The dive bar scene in New Orleans is the stuff of legends, with dozens of dimly lit bars off the beaten path offering cheap drinks and exceptionally wobbly locals straight out of a classic Tom Waits song. Crescent City has so many great ones to choose from that it’s honestly hard to narrow down, because really, is there such a thing as a bad dive bar? Here are some of our absolute favorite bars with a bit of grit and a ton of personality. But be warned: Pace yourselves.
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Est. 1975 | French Quarter Welcome to the granddaddy dive of them all. While this French Quarter bar is insanely popular throughout the year, it still very much keeps its dive ethos and aesthetics. It’s this mystical, magical paradox that makes the Chart Room so special, along with surly bartenders (with hearts of gold, of course), cheap drinks, shots, and more shots.
Est. 1994 | Uptown Every day is Christmas at Snake & Jake’s, if your Christmases consist of drinking cheap bourbon until 5am. Barely more than a shack, the bar has low ceilings and sketchy construction, mitigated by the fact that it’s super dark inside, lit only by Christmas lights (what you can’t see can’t hurt you, right?). Enjoy some $2 Schlitz beer with your shots, and for the love of all that is holy, do not sit on the couch.
Est. 1931 | Irish Channel There is no sign, and there will be no bull tolerated, from either side of the bar. Seriously, you have to buzz the front bell to get in, and there’s no guarantee that Kevin, the current proprietor, will let you enter if you’re looking too skeezy or drunk. If you do get in, you’ll enjoy some of the cheapest drinks, great locals and visitors, and one of the best jukeboxes in the entire city.
Est. 2002 | Marigny Melvin’s is perfect for when you need to chill out from the scenes happening at the Hi-Ho, Kajun’s, Siberia, or the Allways Lounge. Or whatever else those crazy Marigny kids are up to. Just duck in there and hang out. It’s friendly, mellow, and a favorite of several local musicians. Also, there’s a number of great drunk food offerings just down the street on St. Claude Avenue, so it’s easy enough to pair your cheap booze with cheap, greasy eats.
Est. 1960s | Garden District This is a great place to get your dive on while watching the game or if you’re itching to play a game of pool. This bare bones bar is slightly out of place on the Washington to Louisiana stretch of Magazine Street, but if you’re not looking for it, your eyes just slide past it. In addition to its dark, divey wonders, it’s also a great place to get a drink to go while shopping or to people watch others shopping.
Est. 1978 | Touro Enjoy the dim lighting and stiff drinks of this neighborhood hole in the wall in the Uptown neighborhood of Touro. It’s a perfect respite from Mardi Gras parade crowds, with a staple crew of locals inside at any given time, and two well-worn pool tables to play a few rounds. Also, the $5 half-pitcher of Budweiser is cheaper than an actual six-pack, so really, what’s the point in going anywhere else?
Est. ?? | French Quarter A 24-hour joint in the Decatur Street dive zone along with The Abbey, Aunt Tiki doesn’t have any tiki drinks, much to the chagrin of the new any tropical fanatics that stumble in here between stops at Latitude 29 and Cane & Table. The Halloween decor is helpful in destroying that illusion, though. Kinda sketchy, but very friendly, Aunt Tiki makes a strong crossover as one of New Orleans’ Bad Decision Bars.
Est. 1906 | Uptown Back in 2010, the late and legendary Ms. Mae sold her stake of this iconic dive to the owner of the building and drink prices doubled from $1 to $2. However, it’s still the cheapest bar in town, and anyone can put that to the test at any time of the day or night; seriously, go ask about the 24-hour challenge, in which you have to drink at least one drink an hour for 24 consecutive hours. Be warned: If you pass out, you may end up on “Ms. Mae’s Wall of Shame.”
Est. 2018 | Central Business District Formerly Chuck’s Sports Bar, this spot is open “damn near 24 hours,” according to a sign out front, which is a rarity in the CBD where most of the action takes place in the 9-5 world. Despite that, and the fact that it now takes credit cards (!), it still keeps the suits away.
Est. 2017 | French Quarter Santos is one of the best recent additions to the city, and currently one of the few places regularly hosting metal and punk shows pretty much every day. The little sibling to infamous Garden District watering hole The Saint, Santos is a two-story dive with cheap drinks, famed frozen daiquiris, and the best portrait of Lemmy Kilmister in town.
Est. 1960s | Bywater BJ’s feels like a dive that other dive bars look up to -- sort of the perfect encapsulation of everything you want in a dark, dingy drinking spot. With spartan drink offerings, a cash-only policy, and a barbershop chair that you may or may not be allowed to sit in, BJ’s has long been a Bywater staple. Plus, it hosts poetry nights and some great bands most Fridays including various blues, honky-tonk, and punk outfits.
Est. 1960 | St. Claude What’s not to love about Saturn Bar? The neighborhood locale has been family-run for years, sports the original owner’s ashes in an urn on a shelf, and regularly hosts the best Mod and Classic R&B dance nights in New Orleans. Also a go-to spot to catch Saints games during football season, Saturn’s regular customers include a couple of gigantic street cats who will gladly knock over your beer if it means getting their ears rubbed.
Est. 2011 | Marigny R Bar straddles the line between being a dive and party bar. Weekend evenings and Mardi Gras season easily and often become madhouses, with a mix of locals, service industry types, and drunk tourists stumbling in from the Quarter. Weeknights and afternoons, however, are another story entirely, when R Bar takes on its original divey feel with a pool table frequented by neighborhood sharks, and a killer jukebox in the back. The bar also plays some of the best b-horror movies on a projector, so it’s easy to post up and lose track of time laughing at the absurd schlock on the screen. There’s also the famed Royal Street Inn upstairs -- thus making it perhaps the only bed and breakfast dive in town.
Est. ?? | Treme Sporting one of the best signs in town, Sidney’s Saloon is a great spot on the rapidly changing St. Bernard Avenue that’s been open a good and long while. The bar itself is somewhat small, but there’s plenty of seating in the pool room and show spaces in the back, along with a great photo booth to take pictures reminding you of your hazy night. While definitely a dive in price, look, and feel, Sidney’s also has some really great in-house cocktails to choose from, if you need a moment to feel a bit classier.
Est. 1933 | Uptown Robert’s just might take the prize for the most no-frills entry on the list, and we mean that as a compliment. Located near Tulane (but usually pretty devoid of undergrads), Robert’s is a cinematically divey spot sporting a couple TVs, a pool table, a Ping-Pong table, and... yeah that’s about it. The bar’s got some good daily drink specials, as well, but really, the place is perfect if you need a break from the madness that can swallow you up in this town.
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Nora McGunnigle is a New Orleans-based writer who has been in hiding from regulars at her previous dive bar list for writing about them in a national publication. Follow her adventures on Twitter: @noradeirdre
Andrew Paul is a writer living in New Orleans with work recently featured by AV Club, GQ, Rolling Stone, as well as McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and TNY’s Daily Shouts. There is a high likelihood you will see him at any one of these dives when you visit. @anandypaul