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Gambit's Top 50 Bars 2009 [New Orleans] 

Gambit ranks the best places to drink

As history and technology twitter on, there is no substitute for the time-honored, premier social-networking site: the barroom. And there's no end to the debate as to which hub is most worthy of your real time, mingling with real people over really good drinks.

  Gambit staffers devoted themselves to searching out the area's best bars, comparing the appletini's and orange peels of craft cocktails and cool drafts, service, ambience and all the intangibles that make one bar hot and another cool. We patronized upscale lounges, funky dives, corner places and wine bars. To be considered, an establishment had to have a full bar and be a destination as a drinking establishment. For example, music clubs not open for regular bar service were not eligible. But we also compiled several lists of picks for wine bars, happy-hour spots and last-call options.

  We acknowledge that everyone has their own favorites for a variety of reasons. We invite you to review our list, try new places and debate their merits. Certainly reasonable people can disagree — especially over drinks. Cheers.

click to enlarge Mimi's in the Marigny is busy both upstairs and down with affordable drinks, tapas and music shows. - PHOTO BY GARY LOVERDE
  • Photo by Gary Loverde
  • Mimi's in the Marigny is busy both upstairs and down with affordable drinks, tapas and music shows.

1 Mimi's in the Marigny

2601 Royal St., 872-9868; www.mimisinthemarigny.com

Part of the Marigny corner spot's unanimous appeal — you'll find wedding reception leftovers and Bywater vagabonds drinking shoulder-to-shoulder — is its twofold function: two floors, two bars and two main draws: plenty of drink and an appealing tapas menu. Choose from hot, cold and dessert plates, or submit to the chef's whimsy and order "Trust Me." Drinkers can pick from the cheapest of the cheap (PBR on tap), or a favorable selection of local and import brews, wine and liquor. While the downstairs combines Old World exposed brick with neon and scruffy hipsters, upstairs is a dimly lit music lounge featuring DJ Soul Sister (and her endless crates of vintage soul), country crooner Gal Holiday or a gypsy jazz ensemble.

2 The Columns

3811 St. Charles Ave., 899-9308; www.thecolumns.com

Slippers and robes are all that's missing from the Columns' cozy-yet-extravagant milieu; it's the home-you-can't-afford-away-from-home. Become a regular and the hotel's doting staff might arrange those, too. The 1883 Italianate mansion, architect Thomas Sully's last vestige on St. Charles Avenue, has enough unique nooks to warrant weekly visits: from late-night reveling in the Victorian Lounge, with its antebellum Queen Anne lavishness and frescoed frieze, to a regal jazz brunch at Albertine's Tea Room, where Sunday's mimosas temper Saturday's momentary lapses of reason. Or just while away an afternoon on the sprawling veranda, lulling the city's already crawling clocks to a stop.

3 Napoleon House

500 Chartres St., 524-9752; www.napoleonhouse.com

No place in the city is nicer on a hot day than this elegant time-capsule watering hole — it's both European and quintessentially N'awlinian. Long before the small-plates craze, poker-faced servers were ferrying charcuterie and cheese boards through the small rooms to the strains of classical music and opera. It's hard to decide between a cool indoor table, a stool at the bar or a seat on the patio, but you can't go wrong with a Napoleon muffuletta and a Pimm's Cup, the spécialité de la maison.

4 French 75 (Arnaud's Restaurant)

813 Bienville St., 523-5433; www.arnauds.com

19th century elegance meets 21st century cocktail knowhow at this blissful oasis just off Bourbon Street, where drinks like the Aviation, the Corpse Reviver No. 2 and the bar's namesake are all executed with skill and precision. Dark mahogany walls, the whiff of a good cigar, leopard-print divans and the bar's famous monkey lamps add up to sophisticated drinking that's more Left Bank than West Bank. Watch the crowds go by, Styrofoam daiquiri cups in their paws, and rejoice in the fact they're on the other side of French 75's leaded-glass door.

click to enlarge Trivia buffs compete on Monday nights at Finn McCools. - PHOTO BY GARY LOVERDE

5 Finn McCool's

3701 Banks St., 486-9080; www.finnmccools.com

Finn McCool, the towering giant and warrior of Celtic myth, proves an apt namesake for this Mid-City pub of outsized Irish hospitality. Run by a family of Belfast natives, Finn McCool's is the unofficial clubhouse for the city's expats, who gather at the oddest hours for live sports broadcasts from overseas. The Guinness drafts are first-rate and the dartboards attract a high level of competition. Bartenders match efficiency with personality and treat their huge stable of regulars like old friends. Generous buffets of Irish home cooking appear at Saints games and many other special events.

6 d.b.a.

618 Frenchmen St., 942-3731; www.drinkgoodstuff.com

Frenchmen Street regulars know their hooch, but it's no surprise an exceptional draft selection greases the wheel that turns d.b.a. into a boozy music hall. Shrouded by a single red curtain, the modest stage in the rear features a wandering lineup of nightly music, from alt-folkies to jazz and blues phenoms. The beer snobs will enjoy a long pull from a Pacific Northwest pale ale or bottled dopplebock, but someone in your party will appreciate top-shelf tequila.

7 Iris

321 N. Peters St., 299-3944; www.irisneworleans.com

Iris restaurant's move from a cozy Carrollton cottage to a more spacious French Quarter location has made master mixologist Alan Walter's bar a destination unto itself. The new venue's larger bar leaves more room for Walter to make and serve deliciously inventive cocktails. Bottles and beakers of herbal tinctures, fresh juices, root syrups and infused alcohols are lined up alongside colorful bundles of fresh herbs and fruits. Eschewing the trap of the too-sweet cocktail, Walter balances odd ingredients, such as the green mangoes he steeps in white balsamic vinegar for his Bonnet Carré Skyline or the syrup he makes from Lakeview longleaf pine needles for his Pontchartrain cocktail.

8 The Delachaise

3442 St. Charles Ave., 895-0858; www.thedelachaise.com

Before the craft cocktail craze arrived in New Orleans, this boxcar of a bar set up a prime Uptown depot for refined spirits of all sorts, including wine, beer and liquor from storied and exotic distillers. And it is a dining car no less, offering a gourmet menu of cheese boards, pommes frites and small plates. A well-dressed and well-heeled clientele stations itself at the long bar and banquettes and mingles with a post-dining-shift wave of the city's culinary professionals.

9 Cure

4905 Freret St., 302-2357; www.curenola.com

Cure caught on fast, and on weekend nights the bar's long main room and palm-lined patio are packed with a young, sharply dressed crowd. But it was a long road that led to this seemingly overnight sensation. Owner Neal Bodenheimer learned his chops working New York's craft cocktail circuit and returned to New Orleans to show his hometown what the buzz was all about. At its best moments, Cure exudes Old World civility and the pride of craftsmanship. Come early when the bartenders can take some time with their exactingly fine ingredients, and remember to mind the "no-shorts, no-baseball cap" dress code.

10 Sweet Lorraine's

1931 St. Claude Ave., 945-9654; www.sweetlorrainesjazzclub.com

Sweet Lorraine's is a diamond in the rough on an unassuming block in the Marigny that anchors some of the 7th Ward's jazz culture — it is next to the headquarters for the Black Men of Labor social aid and pleasure club. Sweet Lorraine's door and awning are worse for the wear, but step inside where the spacious setting is sleek and modern. The raised and lit bar welcomes a sophisticated clientele for midweek martini happy hours, and there is plenty of table seating for contemporary New Orleans jazz performances and a weekly spoken word night.

11 St. Joe's Bar

5535 Magazine St., 899-3744

Known for its spot-on mojitos, St. Joe's has drawn a devoted following after turning a shabby corner bar into an inspired gathering place. Rife with mirrors, crosses and old church pews, the ambience is best described as creepy cozy. The pool table is usually busy, but pass it by and enjoy drinks by the light of Chinese lanterns on the comfortable courtyard in back.

click to enlarge New Orleanians and visitors congregate at the Carousel Piano Bar and Lounge in the Moneteleone Hotel. - PHOTO BY GARY LOVERDE
  • Photo by Gary Loverde
  • New Orleanians and visitors congregate at the Carousel Piano Bar and Lounge in the Moneteleone Hotel.

12 Carousel Piano Bar and Lounge (Monteleone Hotel)

214 Royal St., 523-3341; www.hotelmonteleone.com

If the upper Quarter seems to revolve around the historic Hotel Monteleone, it's largely due to this rotating, 25-seat landmark motor, whose starry big-top ceiling raises the roof (and the standards) on the debauched circus happening outside on Royal Street. Sidle up to the bar, order the house Vieux Carré cocktail (a rye, Cognac and sweet vermouth sipper) and your next pass will be timed perfectly for another round.











click to enlarge A rock and roll vibe sets the tone at One Eyed Jacks. - PHOTO BY GARY LOVERDE

13 One Eyed Jacks

615 Toulouse St., 569-8361; www.oneeyedjacks.net

Perhaps like Storyville saloons, even the parlor is entertaining at One Eyed Jacks. You don't need to climb the stairs to the entertainment — which includes indie rock touring acts, burlesque and DJ nights. Red velvet-upholstered walls give the room a vaguely seedy glow, and tattoo chic sets the tone.

14 Bar Tonique

820 N. Rampart St., 324-6045

Small, elegant and serious, Tonique is a key player in the city's growing craft cocktail movement. Drinks are meticulously prepared using fresh juices, housemade tonic water or ginger beer and exotic, ultra-premium liquors. Sedate early in the evening, Tonique grows lively as dinner shifts let out around the Quarter.



click to enlarge The Saturn Bar offers a bohemian mix of cheap drinks, sci-fi art and shabby chic decor. - PHOTO BY GARY LOVERDE
  • Photo by Gary Loverde
  • The Saturn Bar offers a bohemian mix of cheap drinks, sci-fi art and shabby chic decor.

15 Saturn Bar

3067 St. Claude Ave., 949-7532

Part hunting lodge, part collections archive from an alien spacecraft's Human Museum, this 9th Ward spot is an appropriate interplanetary namesake. Walls are dotted with photos of past and current clientele, and the coolers are always filled with affordable domestic and international longnecks. Monthly Mod dance parties and punk rock shows are part of the bar's eclectic appeal.

16 Bridge Lounge

1201 Magazine St., 299-1888

The canine-friendly Bridge Lounge is one doghouse to which people happily flock. Arty, floppy-eared photos line the dimly lit walls, and scrawled blackboards advertise du jour wines, craft cocktails and small plates of bar food. Should Canal Street ascend to its Broadway South aspirations, consider this Lower Garden District hotspot our one-block Brooklyn.

17 Markey's Bar

640 Louisa St., 943-0785; www.markeysbar.com

A recent renovation streamlined the bar at Markey's and added more flat screens for the fanatical sports fans who cheer local teams first, Boston teams second and others along the way. But none of the changes could diminish the neighborhood feel of this quintessential Bywater corner joint.

18 Pal's Lounge

949 N. Rendon St., 488-7257

Whether you're putting your money into the jukebox, the air hockey table or toward a round of affordable beer or strong cocktails, an evening at Pal's is affordably well spent. There are board games in the corner and food served almost every day at this Mid-City hangout.

19 Cooter Brown's Tavern

509 S. Carrollton Ave., 866-9104; www.cooterbrowns.com

Regulars are speculating when plastic replicas of Farrah and MJ will join their deceased brethren on the tavern's walls. It's a question to mull over while feasting on a 9th Ward specialty sandwich paired with one of Cooter's 42 drafts while watching one or many sporting events on one of the umpteen large-screen TVs.

20 Maple Leaf Bar

8316 Oak St., 866-9369; www.mapleleafbar.com

Few bars embody the ineffable spirit of New Orleans better than this Oak Street institution, whose nightly music (Tuesdays with Rebirth are a two-decade tradition), sweltering temperatures (the rectangular dancehall is a sweatshop even after sundown) and abundant social lubrication (aka cheap beer) are like blueprints for Crescent City living.

21 The Bulldog

3236 Magazine St., 891-1516; www.draftfreak.com

A beer-tap fountain on the patio welcomes ale aficionados to the Bulldog, a sud-soaked anchor along the Magazine Street edge of the Garden District. Behind the bar, there's a seemingly infinite selection of bottle and draft beer from the East and West coasts to Turkey, Thailand and everywhere in-between. The laminated beer menu is a geography test in disguise; a few pints later and anyone's an expert.

click to enlarge The Polo Club Lounge in the Windsor Court is an elegant setting for a cocktail. - PHOTO BY GARY LOVERDE

22 Polo Lounge

300 Gravier St., 523-6000; www.windsorcourthotel.com

Gentlemen's-club elegant (though cigars were banned a while back), the Polo's sofas, leather chairs and auld-school equestrian decor demand a brandy, a cognac, a port or one of barman Roger's classic cocktails. Nibbles aren't cheap — nor are drinks — but for posh indulgence, the Polo is like a fine tuxedo: always timeless, never trendy.

23 Mother-In-Law Lounge

1500 N. Claiborne Ave., 947-1078; www.k-doe.com

This 7th Ward shrine to "Emperor of the Universe" Ernie K-Doe sadly gained a second spiritual effigy in February, when den mother Antoinette K-Doe died from a heart attack Mardi Gras Day. On Ash Wednesday, with manager Geannie Thomas behind the bar and Ernie's statue beaming in the corner, the sunny, muraled building teemed with its typical clientele of area residents and emigre hipsters.




click to enlarge In Algiers Point, the Old Point Bar is a neighborhood rendezvous. - PHOTO BY GARY LOVERDE

24 Old Point Bar

545 Patterson St., 364-0950; www.oldpointbar.com

Sitting by the levee on a sleepy corner in Algiers Point, the Old Point is a casual watering hole framed by blond wood, big windows and few neon signs. There's plenty of seating on the sidewalk, and the neighborly barroom heats up with live blues and funk through much of the week.

25 Old Absinthe House

240 Bourbon St., 523-3181; www.oldabsinthehouse.com

For more than a century, the Old Absinthe House has anchored a notable bar scene. The Absinthe House frappe cocktail was created there in 1874, but more recent history is marked by the memorabilia of helmets, jerseys, business cards, et al hanging from the ceiling and stuck to walls. Depending on the day, the old-style copper top bar collects revelers visiting the city, fans clad in Saints wear or, on certain Carnival occasions, krewe members emptying out of Galatoire's.

26 Ruby's Roadhouse

840 Lamarque St., Mandeville, (985) 626-9748; www.rubysroadhouse.com

A raucous outpost for everyone from professors to professional barflies, Ruby's has cold beer, hot music and some of the Northshore's best nightlife in a building that looks like the B-52's Love Shack. Last month, Ruby's celebrated its silver anniversary with a performance by the Radiators, the first band ever to play there.

27 Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop

941 Bourbon St., 593-9761

The name is purely homage — the only things getting hammered anymore at this lower-Quarter "blacksmith shop" are the patrons. But three cheers anyway for Jean and Pierre Lafitte, the infamous pirates who purportedly owned the candlelit shanty, now a National Historic Landmark, in the early 1800s. If it wasn't for them, where would bleary-eyed insomniacs unabashedly belt out Billy Joel's "Piano Man" at 4 a.m.

28 Rivershack Tavern

3449 River Rd., 834-4938; www.therivershacktavern.com

The roadhouse ambience here runs deeper than just the vintage Dixie beer ads on the weatherboards. River Road motorists and cyclists cruising the levee-top bike path really do drop in to slake their thirsts, scarf a bar snack and hear bluesy bands on weekends.

29 Pravda

1113 Decatur St.

The absinthe-minded Lower Decatur bar melds steampunk couture with St. Petersburg gothic, but with more beer than borscht. The social Soviet hideaway could be a high-brow dive for you and your comrades, with a spacious back patio and absinthe served in the French method, or stick with a beer and a copy of Tolstoy. Na zdorovia!

30 Circle Bar

1032 St. Charles Ave., 588-2616; www.circlebarnola.com

Sort of a border between Uptown and downtown, the tight quarters of this gritty little watering hole make it no less appealing to patrons who stop in for a cheap beer or a good music show. The casual, house-party vibe is energized by live music from a steady stream of local acts — sometimes edgy, always entertaining.

31 Dos Jefes Cigar Bar

5535 Tchoupitoulas St., 891-8500; www.dosjefescigarbar.com

Part Cubano beachfront, part Robinson Crusoe outpost, the tropical patio at Dos Jefes is the apotheosis of Tchoupitoulas Street's island-port vibe. Swirl a snifter of black rum, chew on a Rocky Patel stogie and practice your best Hemingway sneer as college kids try in vain to "ring the bull," a Caribbean pub game whose fundamentals include hooks, strings, metal rings and mass frustration.

32 Mid-City Yacht Club

440 S. St. Patrick St., 483-2517; www.midcityyachtclub.com

There aren't any yachts at this club, named for a whistling-past-the-graveyard reference to the Katrina flood. Still, there's plenty of sport, with kickball teams juicing up after (or during) games at the adjacent ballpark. The impressive beer list and beautiful woodwork are worth a wander down the dead-end streets leading here.

33 Swizzle Stick Bar (Loews Hotel)

300 Poydras St., 595-3305; www.cafeadelaide.com

Like the bar's namesake, Adelaide Brennan, the Swizz aims for Auntie Mame style: classy and a bit bawdy. Bar chef Lu Brow executes classic cocktails and her own creations with panache (and can give you a fascinating lesson in Advanced Mixology), but off-hours table service can be erratic. When Lu's on the scene, it's tops.

34 The King Pin Bar

1307 Lyons St., 891-2373; www.kingpinbar.com

Sinful crimson walls with black trim and an Elvis shrine set the tone at this Uptown late-night drinking spot. Short on bar space, the King Pin makes up for it with fast-moving bartenders, one of the city's few extant shuffleboards and a service-industry crowd that doesn't mind bumping elbows with newcomers.

35 Vaughan's Lounge

800 Lesseps St., 947-5562

Any serious New Orleans drinker has to spend at least one night at this iconic Bywater bar. There's tree-stump seating outside, a split-level interior that boasts a ping-pong table down below and an inexpensive bar up top, but it's the age-ranging crowd that keeps the locals and tourists coming in.

36 Cosimo's

1201 Burgundy St., 522-9715

Positioned like a postage stamp on the French Quarter's downtown, lakeside corner, Cosimo's has the warm charm of the heart of the area's residential blocks. The spacious front room, with its long bar, is just elegant enough to be a world apart from the rowdiness of Bourbon Street, yet casual enough to let the hours slip away in hazy cheer.

37 Pat O'Brien's

718 St. Peter St., 525-4823; www.patobriens.com

Save the piano bar and the patio for when you have guests. Instead, slip into the locals' bar (opposite the piano bar at the St. Peter entrance), order a proper cocktail, drink in the dark coolness, ruminate on the photos on the wall and be grateful Pat O's preserved a corner where New Orleanians can make a memory or two.

click to enlarge Le Bon Temps Roule is a popular neighborhood watering hole and music spot. - PHOTO BY GARY LOVERDE

38 Le Bon Temps Roule

4801 Magazine St., 895-8117

By day, the front bar provides a solid food menu, drinks, pool and a dark, cool respite from the oppressive heat. At night, regulars are willing to share, and the back bar opens up for brass bands and other local acts — normally without a cover charge — making this an always-reliable music and drinking venue.











click to enlarge An eclectic downtown crowd gathers at the AllWays Lounge. - PHOTO BY GARY LOVERDE

39 AllWays Lounge

2240 St. Claude Ave., 218-5778; www.marignytheatre.org

Apparently feeling "Cowpokes" had a certain connotation, the operators of St. Claude Avenue's queerest rodeo changed the name to the less-categorical AllWays Lounge, and watched as all manner of downtown drinkers adopted the welcoming saloon as their own. The Marigny Theatre lobby, ideal for pre-show imbibing, is now a destination in its own right, with the most engaging, entertaining barkeeps east of St. Ann Street.

40 The Saint Bar and Lounge

961 St. Mary St., 523-0050

A heavy door opens like a vault to reveal the Saint's insides, which may include an impromptu late-night dance party or just regulars at the after-hours hangout of choice for a certain breed of twentysomething tattooed folk. The bar is a Technicolor spectacle of dirt-cheap drinks, a cheesy video arcade and a photobooth with output steadily gracing Facebook profiles citywide.

41 Winstons' Pub and Patio

531 Metairie Road, Metairie, 831-8705

Who'd ever think a homesick Englishman could find a properly poured Guinness Stout paired with a plate of fish 'n' chips on Metairie Road? He would discover many more reminders of home: a dark mahogany bar, a British invasion jukebox and assorted U.K. memorabilia. The crowd won't be the typically diffident English variety, however, so he might be forced to make friends.

42 Bar Noir (Le Chat Noir)

715 St. Charles Ave., 581-5812; www.cabaretlechatnoir.com

This tiny, tony spot is a slice of Manhattan's Upper East Side on St. Charles Avenue, and an after-show hangout for the theater crowd. Paulee, the genial Glaswegian mixologist, fixes great well drinks and specialty cocktails, and you may spot Bryan Batt or Becky Allen sipping on the settee.

43 Parasol's Restaurant and Bar

2533 Constance St., 897-5413; www.parasols.com

With cheap and hearty eats and matching drinks, this is the epitome of Irish Channel neighborhood joints. Proud regulars proclaim the ancient walls could fall down at any time but the most likely occasion would be St. Patrick's Day when the party spills on to the streets and surrounding blocks.

44 45 Tchoup

4529 Tchoupitoulas St., 891-9066

A stone's throw from Tipitina's, 45 Tchoup puts a new shine on a Louisiana basement bar hidden among a row of shotgun homes. The digs inside this watering hole include a reclaimed-wood bar, a popular trivia night and a refuge for expat Red Sox fans.

45 Wit's Inn

141 N. Carrollton Ave., 486-1600; www.witsinn.com

Mid-City needs its own Cheers, and Wit's provides it with pool, satellite TV, WiFi, a friendly crowd and damn good bar food (the pizza is a reliable standby when Venezia across the street is too busy; try the Wit's Works). Plus it's cheap and no kids allowed. What's not to like?

46 Balcony Bar and Café

1104 Harmony St., 895-1600

Pick your poison: Downstairs, this Garden District dive overflows with thirsty service-industry workers, crowding around pool tables, talking shop and turning their tips into someone else's. Tackle the deadly staircase, however, and the tavern's namesake perch offers a vastly different vantage point — a breezy Magazine Street treehouse where cheap eats and pitchers of Abita require no password.

47 Bullet's Sports Bar

2441 A.P. Tureaud Ave., 948-4003

Bullet's is cut from the old-school cloth of New Orleans joints, and built in a raised 7th Ward house. Buy a pint of liquor from the bar and get all the set-ups to mix your own drinks, or hang at the bar with a longneck to talk Saints odds with regulars.

48 Yuki Izakaya

525 Frenchmen St., phone n.a.; www.myspace.com/yukiizakaya

Inspired by the land of the rising sun, you have to wait till well after sundown to enjoy Japanese bar food and twisted cocktail concoctions at this Frenchmen Street oddity. After a few rounds from Yuki's sake or shochu list, the X-rated bathroom art may suggest a strange Tokyo decadence.

49 Molly's at the Market

1107 Decatur St., 525-5169; www.mollysatthemarket.com

Somewhat faded from its glory days, Molly's remains thick with tradition, helping keep its place in regulars' hearts and minds. The rallying point for St. Patrick's Day and Halloween parades, it can be relied on daily for a diverse and colorful clientele at its bars and hanging from its front window.

50 Avenue Pub

1732 St. Charles Ave., 586-9243; www.theavenuepub.com

Long known as an around-the-clock and rough-around-the-edges saloon, the Avenue Pub has shed some of its pedestrian ways. The bar features a brand new tap system pumping an improved offering of imported and domestic drafts. And the grill is now run by the founders of J'Anita's during the day, offering creative dishes from the former Lower Garden District barbecue spot.




Click here for more from our bar issue!



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click to enlarge An eclectic downtown crowd gathers at the AllWays Lounge.
  • An eclectic downtown crowd gathers at the AllWays Lounge.
click to enlarge Le Bon Temps Roule is a popular neighborhood watering hole and music spot.
  • Le Bon Temps Roule is a popular neighborhood watering hole and music spot.
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