For too long, "beer bars" in New Orleans referred to the Huge Ass Beers stands that run up and down Bourbon Street. Then more local breweries started opening, and both residents and visitors became more beer-savvy, demanding better beer and better places to drink it. Many of our local restaurants have a terrific beer selection, as well -- and props to Boucherie, Pizza Delicious, and Borgne -- but we’re focusing on bars only here. We’ve rounded up a dozen of the best bars that not only serve great beer, but know and love beer, as well.
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Lower Garden District What can be said about The Avenue Pub that a zillion national and international honors haven’t said already? This unassuming, two-level bar overlooking St. Charles and its streetcars has a world-class American and European beer list, a beer-smart staff, a kitchen staff trained by local wunderkind chef Nathanial Zimet, and the visionary leadership of Polly Watts. That combination has led to one-of-a-kind beer events like Cantillon’s Zwanze Day, Dieu de Ciel!’s Péché Day, annual Franconian anstich casks for Oktoberfest, and one-time tappings & pourings of out-of-market breweries like Jester King, Bluejacket, and Crooked Stave. It is impossible to overstate the influence Watts and the Pub have had on New Orleans and Louisiana craft beer culture.
Riverbend Cooter Brown’s has always been one of those places where beer aficionados could shake off the American lager chains and order a Newcastle Brown or Grolsch. With the current American craft boom, this neighborhood sports & beer bar has risen to the challenge by switching its international focus over to craft, hiring knowledgeable staff, and holding brewery-focused events. Due to a recent ownership change, the kitchen menu has undergone a long-overdue overhaul, keeping Cooter Brown’s classics like po-boys and oysters, while adding new sandwiches, salads, and sides like bacon mac & cheese and poutine fries.
Lower Garden District This nanobrewery/beer bar tucked in the shadow of the Pontchartrain Expressway focuses on the quality of its beer, and its beer selection, over everything else... and that’s a good thing. Not only can patrons sample 10-13 of brewer Scott Wood’s beers at any time, but the rest of the 30 taps are filled with a carefully curated list of American and European craft beer that is guaranteed to be fresh -- and well-explained by staff. There’s no kitchen here, but a steady fleet of food trucks steps up to provide excellent munchies.
Mid-City The Mid-City location of the Bulldog caters to the serious beer-(and dog-) lover, with knowledgable staff, beer events, and a great courtyard to sit and commune with barley, hops, yeast, and puppies. A mix of neighborhood and beer folks, the Bulldog offers a comfortable and thoroughly unpretentious environment to sit back and sip suds, while the kitchen provides a variety of the standard burgers and loaded fries... which always taste especially great after a few beers.
Bywater One of the few beer bars downtown, Junction serves a mix of local and national craft beer that appeals to the seasoned beer drinker, but also focuses on educating neophyte beer geeks. The Monaghan Group, which also owns Molly’s at the Market in the French Quarter and 13 on Frenchmen Street, teamed up with Lloyd Miller to create Junction, which adds considerably to both the blooming St. Claude stretch of businesses and the local beer scene. Junction’s menu features specialty burgers that star locally sourced beef.
Mandeville/Northshore The Barley Oak is across Lake Pontchartrain, so it’s a bit outside the Orleans Parish limits, but it’s worth a drive for a pint -- especially on a clear day. This place is great for escaping the city for a minute, and enjoying one of the beer bar’s many selections on the large balcony overlooking the lake. The Barley Oak is a leader in the area’s craft beer education, and the relaxed atmosphere is perfect for both trying the latest seasonal and sampling the German-style sausage plate from the kitchen.
Riverbend A relatively new player on the beer bar scene, Patrick Winter’s cozy, beer-focused bar shares a courtyard with its sister wine bar, Oak. This arrangement ensures everyone gets their perfect beverage of choice, while each establishment is able to focus on what it does best. In Ale’s case, that’s serving a wide variety of beer, and sponsoring events like annual beer brackets, held during March Madness. It's a blind tasting and judging -- and a crowning of the ultimate brewed champion.
French Quarter This Southern-inspired bar and restaurant offers more than 50 local, regional, and national craft beers on tap (including the full Abita beer lineup, which is remarkable). Check out its daily happy hour from 3-7pm, featuring two-for-one draft beer and $1 oyster shooters. Pro tip: happy hour is definitely the way to go here, because regular hours will bring French Quarter pricing, which is dear. This joint is a very worthwhile stop right off of Canal Street.
Warehouse District Although World of Beer is a national chain of beer bars/restaurants, the Warehouse District location works to bring a local vibe to the corporate model. It has an expansive tap list, well-maintained draft lines, knowledgeable staff, awesome happy hour specials in the early evening & late night, and a great food menu. So if you’re wandering around late at night, you’ll be able to find cheap beer and an open kitchen, which is a rarity in that part of town.
Mid-City One of the old guard that’s been changing with the increased demand for fresh, local, and craft beer, the Bayou Beer Garden has one of the best outdoor drinking spaces in town (not to mention the country), as well as weekly springtime crawfish boils. It has a great vibe for meeting up after work or watching the game. Very laid back.
French Quarter Nothing on draft here: the Black Penny focuses on canned beer only. And with more and more craft available in cans, that makes this neighborhood joint’s beer list one of the most extensive in town. With approximately 100 different beers available, this hole-in-the-wall corner bar is perfect for drinking beer, people-watching, and easily taking your can of beer to go. Pro tip: if The Old Portage popup is in the house, jump on that deliciousness.
Marigny d.b.a. is the only beer bar where one can see and hear live music every day. With about 20 beers on draft, it always has a surprise on the list, and something for every taste. Satisfy all the senses with great beer while watching great music. This place is on the pricey side, but worth it -- especially if you’re a music and beer geek.
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To Nora McGunnigle, many of the bars listed here are like second homes... or at least really cool office spaces. Follow her at NOLABeerBlog.com and on Twitter @noradeirdre.