards Esplanade and Rampart. Fahy’s retains an amiable, working class feel; the slim Erin Rose offers po-boys from their back kitchen; LGBT-friendly Good Friends is a relaxed alternative to the bump and grind of Bourbon, and a great spot for watching games or shooting a round of pool.
Across Elysian Fields Avenue, both Mimi’s and the Lost Love Lounge in the Marigny are far enough away from the crowds of Frenchmen that they retain local, funky flavor. Mimi’s offers architectural flair with both an upstairs and downstairs bar, atmospheric tall ceilings and exposed brick walls. Both also serve food. Mimi’s offers tapas and across the street, Lost Love serves Vietnamese. Check the Lost Love’s website for karaoke, Comedy Catastrophe nights and Saints game viewings.
The rapidly gentrifying Bywater has seen a lot of press lately regarding its rising housing prices, trendy restaurants and influx of hipsters. But the bulk of the Bywater remains dedicated to its bohemian and artistic identity and a few long-standing neighborhood bars. Markey’s Bar, BJ’s Lounge and Bud Rip’s, connect to the area’s even older working class roots. All three bars can also be considered dives, BJ’s being the most obviously so. Locals say Markey’s now attracts the younger, newer wave as part of its clientele. Bud Rip’s offers pool, darts and a century-old pressed tin ceiling.
Want more inside scoop on these Bywater neighborhood bars? Check out this post on Bywater bars from cocktail historian and tour guide Elizabeth Pearce.
Finn McCool’s Irish Pub (the owners are actually Irish) has been instrumental in revitalizing Mid-City’s Banks Street. McCool’s offers quality pub grub including fish and chips, darts, and pool. On Monday nights, Finns hosts its perennially popular (and tough!) pub quiz. McCool’s is also a haven for soccer fans wanting to see MLS and Premier League games–see their website for match schedules.
One block away, Twelve Mile Limit attracts a youngish, diverse crowd and is known for its crafted, house cocktails and BBQ plates. In the Bayou Saint John area, narrow Pal’s Lounge with its tiled floors, classic mirrored long bar and air hockey table remains the neighborhood hangout.
Next time: Keep a lookout for more favorite local bars in four more of the coolest New Orleans neighborhoods: The Warehouse District, Uptown, the Freret Street Corridor and Algiers Point.
– Allison Alsup is co-author of The French Quarter Drinking Companion, a guide to 100 notable bars in America’s most eccentric neighborhood, newly published by Pelican Press. More information at: www.SpiritedTipplers.com.