When it comes to music, you could argue there’s nowhere else in the world like New Orleans. The city offers up a jambalaya of Cajun, zydeco, Afro-Caribbean, folk, blues, R&B, gospel, country, bluegrass, jazz, brass bands — and so much more. One of the best ways to taste all of that in one trip is during the annual 10-day Jazz Fest, full of performances and parades, kicking off in late-April. Of course, you can find live tunes all over the city any other time, too. While plenty of them do call the famed French Quarter home, most locals head to Frenchmen Street or the Bywater to hear their favorite performers. Here are six venues where the local bands laissez les bon temps rouler (let the good times roll) year-round.
1. Preservation Jazz Hall
At this tiny little enclave smack in the middle of the French Quarter (around since 1961), you’ll sit on a hard bench or a cushion on the floor, right at the feet of an authentic jazz band. There’s no air conditioning and no drinks are served, but no one cares. You’re there for traditional New Orleans jazz — and there’s plenty of it. Shows start at 8 p.m., 9 p.m., and 10 p.m. seven days a week. The line waiting to get in goes around the block, so get there early.
2. Rock N Bowl
Shake your moneymaker at this cavernous space with live music, a sprung dance floor, 18 bowling lanes, and a deli restaurant with reasonable prices all under one roof. Listen to the sound of balls hitting pins accompanied by the live music of a sizzling hot local band. Wednesday night is zydeco night, a particularly great night to go; the male Cajun dancers do it with a full beer can balanced on their heads. When the song ends, they drink the beer. Don’t worry, you don’t have to dance to drink your own.
3. The Howlin Wolf
Named after the legendary bluesman and opened in 1988, The Howlin Wolf soon outgrew its space and is now located in a real warehouse in the Warehouse District. The place drips with history, with the mahogany bar — taken from Al Capone’s hotel — as just one element of great heritage. Here, forget about sitting. You’ll be packed like a sardine on the concrete floor. But, again, no one seems to mind when you can watch such talent as Harry Connick Jr., the Foo Fighters, Barenaked Ladies, Dr. John, Allison Krauss, and Jimmy Buffet.
Just outside of the French Quarter on Frenchmen Street is d.b.a., a beloved live music venue featuring local and regional acts nightly. Insider secret: You can sit at the bar, but if you want to really see the band, walk around to a long narrow listening room. Top bands run the gamut from Walter Wolfman Washington to zydeco and Cajun bands. This is a no reservations venue — first come, first served.
5. The Spotted Cat
This quintessential New Orleans jazz club, just steps away from the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter, serves up jazz, blues, funk, klezmer, and more. It’s a very small place, not unlike a French jazz room. There are seats, but people mainly stand or dance in the cozy space.
6. Snug Harbor
Also on Frenchmen Street, across the street from The Spotted Cat, is Snug Harbor. With TVs at the bar, music lovers can both see and hear the musicians from virtually anywhere within, but the best seats are upstairs where you can look down at the performances. Don’t be surprised if either Ellis Marsalis or Harry Connick Jr. is playing.