March 31, 2019

The best music bars in New Orleans

New Orleans is synonymous with music!

But you really do have to know where to go, as the live music in the bars on Bourbon Street barely scratch the surface. In fact, I avoid most of them!

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

Here are three must-visit venues for live jazz in New Orleans:

Royal Sonesta Hotel Jazz Playhouse

A different band plays each night, no cover, and this night Kermit Ruffins (see his bar below) crashed the stage and had a jam. An awesome night at the Jazz Playhouse!

Located on Bourbon Street, the Royal Sonesta hotel itself is stunning and elegant and I’d recommend you stay here if your wallet can handle it. But every night of the week live bands play at the Jazz Playhouse, just inside the lobby.

No cover charge, and a really great vibe with low lighting and table service. Order a cheese platter and a couple of cocktails and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of up and comers, old timers and musicians generally just loving what they do.

Another must-see is Preservation Hall.

Preservation Hall New Orleans
Amazing, authentic acoustic jazz at Preservation Hall

This is a cramped room with no sound system, just acoustic jazz played in four 45-minute concerts each night, where you can line up for tickets ($20) on a first come first served basis, but it’s absolutely worth it.

If you don’t want to line up (and potentially miss out on a spot in the standing-room only room), book tickets online ($40-$50) and grab one of the two rows of bench seats for a much more comfortable experience.

They play 4x 45-minute concerts each night starting at 5pm, then on the hour, so if you miss the first one, you’ll get the next. Cushions on the floor take up the first 2 rows, then 2 rows of benches and it’s standing only in the back.

Preservation Hall is more of a room really and 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.

Kermit Ruffins Mother in Law Lounge

The main entrance to Kermit’s Treme Mother in Law Lounge

This was my latest find – on my seventh visit to New Orleans! I’d read about it in a blog or in a magazine somewhere and honestly, it was the musical highlight of my latest visit. I had a group of nine on this tour and we would all agree.

Out in the neighbourhood of Treme, virtually under the freeway bridge, jazz trumpeter and singer Kermit Ruffins owns a bar with a large courtyard out the back and every Monday night (when he’s in town) they serve beans and rice and he and his band, plus a few of his talented friends and family, take to the outdoor stage and play.

It’s casual and fun and the seats are at picnic tables or old couches or rocking chairs. Be there by 7pm – we got there for 6.30 and got a couple of picnic tables together. It’s $20 per person and they’ll come round and collect your money, then you just pay a tip for the beans and rice and also there were steaks cooking on a bbq.

The bar inside serves generous drinks and it’s all over by 9.30 – which is early for New Orleans!

Kermit Ruffins playing at Mother in Law Lounge
Kermit Ruffins and me before the band played!

For more great live music head to Frenchman Street

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.

You could walk there, or 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.

Drop into Three Muses and Spotted Cat too. Each night a new band is playing. Some times there are cover charges, sometimes not. We 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

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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!

If you’re looking for somewhere cool to stay in the French Quarter, I’ve stayed at three of these hotels and checked out the other three, so you can read my thoughts on these 6 Great Hotels in the French Quarter here >>

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About Megan Singleton

Megan Singleton

Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday and I write for a few newspapers and mags from time to time. I set off on this travel writing journey 19 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for monthly newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!

"The best music bars in New Orleans" - What do you think?

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  1. ROY BUCKLEY on

    Hi Megan we are hiring a car to drive from new Orleans to Memphis can you recommend some stop offs on the journey
    regards Roy

    Reply
  2. trish hughes on

    hi there, planning a road trip from Nashville, to Memphis, New Orleans, PEnsacola and then onto Orlando. It is me and my 16 year old twin boys who are music mad and singers, however, I am a little worried due to their age we will not be able to go to many live venues. can you confirm?

    Thanks xxx

    Reply
  3. Claribel on

    Thanks so much for the best places to visit late night. We’re visiting for NYE and are going to try one of the places you mentioned in New Orleans!

    Reply
  4. Paul and Barbara Rowe on

    Hi Megan, we`re planning a trip starting 5th April 2018 from New Orleans to Nashville covering 16 days.
    I`ve read your blog start to finish and researched all the points of interest you mentioned and have decided to follow in your footsteps as we seem to like similar things.
    Thank you SO much for sharing, it has helped a great deal.
    Kind regards
    Paul and Barbara

    Reply

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