Where to Drink in New Orleans Right Now

A local writer reveals her favorite haunts for sipping everything from Sazeracs to martinis to surprisingly avant-garde concoctions.


By Hannah Hayes

Published on September 18, 2023

New Orleans R&B legend Ernie K-Doe once remarked, “I’m not sure, but I’m almost positive that all music came from New Orleans.” The same could be said of all cocktails. 

Famously, visitors drive cross-country and fly over oceans to try New Orleans’ famous beverages in their birthplace: a Sazerac at the mural paneled Sazerac Bar; a Vieux Carré at the spinning Carousel Bar, a crimson hurricane on Pat O’Brien’s flaming fountain-lit patio. Don’t be too cool to do the same; there’s a reason many of these institutions have been in business for actual centuries. 

With that kind of history, the classics loom large, but New Orleans bars hit so many other notes, too, from new designer dens to timeworn, dank dives. And there’s just as much to appreciate in a frozen daiquiri on a steamy summer afternoon, or in a can of Paradise Park, as there is in a well-executed Brandy Crusta

For those of us lucky enough to live here, we know a special part of the city’s soul lives in our neighborhood bars. Stitched into residential blocks, they function as community centers connecting generations of residents and catalyzing conversations. In my corner of the Bywater, my neighbors take volunteer shifts pressing fresh ginger juice for gingeritas at Vaughan’s Lounge (some even pick up their mail there). At other longstanding locals, Mardi Gras Indian tribes gather to sew feathers and beads onto their celestial suits before they march through the streets.

With so much of the cityscape left over from long ago, the temptation to see New Orleans as a static relic pulls strong. But consider our cocktail culture like the city’s live music scene. A traditional jazz performance at Preservation Hall proves an essential experience, but there’s so much more to hear: George Porter Jr. at the Maple Leaf, 79rs Gang at BJ’s, Los Guiros at Saturn Bar, a brass band on the street. Likewise, when it comes time to venture beyond the Quarter—or see its newer haunts—these 12 B-sides to the city’s more popular names will resonate.

727 Toulouse St,

Peychaud's; Photography by BRND House

When the chance to create a bar in the former home of Antoine Amedée Peychaud (of Peychaud's bitters) appeared, the owner of new-guard fixtures Cure and Cane & Table couldn't say no, even in the midst of the pandemic. In homage to its history, Peychaud’s delves deeper into New Orleans’ originals like the 1800s-era Roffignac, a raspberry-speared armagnac punch named for the mayor who paved the Quarter’s roads. Barely a block off Bourbon Street, the emerald-painted shoebox opens onto a serene, shaded courtyard that feels a world away from the nearby ruckus—especially when you’re splitting a silky Ramos Gin Fizz for two beside the babbling fountain.

Bar Pomona; Photography by Betsy Lindell

Monday in the Marigny neighborhood means lasagna night. Locals pack into this sardine-tin-size wine bar for the dinner deal—a square with homemade noodles and ricotta, a side salad, and a slice of garlic bread—as a start-to-the-grind reward. I’m just as fond of the martini with anchovy-stuffed olives, which serve as a foil to the sweet, fig-leaf-steeped vermouth. The bar’s co-owner Sara Levasseur uses the open kitchen stove for her Jamboree Jams, small-batch made in copper pots (hence Pomona’s nickname, the “Jam Shop''). Her favorite fruits, like damson plums and Ponchatoula strawberries, juice up seasonal spritzes and daiquiris.   

3824 Dryades St,

Even proactive planners can find slim pickings for reservations at Melissa Martin’s deeply personal, coursed-out Cajun dinners during high season. Luckily, there’s a walk-in-friendly four-seat bar and twinkly front porch. The cocktails and wines are decidedly divergent from the “grandma cuisine” ethos of the à la carte menu. The mixed libations lean citrusy, making the most of Louisiana’s lemons, limes, and the like, as exemplified by the Haitian daiquiri sweetened with cane syrup or the Mosquito Daisy with mezcal, persimmon, orange liqueur, lemon, and bubbly. 

4301 Burgundy St,

Frenchmen Street steals the spotlight for live music, but just a short drive away, some of the city’s (and region’s) best musicians play this tiny Bywater dive. The pineapple margarita and longneck domestics aren’t winning anyone mixology awards, but when the Grammy-winning Louis Michot or Leyla McCalla are crooning in the backyard, or acclaimed author Jami Attenburg is hosting a barside book signing, who cares? Local blues guitarist Little Freddie King (that’s his face painted on the side of the building) performs most Fridays, and, in February, few moments contain more pure Mardi Gras magic for me than Al “Carnival Time” Johnson taking the stage while potluck offerings pile up on the pool table. 

1226 Barracks St,

When Lent arrives, fried fish Fridays soothe the post-Mardi Gras comedown. Plate lunches and dinners appear everywhere from churches to bars (there’s even an online tracker to see all the various congregations’ offerings). Little People’s Place has one of the best: a styrofoam clamshell container loaded with crispy catfish, a scoop of potato salad, peas, and white bread. The tiny family-owned joint’s hand-painted, butter-yellow facade is a fixture in the Tremé, one of the country’s oldest Black neighborhoods. Photographer L. Kasimu Harris documented Little People’s Place in his project Vanishing Black Bars, illuminating the immeasurable cultural significance of Black-owned establishments like this one and the challenges they face to stay open. 

508 Dumaine St,

World-renowned bartender Chris Hannah’s opus Jewel of the South was an instant classic, but just across the quarter, his charming, taller-than-wide Cuban bar serves his cocktails in a chiller setting, doubly so when you order an icy guava daiquiri. Much of the menu expounds on the daiquiri’s different forms, but I often stick with the Bywater, a Hannah-invented standard, with rum, green Chartreuse, Amaro Averna, and Velvet Falernum. 

2601 Royal St,

Anna's; Photography by Randy Schmidt

When the beloved tapas bar Mimi’s in the Marigny closed in 2020, one of the city’s best beverage directors, Anna Giordano, had the chance to reimagine the bar where she had once been a regular. Now it’s her namesake. The towering, two-level building’s party-downstairs, salon-upstairs dual personality manifests on the menus scrawled across antique mirrors. On the ground floor, neighborhood characters drink fancy frozens (the Carda-marg combines mezcal, orange, and cardamom tea), Salty Dogs, and boilermakers; balcony-level Mimi’s Spanish influence lingers in the sherry Negroni and wide-ranging vermouth selection. 

5200 Burgundy St,

Across the St. Claude Bridge in the Lower Ninth’s Holy Cross neighborhood, the barroom Mercedes Gibson started in 1990 has been a haven for longtime residents whose pictures decorate the walls. It was also one of the first businesses in the neighborhood to rise up after Hurricane Katrina. A Sunday Saints game makes for the ideal time to stay a while and order a set-up, New Orleans’ answer to bottle service: a half-pint of booze (or large beer) plus a mixer (e.g., rum and pineapple juice or whiskey and Coca-Cola), served in an ice bucket with go-cups.

529 St. Ann,

Fives; Photography by @coryjames_fontenot

A seductively simple raw bar designed around an olive marble horseshoe counter, Fives is an archetypal cocktail-and-oyster spot, which the Quarter had been sorely missing until its opening in July. Hidden in the circa-1839 Pontalba Building among the tarot card readers of Jackson Square, Fives’ location in tourist ground zero fades away inside with just the steeple of St. Louis Cathedral peaking over the cafe curtains. Classics like the Absinthe Frappé join in-house inventions like the Fives Swizzle, with mezcal, yellow Chartreuse, pineapple, and five-spice. 

701 Sixth St.,

The quieter cousin to nearby Irish Channel icon Parasol’s is typically slammed with game-watchers braving long lines for roast beef po’boys. From the broken tile floor to the wood-paneled walls to the possibly haunted, cash-only jukebox (not to mention the tenant calico, Foxy), Pete’s embodies the quintessential no-frills neighborhood bar. Built in 1848, Pete’s once provided lodging and provisions to port workers; now, the vestige of the Channel’s working-class roots sits in one of the city’s hottest real-estate areas. Pull up a stool, then grab yourself a gin and soda or an ice-cold Abita. 

3200 Burgundy St.,

Known for smart vegan, vegetarian, and sustainable seafood dishes integrated into a genre-defying menu (think smoked tempeh reuben or spear-caught snapper crudo), Bar Brine has an ever-changing drink selection that casts just as wide a net. Umbrellaed, tropical-tilting frozens meet seaweed bitter-spiked martinis served with a “garnish adventure,” a skewer of lemon peel, olive, cucumber, and lime. Negroni ideations come in pour-your-own mini bottles. Just as thoughtful, the refreshing zero-proof section with tonics like the Beam Me Up, combining gentian tea, celery cordial, lemon, and aquafaba. 

949 N Rendon St.,

An afternoon at urban waterway Bayou Saint John, a peaceful playground for po’boy picnics and paddling, often begins or ends with a stop at Pal’s, where the buzzer door opens to busty nudes covering the walls and, sometimes, the resident rooster, Cheeto. With a regularly rotating roster of pop-ups, the scene indoors and out on the patio is always spirited—but things get supercharged on game days. The $6 gingerita special goes down easy, as does the “house salad” cocktail, ice-cold vodka shaken with basil, cucumber, and lime.

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