The best music bars in New Orleans

New Orleans is synonymous with music.

The sound of jazz, the toe-tapping zydeco, blues, gospel and even live rock is all around you. Street musicians are grateful for a dollar as you wander by, bands play gigs for free in bars and beer gardens and then there’s the nightlife…

My current favourite spot for live jazz is Wednesday nights at Irvin Mayfield’s Playhouse* at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street. The hotel itself is stunning and elegant and I’d recommend you stay here if your wallet can handle it. But it’s on Wednesday night you really need to come. Irvin plays only on Wednesdays with his band. They are young, have a whole lot of fun, bring new musicians up to jam with them and all the while you can order food and drinks in the dimly lit lounge bar and relax. My happy place!

*Oh I’m so gutted to read that in December 2017 Irvin Mayfield was indicted by a grand jury on fraud charges and his name is no longer on the billing here. 🙁

New Orleans jazz

My main man Irvin!

Another must-see is Preservation Hall.

This is a cramped room where you line up for tickets ($15) on a first come first served basis, but it’s worth it. They play 3x 45-minute concerts each night so if you miss the first one, you’ll get the next. Cushions on the floor take up the first 2 rows, then 3 rows of benches and it’s standing only in the back. This hall (or room really) has been the home of jazz legends since the 1960s. And once you’re done, pop next door to Pat O’Briens for a drink at the dueling piano bar.

Preservation Hall New Orleans

For a whole lot of music all in the one place, the locals (and tourists in the know) head to Frenchmen Street just outside the French Quarter in the Faubourg Marigny district.

Get your Uber to drop you off at Snug Harbor (home of legend jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis who plays on Friday nights) and work your way back down the street from here, popping into any bar that sounds like a bit of you.

Some have cover charges and some don’t, the musicians work for tips. We then wandered into Cafe Negril. A Jamaican influenced jazz bar that was absolutely going off with a 9-piece jazz band that grew from 4 as people just arrived, one carrying his motorbike helmet and trumpet case, and stepped on to the stage to join in.

Cafe Negril New Orleans

It’s loud and proud in Maison as these guys blast up a storm

Then we called in on Maison where a big band standing shoulder to trombone on a tiny stage were making huge sounds and over the back all I could see was the tuba bobbing up and down.

You can’t go wrong on Frenchmen Street, said our concierge when we were heading out. He was right.

New Orleans cocktails

My Sazerac at Roosevelt


Read my next post on doing a cocktail tour of New Orleans where several famous drinks were created and even the word ‘cocktail’ comes from!

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