For the best music bars in New Orleans, head to Frenchmen Street.
Oh you’ll find lots on Bourbon Street in amongst the souvenir shops and Larry Flynt Hustler peep shows (I know, I was shocked when I first saw them too), but they are very touristy. Great for a lunchtime or mid-afternoon toe-tap, but in the evening the locals head for Frenchman, just outside the French Quarter in the Faubourg Mariginy district.
Get the taxi 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.
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.
But before you bolt off through the French Quarter, one must-see is Preservation Hall. This is a cramped room where you must 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 the duelling piano bar.