Ah, Bourbon Street. Many have heard its siren call and walked its neon-hued promenade in search of, well, bourbon (despite the warnings), only to be faced with what seems like booze roulette. But take it from us, this is not a dive bar crapshoot -- there are some great places, there are some terrible places, and there are everything-in-between places, and we've rated every single one of them. Whether you're down there for Mardi Gras or just another good time, please heed both our warnings and recommendations.
Author's Note: Venues have been graded on a 10-point numerical scale, where 10 is "Don't leave New Orleans without going here." and 1 means "Enter only if you're blotto enough to seriously consider a Little Mermaid tramp stamp, and even then, it's dubious."
New York's First Japanese Speakeasy Restaurant is a Hidden Gem
Home of the Hand Grenade, touted as the "world's most powerful mixed drink," which tastes like Midori, sugar, and pure grain alcohol. Do NOT have more than one. The balcony's worth a visit, however. Rating: 9, if you've never been to Bourbon Street. Otherwise, 4.
You'll know The Beach by the machine blowing suds bubbles into Bourbon, enticing you to enter this summery spot. It claims to have the biggest dance floor on Bourbon Street, plus $3 "tooters," whatever those might be. Who cares? They're only three bucks! Rating: 3
Adjacent to one of the most famous restaurants in New Orleans, 33 is Galatoire's new steakhouse. If you're looking for a cold beer or cocktail in an elegantly masculine room where you can still watch the game on a pair of huge flat-screens, this is your place. Rating: 8, because it also has an amazing burger served with waffle-cut chips
Refreshingly, there's no neon here, but actual candles for ambient lighting. Also refreshing is the list of well-curated New Orleans classic cocktails, plus an Abita root beer float with rum and cream cheese ice cream. Rating: 10. Um... did we mention the rum-and-ice cream root beer float?
If Channing Tatum were to open a bar on Bourbon Street... wait, that's not a hypothetical. Channing Tatum DID open a Bourbon Street club, and this is it. It's a stylized version of a Victorian bordello, only, you know, more modern and stuff with a swanky VIP section, if that's your jam. Rating: 7
What, did you think Bourbon Street wouldn't have a rodeo-themed bar complete with mechanical bull? Of course it does. Rating: 5. It might rank lower, but watching people fall off of a mechanical bull is endlessly amusing.
Statues of Louis Armstrong, Pete Fountain, and more welcome you to this little garden jazz oasis. This is the kind of place you'd want to bring your parents if you happen to have them tagging along while you're on Bourbon Street (for some reason). Rating: 7.5
A no-frills -- and, even more important, no cover -- live-music venue, suitable for ass-shaking or just enjoying the show. Or the bathroom. Because you're definitely going to have to pee at some point, and it might as well be here. Rating: 5.5
More booze slushies to suck down here, including the eponymous signature drink, served in a Jester-shaped plastic cup. Just in case everyone couldn't spot you as a tourist from a mile away, one of these will definitely do the trick. Rating: 2
Another 24/7 club, this "Lafitte" (not to be confused with the Blacksmith Shop, mind you) has been a Bourbon Street hangout since the '50s, making it the oldest continuously operating gay bar in the country. It boasts Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote as former patrons, though these days it's known more for its "Kafe Karaoke," "Trash Disco" (with napkin toss!), and oyster Bloody Mary. Rating: 7
All the karaoke you want and more, mostly at the hands of preposterously inebriated tourists and conventioneers. Let's see you curl that lip and belt out "White Wedding" one more time! Rating: 3 if you're a spectator, 7 if you have the balls/liquid courage to get on stage
You know it's going to get crazy when you spell "crazy" with a "K!" Despite the name, be on the lookout for live R&B and zydeco, especially when local acts are on the bill. Plus, the largest COVERED balcony on Bourbon, if you want to watch the street people get soaked when it starts to rain, which is fun. Rating: 6, for hosting decent local musicians
Here's the place to go if you really want to get three, four, or even five sheets to the wind and act like an incurable a-hole on the balcony, begging to barter beads for chesty exposure... and have absolutely no one care, because they're all in the same boat. Yup, that's The Swamp alright. Rating: 2
Oh, Chris Owens. The oldest -- sorry... most "mature" -- burlesque dancer in New Orleans. She's a living legend, mostly through the marvels of modern technology and surgical science, and her show is something between Branson, MO, and the Storyville days of NOLA. If you don't catch Chris, hit her club for the killer Latin night. Rating: 7 on a regular day, 10 on Latin night
Sad that college ended and you can't party like a frat boy anymore? Razzoo will bring it all back: the cheap shots, the fist-pumping, the eventual vomiting of three-for-one hurricanes in the urinal trough. Rating: 2
Dating back to 1806, it's an old Bourbon Street favorite. Famous patrons have included Oscar Wilde, P.T. Barnum, Mark Twain, General Robert E. Lee, Franklin Roosevelt, AND Liza Minnelli. The copper bar is a sight to see. And, yes, it has plenty of absinthe for you. Rating: 8
Pirates weren't known for being funky or admiring live blues music, but you'll find plenty of the latter here. It's owned by Tropical Isle, so you can get your Hand Grenade on, too. Or a "Shark Attack" if you want a plastic souvenir shark to play with, which, admittedly, can be a lot of juvenile fun when you've just consumed a Shark Attack. Rating: 6
A slightly more elegant Bourbon venue (if you can call anything on Bourbon "elegant" outside of Galatoire's), filled with dark woods, wrought iron, and exposed brick, for when you're looking to give your eyes a break from the blinding, ubiquitous neon, strobes, and black lights of the strip. Rating: 6
This is the oldest structure that's served as a bar in America, and you can tell by all the charming old stone and wood. Expect a mixture of old and new, lighting by both candles and video poker machines. Beware the "purple drank," Lafitte's signature daiquiri. Rating: 8
This Hole in the Wall is a hole in the wall. Did we mention that it's a hole in the wall? Johnny White's is the Moe's Tavern of Bourbon: cheap drinks, local barflies, zero touristy schlock, and an overall air of general sketchiness. Which means it's pretty great. But it loses points for being a haven for Redskins fans. At least it's not the Falcons. Rating: 5
Less a bar than a genuine music venue, Irvin Mayfield's hosts some of the bigger names in local music seven nights a week (with no cover!), not to mention an absolutely killer burlesque show every week. Rating: 10
While this may seem, by its name, to be the embodiment of the college kegger, Beerfest is actually a manly beer hall with a satisfying array of domestic and imported brews. It's pricey, though, especially for Bourbon Street. Rating: 6
If the three-for-one happy hour somehow doesn't speak to you, maybe the rolling mixture of cover bands and jazz outfits will get you inside. It's a standard-fare Bourbon Street bar with all the fixin's: live music, a balcony, and lots of tourists wildin' out. Rating: 4
Gussied-up bar food that includes a burger benefitting firefighters, a solid selection of beers, and, oh yeah, "the 5th Quarter Challenge": If you can make your way through a 4lb burger and 2lb of debris fries within 45 minutes, you've earned yourself a free meal, a jersey, a spot on the Wall of Honor, and eternal bragging rights. Rating: 7