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Gambit's Top 50 Bars 2010 [New Orleans] 

The Best Places to Drink

click to enlarge Cure offers a long list of specialty cocktails. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER

As the World Cup engages the planet in a friendly competition of nations, Gambit staffers thought globally and drank locally in pursuit of crowning New Orleans' top bars. Our team raised glasses filled with craft cocktails and cool drafts. We scouted wine lists and beer selections from near and far. We withstood blistering shots and scored the results.

Our final rankings reflect a host of considerations about what makes a good bar: drink selection, service, ambience, amenities and whatever individual and unique assets lend appeal. We weighed upscale lounges against funky dives, sports bars and wine bars, neighborhood joints and tourist attractions. In general, bars in restaurants or music clubs that are only open in service to dining or during shows were not eligible unless they're widely viewed as destinations unto themselves. Of course, all competition invites scrutiny and debate, especially given that everyone has their own favorites. We invite you to review our list, try new places and judge for yourself.

We also spotlighted some of the unique offerings of some bars, from free food to trivia nights. And we talked to local celebrities about their preferred barrooms. We hope you find something new to try and will join us in a toast to all the competitors who aim to please. Cheers.

1 Cure 4905 Freret St., 302-2357; There are bartenders, and there are chemists — Cure supplies both. Owner and mixologist Neal Bodenheimer lassoed New York's craft cocktail movement and nurtured it in a sleek, New Orleans neighborhood setting Uptown. Fresh ingredients, mixers made in-house, ingenuity, eye-dropper attention to detail yield extremely well crafted drinks, be they reintroduced pre-Prohibition cocktails or original creations.

2 Mimi's In the Marigny 2601 Royal St., 872-9868; This upstairs/downstairs Marigny hub is a mingling spot for everyone from Bywater hipsters to Uptown suits. The second floor lounge is DJ Soul Sister's primary digs, and the tapas menu doesn't quit — literally, as the kitchen stays open well past midnight, plating Spanish small plates to counter a bar menu just as diverse.

3 Finn McCool's 3701 Banks St., 486-9080; Reinforced with trivia nights, dart leagues and a football team to boot, Finn McCool's goes above and beyond the norms of a neighborhood bar. It's a friendly second home to patrons old and new and ex-pats from the Emerald Isle and elsewhere — and bartenders excel at the Guinness pour and making a proper Irish coffee.

4 French 75 Bar (Arnaud's Restaurant) 813 Bienville St., 523-5433; Cigars, tuxedoed bartenders and dark mahogany walls create an elegant and inviting ambience in this classic spot off Bourbon Street's neon glitz. Well-versed bartenders are scholars of 21st century creations as well as Old World cocktails, including the bar's namesake.

5 The Avenue Pub 1732 St. Charles Ave., 586-9243; Revamped with a food boost from former Uptown standby J'Anita's, this 24-hour, two-story pub cracks into Gambit's top 10 with vastly improved draft beer offerings and a refurbished upstairs. There's a seemingly endless draft selection from a wall of beer sure to impress even the biggest beer fanboy.

6 Bar Tonique 820 N. Rampart St., 324-6045; This low-key lounge spins its inventive craft cocktails in a dark, intimate setting tucked into the Quarter's edge. Read the chalkboard for drink specials, then gaze over the bar, where you'll find a bartender's apothecary. There are house-made ginger ales, herbs and a witches' brew of signature mixes.

7 Napoleon House 500 Chartres St., 524-9752; This 213-year-old landmark practically bleeds classical charm — as well as classical music (the house jams of choice). Its Old World charm is marked by arched doorways offering views of the old Supreme Court building, worn wood surfaces, the tiled floor and photos chronicling its storied past. Order its signature Pimm's Cup and savor the historic flavor.

8 Iris 321 N. Peters St., 299-3944; Bartender Alan Walter is this restaurant's bar-meets-laboratory magician and mad man, whose menu of creative, often-colorful cocktails continually evolves. Walter's inventive touch is in both the kitchen and his chemistry set of a bar, where Thai basil can mingle with pineapple-balsamic fusions, and house-made teas or a jungle of fresh herbs mix with premium liquors.

9 The Columns 3811 St. Charles Ave., 899-9308; Location, location, location. Whether you grab a table on the picturesque porch overlooking the avenue or head inside to The Victorian Lounge's dark wood nooks, this 19th-century mansion is always a place to see and be seen.

10 The Delachaise 3442 St. Charles Ave., 895-0858; This stand-alone Garden District traincar of a building remains a favored destination for its selection of wines by the glass, eclectic beers, casually elegant attitude and continual activity. Discriminating winos and beer lovers also appreciate the kitchen's decadent selection of small plates.

11 St. Joe's Bar 5535 Magazine St., 899-3744 The cozy, dimly lit Uptown corner spot, adorned with wooden crosses, candles and church pews, earns a devoted congregation with its blueberry mojitos and inviting Asian-accented courtyard in the back.

12 AllWays Lounge 2240 St. Claude Ave., 218-5778; The St. Claude Avenue spot has blossomed as a destination and odd intersection for bohemian theatergoers, indie and alternative rock fans and regulars for whom it's long been a gay- and lesbian-friendly neighborhood bar.

13 Clever 3700 Orleans Ave., 483-6360; Although billed as a wine destination, Cork & Bottle Wine Shop's adjacent bar is a sleek and modern spot with an impressive cocktail menu, artisanal beers and free live music.

14 d.b.a. 618 Frenchmen St., 942-3731; With its top-notch draft and bottled beer selection — including uncommon imports and American microbrews — and premium liquor choices, d.b.a. is responsible for the best Frenchmen Street go-cup. Or, stay and enjoy the eclectic live music.

15 Pal's Lounge 949 N. Rendon St., 488-7257 The ultra-casual Bayou St. John hangout boasts strong drinks and a shabby chic vibe. Some gather here for retro video games, and others stop in while walking their dogs.

16 Saturn Bar 3067 St. Claude Ave., 949-7532; The dingy 9th Ward spot is a bohemian bunker, oddly adorned with sci-fi art and home to affordable drinks, a consistently good slate of punk rock shows and the ever-popular (and sweaty) Mod Dance Party.

17 Carousel Piano Bar & Lounge (Monteleone Hotel) 214 Royal St., 523-3341; Downtown socialites and happy hour revelers are always ready to go for a spin at the Carousel Bar. Order a Sazerac while the carousel for grown-ups revolves slowly.

18 Bridge Lounge 1201 Magazine St., 299-1888; Although the recent addition of DJs has imparted a club vibe, the spacious bar is still the kind of place where dog-walking neighbors and top-shelf drinkers mingle.

19 Yuki Izakaya 525 Frenchmen St., 943-1122; World beat meets offbeat at this little slice of Tokyo on Frenchmen Street. It offers an extensive sake and shochu selection, a menu featuring exotic items like barbecued eel and grilled tongue, and bric-a-brac from the land of the rising sun.

20 Maple Leaf Bar 8316 Oak St., 866-9359; Indulge in an endless sweat-soaked Tuesday night featuring the Rebirth Brass Band at this Riverbend oasis of brass and funk. This is New Orleans in a (swelteringly hot) nutshell.

21 Sweet Lorraine's 1931 St. Claude Ave., 945-9654; The 7th Ward jazz club caters to music lovers and sophisticated drinkers with a touch of Creole elegance. Drop by for the martini list and happy hour or check in later for live music.

22 Le Bon Temps Roule 4801 Magazine St., 897-3448; Neighborhood barflies flock to this Uptown spot for drinks, a few rounds of pool, and a solid lineup of local acts that usually play for free — but be a big spender and drop a dollar in the bucket.

23 Mid-City Yacht Club 440 S. St. Patrick St., 483-2517; The neighborhood bar embodies the playful spirit of its name (hinting at its temporary waterfront access immediately post-Katrina). It's home to a colorful mix of hipsters and neighborhood folks.

24 Cooter Brown's Tavern 509 S. Carrollton Ave., 866-9104; It is perhaps the ultimate local sports bar: wall-to-wall televisions surround a barroom with more than 42 beers on draft, hundreds of varieties in bottles and a kitchen serving a bloated menu of game-friendly food.

25 The Kingpin 1307 Lyons St., 891-2373; This neighborhood watering hole has distinguished itself, drawing a steady crowd of neighbors, just-off-their-shift service industry workers and the not-infrequent roaming mob of Rolling Elvi.

26 Polo Lounge (Windsor Court Hotel) 300 Gravier St., 523-6000; Stringent attention to details manifests itself in classic cocktails like Sazeracs and Pimm's Cups, while deep leather couches and live piano music put a relaxed spin on elegance.

27 The Bulldog 3236 Magazine St., 891-1516; The Bulldog's pint glasses rival plastic Mardi Gras cups for ubiquity in New Orleans kitchens, but when it comes to beer selection, the tavern stands out with 50 brews on tap and many more in bottles. There's also a location in Mid-City (5135 Canal Blvd., 488-4191).

click to enlarge The Mid-City Yacht Club is a popular neighborhood destination. - PHOTO BY GARY LOVERDE

28 Markey's Bar 640 Louisa St., 943-0785; Bywater denizens and Hibernophiles meet at this neighborhood joint, watching sports on one of its many flat-screen TVs or playing a game (darts and shuffleboard are ever-popular) while Guinness flows from the taps.

29 Crown & Anchor 200 Pelican Ave., 227-1007; Brits still sore about falling for the English Turn bluff can nurse their sorrows at this authentic English pub. A pint and a bag of Yorkshire pudding-flavored crisps, guvn'r?

30 Pravda 1113 Decatur St., 581-1110 Soviet kitsch and a selection of absinthe combine to give this comfortable Lower Decatur watering hole unique appeal.

31 Dos Jefes Cigar Bar 5535 Tchoupitoulas St., 891-8500; Against a trend of no-smoking establishments, Dos Jefes welcomes serious smokers and cigar aficionados. Nightly live music and a verdant patio draw even nonsmokers into the fray.

32 Snake & Jake's 7612 Oak St., 861-2802; There's no better place to hide from the sunrise. Christmas lights shed just enough light on a university neighborhood bar that takes dive-iness to surreal, even David Lynchian proportions.

33 Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop 941 Bourbon St., 593-9761 New Orleanians observe filial piety by getting drunk where their privateer forefathers did: within the worn brick walls and candlelight-spangled corners of this 18th-century Creole cottage.

34 R Bar (Royal Street Inn) 1431 Royal St., 948-7499; This "bed and beverage" joint is enjoying a renaissance as locals seek refuge from an ever-busier Frenchmen Street. There are specials like free boiled crawfish on Fridays and $10 haircuts (plus a free shot).

35 Swizzle Stick Bar (Loews Hotel) 300 Poydras St., 595-3305; One of the first venues among New Orleans' new generation of local craft cocktail bars, the Swizzle Stick offers refined drinks in the airy first floor of the Loews Hotel.

36 Rivershack Tavern 3449 River Road, Jefferson, 834-4938; Kitschy décor and zanily misspelled menu offerings ("boigers" and "shack-a-tizers") give this roadhouse some local flavor, and music by the likes of sultry crooner Gal Holiday make it worth the trip.

37 Old Point Bar 545 Patterson Drive, 364-0950; Just a short hop from the Algiers ferry landing, this neighborhood bar and offers a weekly lineup of live music.

38 Vaughan's Lounge 800 Lesseps St., 947-5562 Further immortalized by HBO's Treme, Vaughan's Lounge has always been a super-casual Bywater neighborhood spot kept on radar by Kermit Ruffins' Thursday night jazz jams and barbecuing.

39 Mother-In-Law Lounge 1500 N. Claiborne Ave., 947-1078; Burn, K-Doe, burn. Now run by Antoinette K-Doe's daughter, the Mother-In-Law has decided to keep the lights on after earlier announcing plans to close. There's still K-Doe merch, cheap drinks and occasional live music and events.

40 Winston's Pub and Patio 531 Metairie Road, Metairie, 831-8705 Properly poured Guinness, attentive staff, and fish and chips give this Metairie pub a bit of British charm and the right to claim its namesake. The menu doesn't skimp on American fare as well — the burgers are great.

41 Pat O'Brien's 718 St. Peter St., 525-4823; Pat O'Brien's signature Hurricane is practically the icon for New Orleans' reputation for boozy indulgence. But locals also head to the courtyard or dueling piano room to let the good times roll.

42 Parasol's 2533 Constance St., 899-2054; St. Patrick's Day festivities cemented Parasol's place as the best-known Irish Channel pub, but the casual corner spot is busy year round.

43 Sidney's Saloon 1301 St. Bernard Ave., 943-9461 Beyond the unassuming exterior facing the St. Bernard Avenue hub for second lines and Mardi Gras Indian gatherings, Sidney's is a nicely remodeled club welcoming both street revelers and a well-heeled clientele.

44 Rusty Nail 1100 Constance St., 525-5155; Tucked away on the edge of the Warehouse District, the Rusty Nail has been attractively remodeled since its days as the bohemian dive Mermaid Lounge, and it offers a regular schedule of performers and open mic nights.

45 Bombay Club 830 Conti St., 586-0972; A voluminous list of martinis, English manor decor, jazz trios and the occasional seersucker suit and bucks set the tone for well-dressed gatherings at this French Quarter institution.

46 Erin Rose 811 Conti St., 523-8619; Just steps off the busiest blocks of Bourbon Street, this cozy Irish-inflected pub is the eye of the storm, offering a refuge of local flavor and character in the heart of the French Quarter.

47 Tommy's Wine Bar 752 Tchoupitoulas St., 525-4790; The spacious and refined environs of Tommy's are popular for pre- or post-meal gatherings in the Warehouse District. The bar features a deep wine list and many are available by the glass.

48 Carrollton Station 8140 Willow St., 865-9190; Across from the streetcar barn, Carrollton Station has long been one of the Riverbend's favored neighborhood spots, with a large, comfortable bar in front and a music hall in back that's been home to local singer/songwriters.

49 Cosimo's 1201 Burgundy St., 522-9715 Tucked away in a residential corner of the French Quarter, Cosimo's spacious barroom combines the historic charm of the neighborhood's Creole cottages and a touch of the excitement of downtown nightlife.

50 Bruno's Tavern 7538 Maple St., 861-7615; It's moved across the street from its original location, but Bruno's has been and remains an institution for Tulane students, alums and neighbors since 1934.

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