March 1, 2018

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!

Need a hotel in New Orleans? Check for up to 50% off rooms!




About Megan Singleton


Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio every week and a few newspapers and mags from time to time. I set off on this travel writing journey 18 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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    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

  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

  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!

  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


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