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My 4 favourite jazz bars in New Orleans

New Orleans is synonymous with jazz!

Walk through the French Quarter and you’ll see talented street musicians on so many corners, you could spend an entire day just tapping your feet along with them. Bring a few $1 bills as they’re grateful for every dollar as you take your photos and videos.

Many bands play gigs for free in bars too and beer gardens and then there’s the nightlife… but at night 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!

Street musicians in the French Quarter
Street musicians in the French Quarter

You’ll find some great live jazz on Frenchmen Street, down by the French Market on the edge of the French Quarter. To be honest, while there are some bars I can totally recommend, they’re not the ones I go back to each time I visit (now eight times to the Crescent City).

Here are my 4 must-visit venues for live jazz in New Orleans:

Royal Sonesta Hotel Jazz Playhouse

A different band plays each night, sometimes they sell tickets, and other times there is no cover charge, 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. (It features on my list of 7 French Quarter hotels I love). 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.

Preservation Hall

This is a small room with no sound system, just acoustic jazz played in four 45-minute concerts each night. And it’s fabulous. You can line up for standing only tickets ($20) on a first come first served basis, or book online. I strongly suggest you buy them online, to ensure you don’t miss out. You can also book a bench seat.

Waiting for the band at Preservation Hall
It’s either bench seats or standing room only at Preservation Hall

Please don’t take little kids. The venue is too small for a child to not be heard talking, whining, crying. In the end and after enough glaring and a few comments, the mother having a conversation with her 2-year old finally took him outside. And the singer could focus on what he was doing.

The Preservation Hall Band play 4x 45-minute concerts each night starting at 5pm, then on the hour, and this has been the home of jazz legends since the 1960s.

Then once you’re done, head to Fritzell’s on Bourbon Street for some German-influence with your jazz.

Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub

It’s been on Bourbon Street since 1969 and has a real oompah feel. What was cool on my last visit is that they played a couple of the same songs we’d just heard at Preservation Hall, but in their own unique style.

We got lucky and walked in when the place was empty, so my group of 17 comandeered three tables, ordered beers and sat tapping our toes for an hour before dinner.

The Fritzel's band with banjo and bass
The Fritzel’s band with banjo and bass

Kermit Ruffins 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.

I then went back for a second visit in 2024, and it lived up to my great expectations again.

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

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 Megan Singleton
I caught up with Kermit Ruffins earlier in the day

For more great live music head to Frenchmen 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 played here, right up until he died a few years ago) 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.

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.

Marigny is great place for dinner on Frenchmen
Marigny is great place for dinner on Frenchmen
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!

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 7 Great Hotels in the French Quarter here >>


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Wednesday 9th of January 2019

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

trish hughes

Thursday 27th of December 2018

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


Saturday 30th of December 2017

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!


Saturday 30th of December 2017

You're welcome. You won't find a bad spot on NYE I'm sure!

Paul and Barbara Rowe

Monday 13th of November 2017

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


Monday 13th of November 2017

Thanks Paul and Barbara, you've made my day! Your road trip will be amazing :D

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 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 my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!