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New Orleans' Best Bars 2011 

Whether you're out with your parents or out at four in the morning (or both!), our annual survey has you covered

click to enlarge The Lost Love Lounge is a Marigny hub for drinks, bingo, trivia games, comedy and Vietnamese food. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • The Lost Love Lounge is a Marigny hub for drinks, bingo, trivia games, comedy and Vietnamese food.

There's a time and place for everything — especially if you want to enjoy a drink in New Orleans. Gambit checked out the local bar scene and what follows are our findings on everything from craft cocktail menus to draft picks, places to meet and greet and stages to belt out karaoke tunes, sunny courtyards and shady places for the wee hours. There are bars with food, music, comedy, games and more.

Chemistry Set

At a growing number of bars and restaurants around town, mixologists have taken the approach of an artist or alchemist in crafting cocktail menus. In revivals of retro drinks, interpretations of classics or in original creations, these clever craft cocktails often incorporate offbeat and, in many cases, house-made bitters, syrups and other mixers. Here are some bars with notable offerings.

Bar Tonique

This friendly but refined bar on the edge of the French Quarter is stocked with house-made tonic, ginger beer, a variety of syrups and fresh-squeezed juices, plus many rare liquors and mixers. The menu offers original creations and reboots of classics. A summertime "temperance" menu features a selection of nonalcoholic — but nonetheless complex — cocktails that are free for designated drivers. 820 N. Rampart St., 324-6045; www.bartonique.com

Boucherie

Co-owner James Denio and bartender Mike Seaman design the cocktails to match the restaurant's seasonal menu of refined Southern cuisine. House-made bitters and infusions are incorporated into cocktails like the Good Medicine, a summery digestif made with Italian herbal liqueur, vermouth, orange pekoe iced tea and a sprig of mint. 8115 Jeannette St., 862-5514; www.boucherie-nola.com

Clever

At this low-key Mid-City wine bar, Tony DiMunno and a small staff of bartenders make cocktails using house-made syrups. Jalapeno syrup adds a kick to the spicy pear kamikaze with Merlet Creme de Poire liquor and a cinnamon-sugar rim. A classic mai tai using the old Trader Vic's recipe features house-made orgeat syrup. 3700 Orleans Ave., 483-6360; www.cleverwines.com

Cure

Many of the inventive drinks at this tony cocktail lounge contain house-made bitters, syrups and shrubs, mixers produced with an old method of preserving fruit using vinegar. For a tomatoless twist on the bloody Mary, the Red Medicine features a Tabasco shrub with demerara sugar, honey, Pimm's and lemonade. 4905 Freret St., 302-2357; www.curenola.com

French 75 at Arnaud's

Renowned mixologist Chris Hannah's cocktail menu showcases original creations and classic drinks revived from bygone eras. A Paloma tequila highball with house-made grapefruit syrup is an alternative to a margarita, and a "summer Sazerac" features Genever gin, orange bitters, orange peel and Chartreuse. House-made orgeat and falernum syrups are used in the bar's tiki drinks. 813 Bienville St., 523-5433; www.arnaudsrestaurant.com/french-75

click to enlarge Patrons enjoy a full bar and live music at Oak. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

Iris

Sharon Floyd, the mixologist behind the bar at Ian Schnoebelen's innovative contemporary American restaurant, draws seasonal inspiration for her fresh cocktails. Her melon-heavy summer cocktails include the Thai Melon, featuring house-infused kaffir lime vodka, coconut Ciroc, cantaloupe juice and house-made pandan leaf syrup. The Mexico-inspired Stems and Stalks combines lemongrass-infused mescal with St. Germain, fresh celery juice and rosewater, citrus syrup and Herbsaint. 321 N. Peters St., 299-3944; www.irisneworleans.com

Loa

Bartender Alan Walter built his reputation as New Orleans' cocktail chemist during his stint at the restaurant Iris. Now cocktail enthusiasts can find him at the bar inside the International House Hotel. His cocktails feature homemade bitters, syrups and fresh-squeezed juices. The most bizarre offering is the Rites of Spring, which incorporates tarragon, mint and a pine needle-infused velvety falernum. 221 Camp St., 553-9550; www.ihhotel.com

Twelve Mile Limit

It may look like an unassuming neighborhood watering hole, but inside this Mid-City spot you'll find a full menu of elegant but affordable cocktails. The menu from T. Cole Newton, formerly the cocktail mastermind at the Uptown bistro Coquette, features drinks with inventive mixers like house-made grenadine made from reduced pomegranate juice. An as-of-yet unnamed drink with gin, celery bitters and Champagne is a summery choice. 500 S. Telemachus St., 488-8114

Let the Games Begin

The pub quiz trend has spread to many local bars, and for those who are out of knowledge or tired of studying, there are new options. For anyone seeking an active drinking experience, these bars provide opportunities for fun activities beyond pool, darts and Erotic Photo Hunt.

Blue Nile

Artist Will Smith hosts his "Drink 'n' Draw" nights at the Blue Nile every third Sunday of the month from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The event is usually at the Circle Bar, which currently is undergoing renovation. A live model will be present, and struggling artists can receive instruction upon request. 532 Frenchmen St., 948-2583; www.bluenilelive.com

Hi-Ho Lounge

For those still into bar trivia but seeking some specialization, the Bywater music store Euclid Records hosts a music trivia night on Tuesdays at the Hi-Ho. Lefty Parker and music writer (and former Gambit contributor) Alison Fensterstock come up with the questions, which range from "very easy" to "super challenging." Prizes include bar tabs, Euclid gift certificates, music memorabilia and more. The bar usually screens a music-related movie at 6 p.m., and trivia starts around 8 p.m. 2239 St. Claude Ave., 945-4446

Lost Love Lounge

This Bywater dive has proved to be the home for grown-up Boy Scouts and elementary school nerds. In the past it has hosted an authentic Pinewood Derby and weekly spelling bees. The Pinewood Derby should return in the fall, and the spelling bee is on indefinite hiatus, but until then there's bingo on Sundays beginning around 10 p.m. (after a Treme screening). There's also heavy metal trivia in between rounds. 2529 Dauphine St., 949-2009; www.lostlovelounge.com

Oz

This isn't your grandmother's church hall bingo: The legendary French Quarter gay dance club hosts drag bingo twice a week. On Fridays and Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., sassy drag queens host the game that awards prizes including free cover for the weekend and other schwag. The bar usually has happy hour drink specials during the games. 800 Bourbon St., 593-9491; www.ozneworleans.com

click to enlarge Cooter Browns
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • A wide selection of beers and televised sports are the main attractions at Cooter Brown's.

The Rusty Nail

Hidden under the highway at the edge of downtown, the Rusty Nail usually hosts bingo at 8 p.m. on Thursdays. The next bingo night is scheduled for July 14. Prizes include free food and drinks, T-shirts and other items. 1100 Constance St., 525-5515; www.therustynail.biz

Shamrock

The Shamrock might be New Orleans' exclusively-for-grown-ups Dave & Buster's. The proprietors have filled the old Rock 'N' Bowl space with a whopping 23 pool tables, 5 ping-pong cages, foosball tables, shuffleboard, skee-ball machines, air hockey and many more amusements. The bar hosts ping-pong and foosball tournaments on Tuesdays, and pool tourneys on Wednesdays. 4133 S. Carrollton Ave., 301-0938; www.shamrockparty.com

Power Bars

Some people are known to get drunk with power, but those who truly know how to wield power also know how to take the edge off a busy day. While many local bars provide the perfect backdrop for easing into the evening, several are known as places to catch the movers and shakers of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish hatching (or closing) the latest deals — or trading stories and taking victory laps — over favorite libations. Here are the local favorites.

The Polo Club Lounge

Located on the second floor of the Windsor Court Hotel, the Polo Club Lounge typically starts buzzing with politicians, lawyers and other suits by 5 p.m. The plush decor and attentive wait staff evoke a private English club, though all are welcome. Excellent wines (red is the power color here) are poured by the glass, along with top-shelf booze. Food is available from the adjacent Grill Room restaurant, and the strains of live piano music add to the club-like feel. 300 Gravier St., 523-6000; www.grillroomneworleans.com

The Red Maple

Located a stone's throw from the Jefferson Parish Courthouse, the Red Maple has been a mainstay of the parish political and business crowd for years, owing not just to its location but also to its customers' mantra of "What happens at the Maple stays at the Maple." As with all good power bars, food is readily available from the adjoining restaurant, and it's always as delectable as the political gossip. The Maple is open for lunch and dinner, and you're liable to find parish movers and shakers there throughout the day or evening. 1036 Lafayette St., Gretna, 367-0935; www.theredmaplerestaurant.com

The Royal Palm

The opulent bar in the Coconut Club, tucked inside the spacious Royal Palm Restaurant in Harvey, provides a luscious backdrop to any conversation about power and politics in Jefferson Parish. The club's curved mahogany bar is a stunning showpiece, complemented by live piano music and premium bar brands and wines. Insiders say this is the new hot spot on the West Bank. 1901 Manhattan Blvd., Harvey, 644-4100; www.royalpalmrestaurant.com

Ruth's Chris Steak House

The legendary hospitality of Ruth's Chris founder Ruth Fertel lives on at the two local steakhouses, both of which have been iconic settings for power lunches that sometimes morph into power dinners — with some power drinking at the bar in between. The bars at both the downtown and Metairie locations are some of the see-and-be-seen venues for politicians, consultants and other heavy hitters. Wines by the bottle or by the glass complement a full range of liquors, and of course food is available at both bars. 525 Fulton St., 587-7099; 3633 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 888-3600; www.ruthschris.com

click to enlarge Bouligny Tavern

The Steak Knife

After work or after dinner, the bar at this Lakeview steak and seafood institution is often packed with local business and political types, particularly those with a connection to the lake area. Proprietor and chef Bob Roth recently added jazz on weekends in the adjoining Roth Room, which offers the perfect background noise to discreet conversations. The main bar also features tables for dining or drinking. 888 Harrison Ave., 488-8981; www.steakkniferestaurant.com

Morton's Steak House (One Canal Place, 365 Canal St., 566-0221; www.mortons.com/neworleans)

The iconic steakhouse on the second floor of Canal Place provides a clubby setting for power meals, and the adjacent bar often serves as the perfect prelude to such gatherings — or a convenient meeting place for discreet but important conversations after work. The mahogany-lined bar is a favorite of downtown politicos and business types, as the names on the personal wine bins attest, and the menu of excellent wines (by the glass or by the bottle) and liquors reflects the well-heeled clientele's preferences for the finer things in life.

Ralph's On The Park (900 City Park Ave., 488-1000; www.ralphsonthepark.com)

Nestled in a neighborhood landmark across from the original entrance to City Park, Ralph's on the Park offers great dining as well as the perfect setting for after-hours business meetings along the U-shaped bar. The bar features a full array of wines by the glass along with premium brands, as well as live piano music and tables for those who want to dine among the power conversations. Many consider it a perfect stopping-off point for the ride home to Mid-City, Lakeview or Metairie.

Pub Grub

Local bars offer a wide array of dining options, from small plates to full-fledged gastropubs. Here are some places with gourmet dining options and the relaxed atmosphere of a bar.

American Sector

It's found inside the museum that's dedicated to the crowning achievement of the "greatest generation" but the bar at John Besh's spiffy, 1940s-inspired restaurant draws representatives of all generations. They hoist retro cocktails, tiki drinks and custom-brewed draft beers while grazing through snacks like rabbit pate and crab pies or towering sandwiches served on butcher blocks. National World War II Museum, 945 Magazine St., 528-1940; www.american-sector.com

The Bombay Club

With its deep booths, leather armchairs and dark wood paneling, there's an urbane air inside the Bombay Club. Membership is not required to make a night of it at this club, where chef Ricky Cheramie prepares modern Creole cuisine and cocktail book author Cheryl Charming presides over the bar. Check out her themed cocktail specials on Mad Men Mondays or James Bond Tuesdays, while live jazz continues on weekends. 830 Conti St., 586-0972; www.thebombayclub.com

Bouligny Tavern

Chef John Harris made his name — and earned plenty of culinary accolades — at his restaurant Lilette. So it's no surprise that the drinks at the bar he opened just next door share the spotlight with dishes like duck confit, gouda beignets and charcuterie. The sleek decor is an unabashed tribute to mid-century American design, and on any given night the well-dressed crowd is equally stylish. 3641 Magazine St., 891-1810; www.boulignytavern.com

Capdeville

Anthems and guitar ballads dominate the jukebox, and whiskey bottles line the rafters at a Warehouse District tavern that wears its rock 'n' roll allegiance as proudly as a concert T-shirt. Whiskey is also prominent on the list of cocktails, which the after-work crowd knocks back while rolling up sleeves for burgers topped with fried eggs, duck confit club sandwiches and bowls of poutine, the Quebecois-style cheese fries. 520 Capdeville St., 371-5161; www.capdevillenola.com

Mimi's in the Marigny

This two-story watering hole has long been an outpost for late-night eats in the Marigny, serving its traditional Spanish tapas menu well into the wee hours. Eclectic local roots bands perform upstairs, where sofas and table lamps lend the feel of a bohemian living room. Each Saturday, the vibe shifts to high-energy house party as DJ Soul Sister gets behind the turntables and everyone starts dancing. 2601 Royal St., 872-9868

Mondo

Chef Susan Spicer opened Mondo as a family-friendly restaurant in Lakeview, but it turns out that the roomy front bar became the neighborhood's favored perch for creative cocktails and inventive nibbles. While the kid's menu remains popular in the main dining room, the bar fills with people sampling wine and snacks like Thai meatballs, deviled eggs or wood-oven pizzas. 900 Harrison Ave., 224-2633; www.mondoneworleans.com

Rendon Inn

It's been around since 1933, but this backstreet Broadmoor joint isn't your grandfather's Rendon Inn. Thoroughly remodeled after Hurricane Katrina, it's now a tavern with a wide selection of local craft beers on tap and a full menu by J'Anita's. Check out the pulled pork and brisket, the redfish sandwiches, fresh guacamole and bacon-wrapped apricots stuffed with blue cheese. 4501 Eve St., 826-5605

Sylvain

This beautifully renovated old French Quarter address is now a place to get gourmet burgers and market salads, while the bar serves both craft cocktails and cans of Schlitz beer. The main dining room and bar have an antique feel, with mellow lighting and simple decor, while a narrow courtyard leads to a brick-lined cove and a few tables that seem seductively tucked away. 625 Chartres St., 265-8123; www.sylvainnola.com

The Three Muses

People come to Frenchmen Street for food, music and drinks, and the Three Muses puts them all under one rather petite roof. While jazz singers or roots acts perform on the tiny stage, people nosh through a creative, international tapas menu from chef Dan Esses at small tables or along the bustling bar, where bartenders mix original cocktails like the orange blossom Sazerac or the spaghetti western. 536 Frenchmen St., 298-8746; www.thethreemuses.com

click to enlarge Kajun's Pub

Beer Emporiums

Here are some top draft picks for craft beers, microbrews and local brewpubs.

Abita Brew Pub

Louisiana's popular beer brand gets star treatment at the brewery's pub. There are Abita's limited, brewhouse-only "select" brews (like the Double IPA and Triple Haze) and other craft beers from the Gulf South — look for drafts from Bayou Teche's LA 31, Mississippi's Lazy Magnolia and Baton Rouge's Tin Roof. Try a tasting selection to wash down one of the menu's big burgers on the outdoor patio or at the bar. 72011 Holly St., Abita Springs, (985) 892-5837; www.abitabrewpub.com

Avenue Pub

With two floors, two bars, 50 beers on tap and dozens of bottles — and open 24 hours — the St. Charles Avenue "pub" is more like the FAO Schwartz for beer geeks. Test your beer geography IQ on the dizzying display of taps, decadent eats on the pub grub menu. Tip: The balcony upstairs has a great view of the avenue. 1732 St. Charles Ave., 586-9243; www.theavenuepub.com

The Bulldog

The Uptown tavern (and its Mid-City sister) boasts a seemingly endless international beer selection, representing beers of the South, eastern seaboard and a few western states as well as Europe and beyond — into Turkey, Thailand, Lebanon and elsewhere. Take home your pint glass on Wednesdays. 3236 Magazine St., 891-1516; 5135 Canal Blvd., 488-4191; www.draftfreak.com

Cooter Brown's Tavern

The self-described "obeertuary and barsoleum" in the Riverbend is home to more than 400 domestic and imported bottled beers, with 40 beers on tap at the front bar and another 20 in the back bar. The gameday-ready bar is stocked with TVs and a feasting menu of po-boys, burgers and fried goodness — not to mention plenty of beer. 509 S. Carrollton Ave., 866-9104; www.cooterbrowns.com

Crescent City Brewhouse

Gleaming copper kettles visible from the street have long heralded the location of the French Quarter's sole microbrewery. The selection of house-brewed beers typically includes a pilsner, the Vienna-style Red Stallion, a Munich-style dark beer, a weiss (wheat) beer and a seasonal brew. There's also an oyster bar and full menu from the kitchen. 527 Decatur St., 522-0571; www.crescentcitybrewhouse.com

d.b.a.

Not unlike its neighbors on Frenchmen Street, this bar offers nightly music on its intimate stage — but its other star is its beer altar, featuring dozens of international microbrews and craft beers. Bring cash for the cover charge for the bands (there are typically two shows a night). 618 Frenchmen St., 942-7371; www.dbabars.com/dbano

Gordon Biersch

The chain brewery features rotating seasonal brews and several regulars, like a hefeweizen, a Czech-style pilsner, and a Schwarzbier, a dark German "black beer" with a roasted coffee finish, all brewed in-house. The spacious bar also serves an eclectic selection of bar food. 200 Poydras St., 522-2739; www.gordonbiersch.com

Karaoke

Whether you need a little liquid courage or just can't wait to sing for the crowd, these bars are ready to hand you the mic and a drink.

The Beach House

In the karaoke hierarchy, home karaoke machines rank at the bottom, professional systems are the standard, and live music is the Holy Grail. Aspiring singers can sing to a live karaoke band from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Tuesdays. As far as song selection goes, band members say they can figure out how to play just about anything. 2401 N. Woodlawn Ave., Metairie, 456-7470

click to enlarge Winston's Pub

Buddha Belly

Cheap drinks and plentiful song selections are hallmarks of good karaoke bars. With nearly 9,000 songs, drink specials (including $2 draft beers and two-for-one well drinks after midnight), Buddha Belly's Tuesday and Saturday karaoke nights meet the criteria — and raise the entertainment factor with a stripper pole. 4437 Magazine St., 891-6105

Kajun's Pub

Thanks to a library of 50,000 songs, Kajun's Pub is a behemoth among karaoke bars, cutting across age, gender and race barriers with promises of cheap booze and public humiliation. Dollar shots and $5.50 pitchers make the smoky, 24-hour dive a prime blackout spot. Don't get too rowdy — the bartenders are armed with pepper spray and they're not afraid to use it. 2256 St. Claude Ave., 947-3735; www.kajunpub.com

Little Tokyo

Small Plates & Noodle BarSpend $40 on food and drink at Little Tokyo's South Carrollton location and receive an hour in a private karaoke room suitable for gatherings ranging from mild (birthday fetes) to wild (bachelor parties). Songbirds who prefer a less intimate venue can serenade diners in the main restaurant nightly starting at 8 p.m. 1340 S. Carrollton Ave., 861-6088; www.littletokyonola.com

The Saint Bar & Lounge

Lower Garden District hipster mecca The Saint Bar & Lounge features tikioki (a neologism of tiki drinks and karaoke) at 9 p.m. Tuesdays. Mai tais and fog cutters sweeten a limited song selection, but the loyal crowd and enthusiastic host are upbeat and supportive. The bar attracts a late-night bunch — go before 11 p.m. and you may as well sing to yourself. 961 St. Mary St., 523-0050; www.thesaintneworleans.com

click to enlarge Supagroup's Benji Lee moonlights behind the bar at The Saint. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

Metairie Road Trip

Here are the best places in Metairie and thereabouts to find yourself with a pint in your hand and a designated driver at your side.

Gennaro's Bar and Restaurant

Wedged beneath the Causeway overpass on Metairie Road, Gennaro's bills itself as the oldest bar in Jeff Parish. Take out the flat-screen TVs and you could be back in 1962 — the broken-in vibe here features low ceilings, terrazzo floors, cheesecake pictures on the walls, WTIX on the radio and, on some nights, karaoke. Beer is cheap, the regulars are friendly, and — lagniappe — you can get Bear's excellent po-boys right next door. 3206 Metairie Road, Metairie, 833-9226

Lager's International Ale House

If you get Bulldog deja vu in this draft pub across from Lakeside Shopping Center, no wonder: The bars share the same owners (and much of the same menu). Dozens of draft taps, King Henry VIII-sized comfy booths, and a smoking patio overlooking scenic Severn Avenue are among the charms. On Wednesdays, order a pint and keep the glass; on Thursdays, it's $2 off pitchers of microbrew. Besides, where else do framed photos of Benjamin Franklin and Fonzie share wall space? 3501 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 887-9923; lagersmetairie.draftfreak.com

Oscar's Restaurant & Bar

New Orleans has legendary burger bars like Port of Call and Yo' Mama's Bar & Grill. Old Metry has Oscar's, where the bar menu includes wraps and salmon but everybody goes for the hamburgers with a baked potato on the side. A pleasantly dark space along one of Metairie Road's retail rows just off Bonnabel Boulevard, Oscar's seems to cater to a strong crowd of regulars. Nothing fancy here (unless you count the mass-produced Marilyn Monroe art on the walls, and we don't), just stiff drinks, sweet servers and oh, that burger. 2027 Metairie Road, Metairie, 831-9540

Rivershack Tavern

If you see a faded shack on the side of the road ... it's Jefferson's Rivershack Tavern, a roadhouse without Patrick Swayze but with tons of quirky memorabilia on the paneled walls (Elvis and Alfred E. Neuman over the jukebox, what's said to be Louis Armstrong's first trumpet) along with the famous "tacky ashtrays" on the bar. The Rivershack can get loud when it's crowded (bands play several nights a week), but you can always sit outside at a picnic bench under a spray mister and watch people ride horses on the levee across the street. 3449 River Road, Jefferson, 834-4938; www.therivershacktavern.com

Winston's Pub & Patio

Next to the Metairie Road railroad crossing is this cozy cottage-style English pub: dark wood, couches, a good beer selection and a kitchen that makes a mean order of fish and chips. By the way, that's Winston as in Mr. Churchill, which means stogies are not only allowed, but there's a cigar vending machine. Out back is a deck with umbrellas and tables, a nice place to sit and visit when it cools off at night. Beware: this small hideaway can get quite crowded as the evening progresses. 531 Metairie Road, Metairie, 831-8705

click to enlarge Polo Club Lounge
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • There's live jazz and plenty of room to relax at the elegant Polo Club Lounge at the Windsor Court Hotel.

Eight Days a Week

Check into these watering holes for notable weekly gigs by local bands.

BJ's Lounge

Forget that Sunday's over, and forget that the weekend melted into a Monday. This neighborhood dive postpones Monday's hangover blues with King James & the Special Men, tucked into a stool-less corner and ripping through forgotten rock 'n' roll. Jimmy Horn (King James) leads a crew of Frenchmen Street regulars digging into sets of simmering New Orleans R&B and boozy classics. 4301 Burgundy St., 945-9256

Hi-Ho Lounge

The St. Claude club lights up on Thursday nights for the Stooges — not Iggy Pop's Detroit protopunks, but a new-school brass lineup serving as the bar's house (party) band. There's barbecue up front, and the 15-year-old Stooges band on the stage, surrounded by a long bar offering drink specials and long pours. 2239 St. Claude Ave., 945-4446; www.hiholounge.net

Le Bon Temps Roule

The Soul Rebels Brass Band prides itself on Uptown's funkiest Thursday event — accounting for both the band's music and the sweat-dripping crowd flocking the set. There's no cover, so hit the two bars to get the band paid. 4801 Magazine St., 895-8117

Maple Leaf Bar

The Rebirth owns Maple Leaf's infamous Tuesday nights. You know the drill: Pay the cover, squeeze in and don't be afraid to sweat. Consider returning and redeeming yourself late on Sunday evenings with the trinity of Joe Krown, Walter "Wolfman" Washington and Russell Batiste. Krown's hallelujah organ riffs and the ever-dapper Wolfman lead the masterful deep funk trio. 8316 Oak St., 866-9359; www.mapleleafbar.com

Saturn Bar

A performer as multitalented as Alex McMurray fits easily into the miscellany of the St. Claude Avenue bazaar bar. McMurray's Thursday night rotating guest lineup fills in the bar's infrequent live gigs — R. Scully, Happy Talk and other 9th Ward bards sit in with the prolific songwriter. 3067 St. Claude Ave., 949-7532

Spotted Cat

Anchoring the workweek on Monday and Friday nights, respectively, the New Orleans Jazz Vipers and Cottonmouth Kings are rickety traditional jazz outfits that swap and share members — all crammed into the dim, smoky Frenchmen Street spot full of wandering weirdos, dancing couples (or solo) and a stacked bar. 623 Frenchmen St., 943-3887; www.spottedcatmusicclub.com

Vaughan's Lounge

Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers' Thursday night shift at this 9th Ward joint showcases the Bywater bar at its busiest. It's too crowded, too hot, too loud, full of tourists, and there's a $10 cover — all plusses if you're in party mode. His "all aboard" is your welcome mat. Tread accordingly. 800 Lesseps St., 947-5562

4 a.m. Bars

Whether you're out late, getting off work or just getting a really early start, there are places where you won't drink alone at even the latest of hours.

click to enlarge Rendon Inn

The Alibi

Just off the Bourbon Street strip, this unassuming late-night haunt is a last stop for local revelers and the French Quarter's service industry workers alike. There's a wide selection of imported and domestic beers, a menu of burgers and bar-favorite appetizers to share — and no questions asked. 811 Iberville St., 522-9187; www.alibineworleans.com

Aunt Tiki's

Dark and smoky no matter how bright it may be outside, Aunt Tiki's feels like a drinkery out of a Cramps video, from the Trader Vic's in Hell bar itself to the orange sign advising "Friends Don't Let Friends Lick Skanks." Great jukebox, drinks that do the job and barkeeps who aren't afraid to 86 the truly annoying. It's also comforting to know when you stumble out the front door of Aunt Tiki's at 8 a.m. and do the Walk of Shame — well, you're probably not the only one. 1207 Decatur St., 680-8454

F&M Patio Bar

At all hours of night, people head to F&M's — some for more drinks, others for burgers and cheese fries from the grill in back, and others just to dance on the pool table, which is sometimes covered as a precaution. The bar has plenty of space, including a back courtyard and upstairs disco and party room. 4841 Tchoupitoulas St., 895-6784; www.fandmpatiobar.com

Le Roundup

This notorious nightspot is the one your mother warned you about — if your mother had qualms about country-western bars with a large transvestite clientele. Regulars joke that other bars have a two-drink minimum, but Le Roundup has a two-tooth minimum. Don't be afraid; pull up a battered barstool and make a new friend in under 10 seconds. Bartender and social director Kelton is half-ringmaster, half-prison warden. Don't miss the bathroom signs that read men and others. 819 St. Louis St., 561-8340

Snake & Jake's Christmas Club Lounge

A dark and dank grotto, Snake & Jake's is your late-night spot for cheap canned beer, Jager shots and honing your night vision under the strands of holiday lights. The unassuming shack opens its doors at a reasonable hour (7 p.m.), but it doesn't get going until very late. For many patrons, early rays of sunlight are the first clue its time to think about going home, or ordering a final round. 7612 Oak St., 861-2802; www.snakeandjakes.com

The Saint Bar & Lounge

The Saint used to be a late-night vault offering cheap drinks, a photo booth and a head-banger's ball vibe. There are still cheap drinks, the musical entertainment is more diverse, and the scene is a bit more irony-enhanced (see karaoke bars). There's also a patio on which to enjoy natural darkness as opposed to the windowless bar's favored low lighting. 961 St. Mary St., 523-0050; www.thesaintneworleans.com

Checking Out

Hotel BarsYou'll find plenty of locals at many area hotel bars. These lounges generally offer plush environments, upscale drinks and sophisticated entertainment.

Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone

Inside the stately Monteleone Hotel, the Carousel Bar has long been a downtown hub for an after-work crowd and later evening tippling. The namesake revolving carousel has a carnivalesque crown, and the bartender/ringmasters in the stationary center mix and pour drinks as the bar top and barstools slowly spin around them. There also is ample stationary seating around the lounge, and live piano music offers more sophisticated entertainment most nights. 214 Royal St., 523-3341; www.hotelmonteleone.com

The Columns

With its grand view of St. Charles Avenue, the veranda at the Columns offers a picturesque and breezy perch to enjoy a drink. Inside the ornately decorated Victorian-era hotel, the barroom offers more clubby ambience, with its dark wood and plush banquettes. 3811 St. Charles Ave., 899-9308; www.thecolumns.com

Davenport Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton

Trumpeter and crooner Jeremy Davenport is in residence three nights at week at his namesake lounge off the third-floor lobby of the Ritz-Carlton. Catch him after work on Thursday evenings and later on Friday and Saturday nights. 921 Canal St., third floor, 524-1331; www.ritzcarlton.com

Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse

Grammy-winning trumpeter Irvin Mayfield's club brought contemporary live jazz back to Bourbon Street, and there's no cover charge. The lineup of local favorites includes Shamarr Allen, Jason Marsalis, Bill Summers, Germaine Bazzle and George French. On Friday nights, the Burlesque Ballroom recalls another variety and era of Bourbon Street entertainment. 300 Bourbon St., 553-2299; www.sonesta.com

click to enlarge Twelve Mile Limit

Swizzle Stick Bar at the Loews Hotel

Cocktailian Lu Brow helped get New Orleans' cocktail revival going, and she rotates in new concoctions every few weeks at this airy lounge situated between the lobby of the Loews Hotel and Cafe Adelaide. One recent addition is the Zen Garden, a mix of organic vodka, ginger liqueur and muddled cilantro in a cayenne-and-sugar-rimmed glass. There's a $5 cocktail special offered every day. 300 Poydras St., 595-3305; www.cafeadelaide.com

The Great Outdoors

As unforgiving as the summer heat can be in New Orleans, there are plenty of courtyards, patios and balconies in which to cool off.

Bacchanal

This super-casual Bywater wine shop has a spacious backyard cluttered with mismatched patio furniture and chairs. It's a popular destination for live music and food offered by the in-house chef or visiting chefs on weekends. Pay for wine, bottled beer and a selection of cheeses and salumi in the front of the shop and then head out back to find a seat. 600 Poland Ave., 948-9111; www.bacchanalwine.com

Balcony Bar & Cafe

Many revelers don't get past this bar's ground-floor pool tables and large array of taps, but the second floor offers access to one of Uptown's largest balcony drinking destinations. There's plenty of seating on the wraparound balcony, and the upstairs kitchen offers casual fare to fuel a late night. 3201 Magazine St., 894-8888

The Bulldog

Both Bulldog taverns feature outdoor courtyards. The Uptown location's patio has a fountain featuring water endlessly spouting from beer taps, a salute to the inside bar's wide selection of draft and bottled beers from around the globe (see Beer Emporiums). 3236 Magazine St., 891-1516; 5135 Canal Blvd., 488-4191; www.draftfreak.com

Mojito's Rum Bar & Grill

When passing by on Frenchmen Street, it's hard to miss the garden of colorful umbrellas shading the tables on the lush back courtyard of Mojito's. Enter through the restaurant and enjoy a long list of top-shelf rums and rum cocktails. 437 Esplanade Ave., 252-4800; www.mojitosnola.com

Pat O'Brien's Bar

With its central flaming fountain, Pat O'Brien's courtyard is the eye of the storm at the bar-turned-drinking complex. Whether patrons enter off Bourbon or St. Peter street, or pass through the courtyard on the way to the piano bar or restaurant, a hurricane warning is always in effect. 718 St. Peter St., 525-4823; www.patobriens.com

St. Joe's Bar

St. Joe's is known for its religious decor, with crosses adorning the walls of this busy corner bar. But the cozy back courtyard is more like a deconsecrated Asian temple. It's got its own bar and a small cluster of tables. 5535 Magazine St., 899-3744

The Velvet Cactus

One of Lakeview's newest bar/restaurants offers a long list of top-shelf tequilas, a cocktail menu with many specialty margaritas and Tex-Mex food. The kitschy cantina has a very large fenced-in patio in front, lit at night with strings of holiday lights. 917 Harrison Ave., 301-2083; www.thevelvetcactus.com

Last Laughs

It's easier to laugh at someone else's expense than drink on it, so try these comedy clubs for laughs and maybe the kindness of strangers.

Carrollton Station

Wednesday night's "You Think You're Funny?" event is the king of local comedy — first-time stand-ups share a long-night's bill with aspiring regulars, amateurs, pros and off-the-street nonsense prophets, all under the guise of a neighborhood spot with affordable booze and affable bartenders. Sign-up is 8:30 p.m. — and get there before 8 p.m. for happy hour. Otherwise go for the $3 Abita. 8140 Willow St., 865-9190; www.carrolltonstation.com

Howlin' Wolf Den

The Howlin' Wolf's baby brother down the block is the Tuesday night base for improv-sketch nerds Stupid Time Machine, a group that's bounced from bar to bar across the city and landed in the lap of the Den. Local comedians also perform at Comedy Gumbeaux at the Den every Thursday. The club has a kitchen that slings bar food, barbecue and tacos. 901 S. Peters St., 529-5844; www.thehowlinwolf.com

La Nuit Comedy Theater

The city's only dedicated comedy space has live comedy on Fridays and Saturdays — there's the city's longest-running improv troupe God's Been Drinking on Fridays, and comedy experiments ComedySportz and Looney Tunes-mugging Anvil Comedy. The smoke-free Box Office Bar around the corner keeps crowds in the laughing mood. 5039 Freret St., 231-7011; www.nolacomedy.com

Lost Love Lounge

Curated by the crew behind "You Think You're Funny?," Tuesday night's "Comedy Catastrophe" is the unassuming prince of New Orleans stand-up. It also happens at the city's only late-night pho destination, where one can laugh heartily over spring rolls, bun and banh mi. Bring cheap drinks from the front bar to the low-key back stage, where the kitchen is open until midnight. 2529 Dauphine St., 949-2009; www.lostlovelounge.com

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