Charleston: The Ultimate Local's Guide
Round and round we go in the literally spinning bar
The Carousel is a local and tourist favorite attached to one of the city's most iconic hotels, the Monteleone. The bar is intricately designed and slowly rotates around while the veteran staffers serve you newly inspired cocktails and the classics. (As a fun bit of trivia, it's actually where the Vieux Carré was invented.) The fact that it feels like the world is revolving around you makes this high-class merry-go-round a must-visit.
The French Quarter's neighborhood bar
Erin Rose has the feel of a real locals joint, with a lot of regulars, an amazing jukebox, simple-but-potent beverages, and one of the best Bloody Marys in the city. Visitors and residents hang out at the dark bar, elbow to elbow, and on a hot day, there's nothing better than the frozen Irish coffee. Plus, the innovative, delicious restaurant Killer PoBoys serves up sandwiches in the back bar every day except Tuesday from noon till midnight. It’s the perfect place to duck in during French Quarter revelry, either as a respite from the madness of Bourbon Street, or as a place to settle in, drink, and people-watch.
The granddaddy of craft cocktail culture in New Orleans
The folks at Cure upped the cocktail game for the modern age in New Orleans. In 2009, business partners Neal Bodenheimer and Kirk Estopinal opened this establishment on Freret Street when it was still reeling from post-Katrina abandonment. The renovation of a former fire station made it possible to display its liquor on five long shelves stretching up over 14 feet high, truly an impressive sight.
Modern tiki presented by the world’s foremost expert on the subject
Open since 2014, Latitude 29 doesn't focus on classic New Orleans cocktails (Sazeracs, brandy milk punch, etc.) but the traditional tiki vibe was definitely a huge addition to the city. Owner Jeff "Beachbum" Berry wanted to augment New Orleans' proximity to the tropics and opened this bar to cement that connection -- and serve crazy-cool concoctions, like the Navy Grog and Pearl Diver.
A classic Creole bar with an upscale twist
This is an old-school New Orleans bar named for the champagne cocktail, and it still feels like a step back in time. Attached to Arnaud's, one of the city's Creole grande dame restaurants, the spot's decor is lush, the light is dim, and local legend Chris Hannah helms the bar, which has many liquor options besides the eponymous drink. The bubbly French 75 is the perfect beverage to toast any occasion.
For a glass full of brown liquor with no judgment
Whiskey, whiskey, and more whiskey is what you'll find here. With a long bar in a dark space and hundreds of spirits available, all Barrel Proof is missing is a young Tom Waits drinking alone in a corner. The boilermakers are great, but classic whiskey preparations like the Manhattan, boulevardier, or Old Fashioned really shine. Or you can just drink your poison straight up, maybe with a Schlitz to wash it down. Your call.
A neighborhood bar with a surprising cocktail program
This the place to go when you want a high-quality mixed drink at a reasonable price. Twelve Mile Limit has grown steadily since it opened in 2011 in a former corner dive that now serves world-class quaffs. Although the old pool table, video poker machine, and kick-ass jukebox remain, the kitchen and outdoor space have expanded to better meet the needs of the new customers. As this is a welcoming neighborhood joint, the bartenders are as happy to sell you a PBR as they are to mix up an original cocktail like the Baudin (bourbon, honey, lemon, and Tabasco).
Unpretentious world-class craft beer and whiskey bar
Open 24 hours almost every day of the year, The Avenue Pub has one of the best-curated beer lists in the country, but folks who drink shots of whiskey with their Abita are welcome, too. The hours and atmosphere make it popular with the service industry, emergency workers, medical professionals, and anyone else who doesn't work a 9-to-5, but there's room for everyone at the Pub, be they beer geeks, whiskey aficionados, sports fans, tourists, etc.
The place to watch the World Cup if you can get a seat
Another neighborhood bar with reach far outside its geographic location, Finn's is an Irish pub with a love of all sports European like football/soccer and rugby. You're sure to find lots of regulars and longtime bartenders. Come the FIFA World Cup this summer, it'll be one of the best spots in town for sports.
Channel your inner Tennessee Williams from a penthouse
This place has the hottest rooftop view in town, atop the Pontchartrain Hotel in the Garden District. The entire building has been lovingly restored from its heyday in the '50s and '60s, and the Hot Tin bar on the roof is the pièce de résistance of the entire project. It's a converted private penthouse reimagined as a 1940s writer's loft (it certainly has enough booze to qualify). The designer created an homage to Tennessee Williams, who was rumored to have lived there while writing A Streetcar Named Desire. Killer cocktails accompany the killer views.
LGBT-friendly space with a great poolside bar
The Country Club's always been a wild child in the New Orleans bar scene, but it seems to be evolving into much more subdued shenanigans. The place is still highly LGBT-focused and friendly, the pool in back is amazing (though clothing is no longer optional), the Drag Brunch on Saturdays is mesmerizing, and there's a new chef at the helm bringing its food game into line with its booze and atmosphere. Stop by for mimosas on the weekend and all the traditional mixed drinks you'd expect at a restaurant-bar-pool party.
Come for the beer, stay for the oysters (or vice versa)
This beer bar's been around almost 40 years, but the longtime owner sold it to the folks who also run the Rusty Nail, so it's getting a long-needed sprucing up. It still has the same vibe -- beers, sports, raw oysters -- but the space has been opened up and includes a killer craft selection in the back, with obscure sours and highly rated IPAs. Oh, and oysters are half-price on Tuesdays. This is the place to go to settle in and catch all the Sunday NFL games, stay for beer and food, and then lazily toast your friends.
The dive bar of all dive bars
Although Snake and Jake's leaves its Christmas decor up year-round, it adds an extra festive touch for the actual holiday season. A legendary dive in a town full of them, it's open from 7pm-7am every night, lit only by candles and strings of red lights, while its patrons are often lit from the dirt-cheap Schlitz. If you come here, just remember that time often seems to slip away once you pass the threshold into the darkness of Snake and Jake’s.
Lower Garden District
Cake + booze = genius
The Bakery Bar serves up doberge alongside creative cocktails and a great beer & wine selection. (For those who aren't local, doberge is a classic New Orleans cake involving many layers put together with custard and then covered in icing.) At the Bakery Bar, enjoy the dessert in all flavors and sizes, thanks to the team behind Debbie Does Doberge. It's the perfect place for folks who want a low-key night with delicious and geeky fun.
A beautiful patio, plus sports and live music
The Rusty Nail's one of those bars that from the outside looks and sounds like any old bar but then you experience it and it's awesome. It has a respectable tap list along with cocktails and wine, and the weekends are all sports all the time (and not just for the Saints and LSU). It's welcoming to other SEC fans and you never know what you'll see on the array of TVs. The Nail also has a killer patio/courtyard space, live music, and food trucks.
Mash-up of wine store, bar, music venue, and restaurant
The weirdest and most wonderful wine bar in the world. You enter this unassuming spot through what looks like a perfectly normal-looking shop. But once you're in, it's like a whole other dimension. Buy a bottle or beer -- at retail, not restaurant price -- and bring it outside into the courtyard where live music plays every night. It bills itself as the city's "backyard party" and definitely lives up to that hype. Plus it’s right on the Mississippi River which means prime fireworks real estate. The backyard is terrific for live music, of course.
The epitome of the neighborhood Irish bar
The ultimate neighborhood bar in a city full of kick-ass neighborhood bars, Parasol's is a small, dark spot with local beer on tap and craft bottles in the back. It's right in the middle of the annual St. Patrick's Day parade route and extravaganza (which can last up to a week, depending on what day of the week the 17th falls on). The Jameson's always flowing, plus it has fantastic po-boys -- try the fried catfish, firecracker shrimp, or roast beef.
This bubble lover’s spot serves Champagne and a lot more
It's all about Champagne wishes and caviar dreams at New Orleans' first-ever bubbles-dedicated bar. There are 18 sparkling varieties from around the world served by the glass, including vintages like Veuve Ambal Brut Blanc de Blancs, Taittinger "La Francaise" Brut, Veuve Clicquot, and Louis Roederer "Cristal" Brut, as well as prosecco on tap and sparkling-based cocktails like the French 75.
Tiki bar proving New Orleans is the northernmost Caribbean city
Although there are tiki tinges to Portside, the whole atmosphere is like escaping the city for down-to-earth island life. Inside the Portside, the walls are brightly painted, the drinks are cheap (and the specialty cocktails are definitely tiki-inspired), and they host a variety of local pop-ups, including the always popular Queen Trini Lisa’s Caribbean Food for the Soul and Joie de Vivre, who brings burgers and tiki bites to the party. DJs and bands stop by from time to time to play thematically appropriate music as well.
Central Business District
Classic hotel bar with fancy leather seating
These high-class cocktail digs inside the Roosevelt Hotel provide deliciousness all year-round, but the winter wonderland in the hotel’s lobby makes it extra awesome for the holidays. Although the Sazerac has a wide selection of classic and creative cocktails all year round, during the holidays, you can toast the new year with specially themed drinks like the Cranhattan or the Holiday Fashioned.
Soul food, frozen daiqs, and cheap oyster nights
Although technically New Orleans’ official drink is the Sazerac, in practice, the frozen daiquiri is what powers this city. Icy and boozy, it’s perfect for the culture and weather here and there are many places to procure it, both on Bourbon Streets and in most neighborhoods. Queenie’s on St. Claude Avenue brings a casual, fun atmosphere to this Bywater converted corner store, with weekend brunch, char-grilled oyster night (Tuesdays: $13 for a dozen!), grilled steak night, and pie and daiqs every day and night. Great to grab on the go or to sit and get a feel for the neighborhood.
Drink poolside at the worst kept secret in New Orleans
Mid-century madness has hit this formerly run-down and now beautifully restored motel on Tulane Avenue. Debauchery meets drinking poolside with a hotel bar that spans from indoors to out, serving glasses of wine, cans of craft beer, and cocktails -- pool-friendly beverages, with a decided service industry vibe. It’s not a typical hotel bar, or typical pool bar, or typical anything. Live music and DJs are often on tap - on those nights, there’s a cover charge to get in, but otherwise the pool entry fee ($5 on weekdays, $10 on weekends) applies.
Central Business District
The showcase for an often overlooked South American spirit
Piscobar’s pisco cocktail program is based in the Peruvian history of the grape-based spirit. Though the pisco sour is fairly well known, the bartenders at Piscobar take the liquor to the next level, developing cocktails like the Pisco Fizz Yourself or the Urbansal-Grenada which is cheerfully described as “the love child between sangria and a Moscow Mule.” Old-school pisco drinks are given their due, such as the Chinguerito, a traditional favorite during grape stomping parties, made with pisco, cinnamon, muddled grapes, and lime. They also serve Peruvian-inspired snacks and sandwiches, coffee cocktails, and mocktails. Pisco can be enjoyed up at the hotel’s rooftop bar as well as inside off the lobby.
Freshly brewed beers right off Frenchmen Street
Beer lovers pounding the pavement on Frenchmen Street looking for music and good times have a new option -- Brieux Carré Brewing Company -- which brews a wide variety of beers that disappear almost as soon as they’re on tap. Due to the location in a very visitor-heavy part of town, they’ve got to have something for everyone -- beer geek hopheads and sour lovers, the light beer drinker, and the folks who claim they "don’t like beer, but want to drink something local." The tiny taproom opens up to a larger outdoor beer garden, and the owners are always looking for fun stuff to do -- pop-up restaurants, free yoga, book club, and frequent beer launch parties.