New Orleans is well-known as a unique city, famed for its’ nightlife, cocktails and music! With that in mind, on our recent visit, Neil and I decided we deserved a night out in the French quarter in order to enjoy the world-famous tipples, people watch and listen to some of the best live music in the world.
Wandering around the French Quarter is possibly one of the most fascinating and relaxing walks you can take in ‘the big easy’. Perhaps this is because it is possible to walk around with an ice-cold alcoholic beverage in hand, something that is unheard of here in the UK! Yes, Bourbon Street is rather tacky and touristy, but it must be experienced and being able to meander down the world-famous thoroughfare with a cocktail somehow makes it more interesting! Numerous bars and stores have holes in the wall in order to get a luminous New Orleans’ hurricane or hand grenade to take away. Although these cocktails are sickly sweet, the daiquiris and other frozen offerings are a fab way to cool down from the sweltering heat and humidity of the city.
Bourbon Street has long been associated with over-indulgence and vice; as far back as the 1880’s people were visiting this area of the French Quarter to drink, gamble and have sexual encounters. It doesn’t appear that the street has changed an awful lot as there are still a huge amount of strip clubs near the Canal Street end, with lots of scantily glad women standing in darkened doorways, attempting to entice the many men on stag weekends, most of whom are half cut at 10 in the morning, inside! A section of Bourbon seems like a seedier version of London’s Soho, however, there are a few gems further up the road in the more civilised ‘lower quarter’.
The one thing that struck me most about French Quarter bars was the presence of live music. Everywhere. Even at 11am! Every bar, restaurant and street corner featured a group of performers giving it their all! If you like the sound of talented musicians to accompany your bourbon on the rocks, you could do worse than a trip to NOLA!
There are some fantastic bars and music venues that are not to be missed in the French Quarter; as previously mentioned, Fritzel’s on Bourbon is a good place to start. For those hard-core jazz aficionados who don’t mind queuing a while, Preservation Hall is supposed to be a great place to catch a one hour show but be warned, you may well have to sit on the floor and they do not serve alcohol inside the venue! Unfortunately, we did not make a show there on our most recent trip but it is an excuse to return!
A fantastic, characterful and atmospheric bar, situated away from the madness of the upper quarter end of Bourbon Street is Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. Built in the early 1700’s, the premises is rumoured to be the oldest building in the United States to be used as a bar; described as a “gumbo” of truth, the building certainly has a colourful history! The ramshackle bar is lucky to still be standing after surviving several fires that destroyed most of the Quarter in the early 19th Century and, latterly, hurricane Katrina. It is named after the Lafitte brothers who apparently operated their smuggling business from the location in the late 1700’s.
Another great spot for a few chilled out, afternoon, drinks is Crescent City Brewhouse, a little further away from Bourbon on nearby Decatur Street. The only French Quarter microbrewery, the bar brews four different types of world-class beer in-house from the dark, malty ‘black forest’ to a light, crisp pilsner. Not only is the brewery a great place to grab a refreshing beer, it also serves great food and, of course, more often than not features live jazz. For the best seat in the house, sit at the long, central bar to watch the art of oysters being shucked whilst getting a great view of the band serenading lunch customers and tourists meandering down Decatur.
For a visit to a New Orleans staple, a stop at Pat O’Briens, home of the hurricane, is an absolute necessity. Yes, Pat O’s is most definitely touristy but it still retains that NOLA charm which makes it a fun place to visit. In fact, the bar’s motto since 1933 has been “Have fun!”, something that visitors have been doing since the end of the prohibition! In the 1940’s, the ‘hurricane’ cocktail was invented by Pat O’Brien himself due to a short supply of local liquor, such as bourbon and whiskey, however, rum was being imported into the city via the Mighty Mississippi and so, the hurricane was born! Watch this space for the recipe. The Bourbon Street premises features two bars, one of which features ‘dueling’ pianists, and a courtyard restaurant. Neil was a massive fan of the piano bar (and the strong cocktails), so much so it was difficult to drag him away!
After visiting several bars in the French Quarter, we were in serious need of sustenance so made the short journey across the road from Pat O’s to Yo Mamma’s, an eclectic bar and grill. I love a good burger, especially after a few drinks, and Neil is a bit of a burger connoisseur (if such a thing exists!) as he frequently orders them when we go out to eat; due to this, we like to think we know a good burger when we eat one. Yo Mama’s serve seriously good burgers. Scrap that, unbelievable burgers, quite possibly the best burgers in the world!! I honestly do not think I have tasted such a flavoursome, juicy burger anywhere; the beef is so tender and flame grilled so that it is almost caramelised. Bizarrely, the burgers at Yo Mama’s are served with a massive baked potato topped with all the fixings – butter, sour cream, bacon bits, cheese and chives! Although delicious, the potato is rather filling to say the least and, trust me, you want to make sure you finish your delicious burger. Much to Neil’s horror, I couldn’t resist sampling the peanut butter and bacon burger! It was awesome and surprisingly, the creamy peanut butter and the crispness of the streaky bacon really compliment the smokey flavour of the beef. Highly recommended for peanut lovers! Although the bar is pretty small and the presentation of the food leaves much to be desired, make sure you make a trip to Yo Mama’s, you will not regret it!
After a few too many hurricanes, there is only one place to go, the Cat’s Meow on Bourbon Street. One of the first bars in America to develop a love of karaoke, it has since been named ‘the best karaoke bar in the world’. Apparently. Always take things you hear in NOLA with a pinch of salt!! Saying that, the Cat’s Meow is a fantastic place to people watch whilst hords of drinkers venturing along Bourbon Street sway into the bar, treating customers to a few out of tune songs whilst strumming a blow up guitar; after a few too many Southern Comfort’s you may feel the need to join in yourself!
Anyone who has visited this famous city cannot deny that it has character, you honestly cannot make New Orleans up! From an old man walking alone down Bourbon Street dressed as a lobster, to cowboys singing karaoke, you are guaranteed to have a good story, or six, after a night out in the French quarter; it will definitely be a night to remember!
Places to visit:
- Fritzel’s, 733 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70116, (504) 586-4800
- Preservation Hall, 726 St Peter’s Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70116, (504) 522-2841
- Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, 941 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130, (504) 593-9761
- Crescent City Brewhouse, 527 Decatur Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130, (504) 522-0571
- Pat O’Brien’s, 624 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70116, (504) 525-4823
- Yo Mama’s, 727 St Peter’s Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70116, (504) 522-1125
- Cat’s Meow, 701 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130, (504) 523-2788