Open since 1807, this is the oldest bar on Bourbon Street, often given legendary credit for being where Andrew Jackson, Major General in the Battle of New Orleans, met to discuss strategy with Jean Lafitte, head of the local pirates.
Besides the availability of (non-hallucinogenic) absinthe, the walls are papered with the business cards of countless past visitors, and the building has some serious 19th-century character.
You can also explore the adjoining bar, Belle Epoque, which takes that 19th-century atmosphere in a more upscale direction, plus a food menu.
Mardi Gras Museum at Arnaud’s
When Arnaud’s – one of the neighborhood’s vintage Creole restaurants – is open, you can request to visit their upstairs display of Mardi Gras costumes, worn to past balls by members of the owning family.
“Museum” is a stretch – for a true museum on this subject, visit the Presbytère in Jackson Square – but it’s definitely one of the hidden gems of the neighborhood, and a drink at Arnaud’s bar is reason enough to get in.
Check out our post on Mardi Gras to learn about other Mardi Gras related places and activities.
Musical Legends Park
On the third block of Bourbon, an unexpected fenced park appears, surrounding a location of local chain Café Beignet, which forever competes with Café du Monde in the city’s ongoing unofficial best beignet contest.
Live performances by traditional jazz bands are common here – the only spot for outdoor jazz (and one of the few places for jazz at all) on Bourbon.
Also remarkable – the park has a public bathroom, a rarity in the French Quarter.
The name of the park comes from its statues of famous New Orleans performers, including Pete Fountain, Louis Prima, and Allen Toussaint.
The Chris Owens Club
The Chris Owens Club can seem a little out of place on Bourbon today – there’s a band, but it’s not exactly a music venue, and there’s a show, but it isn’t a strip club.
It’s one of the few vestiges of what Bourbon was like in the late 50s when burlesque and variety shows were the street’s mainstay.
Even more remarkable, as of 2019, the founder and namesake are going strong, well into her 80s, and still giving (fully clothed) performances most Friday and Saturday nights.
Posters from her shows cover the wall on St. Louis Street, and the show itself is like nothing else on Bourbon. Also not to be missed: the owner’s annual Easter parade.
Former Location of Big Daddy’s
Once the premier adult entertainment venue on Bourbon Street, Big Daddy’s closed in 2014.
But its famous exterior calling card – a pair of legs wearing high heels, appearing and disappearing on a swing – still call the attention of passersby at the current establishment.
Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo – 739 Bourbon
Here, the voodoo religion – one of the most misunderstood elements of New Orleans’ history – meets up with the oohing and ahhing crowds of Bourbon Street, and the result is a mélange of African art, genuine religious paraphernalia, and Hollywood-flavored souvenirs.
The former home of the shop’s namesake, Marie Laveau, is just a couple of blocks around the corner on St. Ann Street, and you can also find a couple of nearby establishments – Voodoo Authentica at 612 Dumaine and Conjure New Orleans at 506 Dumaine – owned and operated by members of the religion.
Below are our favorite restaurants on and around Bourbon Street.
TIP: A good way to sample the city’s delights and learn some history as well is to take one of our pay-what-you-wishfood tours.
Red Fish Grill
Along with Bourbon House below, this is the famous Brennan restaurateur family’s contribution to Bourbon Street.
While the area is famous for seafood, the Quarter tends to serve quite a lot of it fried.
Red Fish Grill has a broad choice of seasonal grilled seafood, so it’s simultaneously one of the more delicious and healthier options in the neighborhood.
Another offering from the Brennan family, Bourbon House covers a gamut of Creole fare with an emphasis on seafood.
One of the few places on this street where you’re actually likely to drink the beverage the street shares its name with – besides their wide selection of bourbons, they’re famous for their Bourbon Milk Punch cocktail.
Over a century old, this fine dining restaurant is an institution of Creole cuisine and one of the main forces pulling locals to the French Quarter.
It’s particularly known for its Friday lunch; the admission line starts before dawn and would-be patrons often hire someone to stand in line for them. (Other days are less competitive.)
Dress code is business casual in the daytime and formal after 5 as well as all day Sunday.
For a more casual atmosphere, try the bar at Galatoire’s 33, the restaurant’s newer bistro.
At the opposite end of the street and the spectrum from Galatoire’s, this greasy spoon joint is known for burgers cooked under hubcaps, a local clientele, and spontaneous jukebox singalongs.
The definition of hangover food, and given its position near the end of the party strip, it’s probably prevented as many as it’s cured.
NOLA Poboys – 908 Bourbon
Open as late as 3 am depending on the day, this place is in the no-frills style of the city’s classic po boy specialists and offers a few dozen varieties of the long local sandwich.
These restaurants are on streets just off of Bourbon Street.
GW Fin’s – 808 Bienville, one of the top-rated restaurants in town, upscale seafood specialist that always determines its menu by the catch of the day.
Arnaud’s – 813 Bienville, another Creole fine-dining stalwart – Remoulade, its bistro, and French 75, its bar, are both more casual.
Restaurant R’evolution – 777 Bienville, upscale establishment in the Royal Sonesta Hotel, rooted in Creole tradition but with lots of modern twists.
Erin Rose – 811 Conti, an Irish bar known for its Bloody Mary and Irish coffee (hot or frozen), plus a backroom location of Killer Poboys, a po-boy purveyor with unconventional but locally inspired recipes.
Ali-Bobas – 734 St. Peters. Bourbon Street locals, bar employees, and those tourists in the know stop at this counter-service joint. Their Gyros are served quickly and are delicious.
Be sure to check out these posts on New Orleans food:
This cocktail bar inherits some ornateness from its home, the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, but it’s still casual. Various genres of local music throughout the week.
Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub
Fritzel’s comes close to being the perfect embodiment of many people’s image of Bourbon Street – traditional jazz or swing, depending on the night, a bountiful bar, a courtyard out back, a gothy speakeasy with a password upstairs.
After Bourbon Street crosses St. Ann Street, the bars are predominately gay bars. Oz is twostories, 24/7, dance floor downstairs, balcony upstairs, gogo dancers on the bar.
Depending on when you show up, you might find a sweaty dance floor or a game of bingo.
Right across the street from Oz is “the Pub.” More relaxed on average than Oz, with various kinds of shows upstairs – drag, burlesque, karaoke – depending on the night.
Café Lafitte in Exile
Founded in 1933 and still rolling, possibly the oldest gay bar in the country.
Here are some additional recommendations grouped by genre:
Bourbon Street has had its name since the beginning when the city was laid out following its founding in 1718.
The bars, on the other hand, are a thing of the late 19th century and beyond – before that, it was a quiet, respectable, middle-class street.
If you squint through the neon, you can see buildings that would have served as businesses downstairs with owners upstairs, and the size of those residences was one of the factors that led Bourbon to be an ideal bar corridor when the time came.
Given that timing, the name has nothing to do with alcohol.
Coincidentally, both Bourbon Street in New Orleans and Bourbon County in Kentucky were named for the same thing: the Bourbon monarchy, who ruled France at the time when it was putting its colonial touch on this region.
And coincidentally, both of those areas independently became famous for alcohol – this one for its bars, that one for its whiskey.
But nightlife strips have been a constant in New Orleans history, as in any port city, and Bourbon Street is only one of the more recent places where nightlife has taken up residence.
One previous area was Iberville Street, which crosses Bourbon near its beginning, and in the 1890s, there were a few piano bars on Bourbon’s first couple blocks, even as most of it remained residential.
In 1920, the beginning of Prohibition (America’s legal ban on alcohol, which lasted for fourteen years) wildly shifted the business model for nightlife, and buildings on Bourbon began to be converted into private nightclubs.
The next burst of activity came with World War II, when a huge portion of the US military, on leave from bases in the area or shipping out through the port, spent time in the French Quarter.
These unintentional tourists became intentional tourists after the war, and between the 40s and 60s, the street exploded to its current length and became famous for jazz, burlesque, and organized crime.
Unfortunately, it was the crime more than the jazz and burlesque that made the bars profitable, and after a crackdown in the 60s, a shift to recorded music began, which remains part of today’s patchwork music scene; jazz’s era as mainstream American music also passed, and Bourbon Street adjusted to commercial demand by adjusting its repertoire.
Some see this as a decline, but as far as its viability, Bourbon Street is unquestionably going strong – its bartenders and dancers were among the first people back to work after Hurricane Katrina, and it continues to flourish through the constant shifts New Orleans has seen in the 21st century.
How Bourbon Street Is Different
There are a few things that set Bourbon apart from most party districts. One is the presence of New Orleans’ distinctive alcohol laws, or, in many cases, lack thereof.
Most noticeably, it’s legal to drink in the street anywhere in Orleans Parish, which includes most of the city, although in the French Quarter, you’re supposed to ask for a go-cup before you go outside (rather than carrying glass or metal in the streets).
It also means the bars aren’t obliged to close, and 24-hour bars are common.
The freedom to carry a drink outside means the party is both indoors and outdoors under almost any weather, leading to a culture of people-watching and a business model based mainly on grabbing attention.
So the drinks for sale here tend to be flashy – bright-colored frozen daiquiris, “hand grenades” in tall novelty cups, glowing skulls, and fishbowls almost too large to wrap your hand around.
TIP: Learn more about drink history through our French Quarter cocktail tour.
Another piece of distinctiveness is the fact that all of Bourbon’s businesses are built into 19th-century Creole architecture protected by historical regulations, giving a museum backdrop to the strip’s party character.
Your exploration may bring you into old residences, courtyards, former carriage houses, and slave quarters.
A fixture of Creole architecture is balconies, and many of the bars offer second-floor access.
For those on the balconies, it’s a popular pastime to throw Mardi Gras beads (regardless of the time of the year) at passersby below, and those passersby can choose whether to invite or dodge these projectiles.
Yes, you heard us! It is crayfish time in New Orleans and around early March through mid-June is peak season, though you can get crawfish from mid-November through mid-August.
And don’t get confused by the different terms: Crawfish, Crayfish, Crawdad.
The terms “crawdad” and “crawfish” come from the French word, “escrevisse,” which relates to the verb “to crawl.” Other theories point to the Anglo Saxon word “crevik,” which means the same.
Historians and scientists can’t agree as to where the suffix “dad” came from, but many think the suffix “fish” came from those who first believed crayfish to be a swimmer from the water, same story with lobsters and other crustaceans.
But no matter what they are called, we think they are delicious. When you are down here in New Orleans, don’t leave without trying some good crayfish.
Etouffee, Crawfish Pie, Crawfish Monica, in Gumbo, in Jambalaya, or fried, we can tell you all about it.
The absolute best way to eat crawfish is BOILED. Usually, the crawfish are boiled in sodium, with whole garlic gloves, corn, potatoes, and any extras you like.
Here are the best places in New Orleans to get crawfish. Make sure you call ahead and ask if they are boiling!
KJEAN Seafood, N Carrollton Ave, New Orleans, LA 70119, (504) 488-7503.