Circle Bar (1032 St. Charles Ave., 588-2616) -- The spirit of cool record collections lives in the Circle Bar. If it seems too small from the outside to have live music, that's because it probably is, but that doesn't stop local garage rock and roots rock bands and the occasional touring act from setting up in the alcove. This may be the most intimate venue in town, and it may also have the best jukebox.
Dixie Taverne (3340 Canal St., 822-8268) -- If it's loud, aggressive and anti-social, it can be found at the Dixie Taverne. The room is a generic bar -- a wide rectangle with a bar along one wall and lit-up beer signs in the windows, but it's a clubhouse for the musicians in New Orleans' influential punk-metal scene, so it seems like a member of Eyehategod, Hawgjaw or Soilent Green is in almost every band that appears on its stage.
Frenchmen Street -- For years, Frenchmen Street has been a bohemian outpost just beyond the French Quarter on the Esplanade side. Cut in the middle of a neighborhood -- the Faubourg Marigny -- it's roughly speaking three blocks of intimate music clubs. In the case of the Dragon's Den (435 Esplanade Ave., 949-1750), located upstairs from Siam, the audience surrounds the band on three sides, with cushions and floor space serving as seating toward the window. The band in D.B.A. (616 Frenchmen St., 942-3731) is wedged into the back corner of this upscale saloon, and it's situated in the front window of the Spotted Cat (623 Frenchmen St., 943-3887) across the street. There's a lot of good jazz in these clubs -- and certainly in Snug Harbor (626 Frenchmen St., 949-0696), which specializes in it -- but there are a lot of interesting small, progressive combos in other genres to be found as well. Latin and world music dominate Cafe Brasil (2100 Chartres St., 949-0851) and the Blue Nile (523 Frenchmen St., 948-2583), for instance. With small covers or tip jars in most of the clubs, it's possible to see a lot of people and hear a lot of music for a reasonable price.
House of Blues (225 Decatur St., 529-BLUE) -- When Bob Dylan and Marilyn Manson want to do more intimate shows in New Orleans, they do them at the House of Blues. This chain simulates a roadhouse's atmosphere with folk art on the walls, and it's the premier venue for national touring acts, blues being only a small part of that mix. The Parish next door is its more intimate venue, often featuring local rock and emerging touring acts.
The Howlin' Wolf (828 S. Peters St., 529-5844) -- Once a humble warehouse, the Howlin' Wolf still has the low ceiling and exposed beams, but it has been renovated into a venue that has accommodated the Strokes and the Foo Fighters in recent years. The club began in Metairie with a folkie vibe, but it has evolved into the home for local and touring alternative rock.
Maple Leaf Bar (8316 Oak St., 866-9359) -- It's just two narrow rooms -- a bar and a showroom -- with a patio out back, but the Maple Leaf has a lot of history. Once it was the home of James Booker's weekly piano gig, and on Sundays poet Everette Maddox ran a poetry reading series that has gone on to outlast him. These days, it's a great place to start a week with regular gigs from Papa Grows Funk on Mondays and ReBirth Brass Band on Tuesdays.
Mermaid Lounge (1100 Constance St., 524-4747) -- Once, this Warehouse District home to college and indie rock was in the middle of nowhere, but the warehouse across the street turned condo, forcing a few changes to the scene. Still, its unruly vibe remains, in its late-ish start time if nothing else. During Friday happy hours, the backyard is open for kids to run around while mom and dad enjoy a little honky tonk.
Mid City Lanes Rock 'N' Bowl (4133 S. Carrollton Ave., 482-3133) -- This bowling alley/music club is a step back to the days before irony. The only self-consciously retro touch is the bowling shirt uniforms on the staff; otherwise, the wood paneling and decor are the real deal. The Rock 'N' Bowl, as it's known, is often a dance hall, the type of dance depending on the type of band. The swing craze of a few years back lives here, and Thursdays are zydeco nights. And yes, you can, and should, bowl at the Rock 'N' Bowl.
North Rampart Street -- Donna's (800 N. Rampart St., 596-6914) is small; it's not pretty, but it's dimly lit, so it's hard to tell. It also has great barbecue, brass bands, and people who know and care a lot about brass bands. A block down North Rampart is the Funky Butt (800 N. Rampart St., 596-6914), owned by Sammie Williams of Big Sam's Funky Nation. It feels like a house with the furniture cleared to make room for instruments and a few friends, and it too features funky, jazzy soul (or is it funky, soulful jazz?).
One Eyed Jacks (615 Toulouse St., 569-8361) -- One Eyed Jacks, for a long time a cabaret, is the French Quarter hipsters' hangout. The front room is the watering hole for the grooveoisie, and behind the padded doors is the showroom, complete with the horseshoe bar rescued from co-owner Rio Hackford's now-defunct El Matador. It's the home of burlesque in New Orleans, and on weekends the bigger names in punk and underground grace its curtained stage.
Tipitina's (501 Napoleon Ave., 895-8477) -- This New Orleans institution is named for the Professor Longhair hit, and Fess' presence remains in the form of a bust in the entryway and the club's booking policy. His recordings combined blues, jazz, soul and funk, and so do most bands playing Tip's. Local brass and funk bands dominate the schedule, though national roots rock and jam bands appear regularly. The Sunday afternoon fais do do is a great place to see and try Cajun dancing, with the balcony providing an overhead view of a Louisiana tradition. No matter the genre, the present feels very connected to the past in Tip's.
TwiRoPa Mills (1544 Tchoupitoulas St., 587-3777) -- With stages and bars strewn throughout this whimsically converted warehouse, there's always a scene somewhere in TwiRoPa, and there's often a corner to sneak off to for more private conversations. Much of the live music has a modern, electronic sheen, though it also has regular Latin nights.