In a town built around a pervasive ethos of having a good time at any hour in any setting, there are few places in which local dives are so integrally woven into the cultural fabric as New Orleans. From 24-hour party dives and laid-back neighborhood hangouts to booze-fueled dilapidated shacks and weird bars for doing your laundry, an exploration of the many iconic dive bars isn’t just a fun way to fill a travel itinerary. It’s also an essential way to get to know the Crescent City.
For live music
In a city that loves its live music, it’s no surprise that some of the most ear-pleasing sounds in town can be found within the faded walls of several local dives.
Established in 1959, Vaughan’s Lounge is an iconic locals-friendly dive in the hip Bywater neighborhood that showcases some of the city’s top live music acts during the bar’s lively Thursday nights. Stop in for some unbelievably good music, insanely friendly people and free rice and beans in the back.
Over in the Uptown neighborhood, the divey Maple Leaf is one of the top music venues in the city and a personal favorite of pretty much everyone who’s ever set foot inside the intimate wood-floored space.
Though there are live performances seven nights a week, the joint is particularly jumpin’ on Tuesday nights when legendary local act Rebirth Brass Band sets the place on fire. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Related article: Where to find New Orleans' authentic art and culture scene
For late-night tomfoolery
There are dive bars. And then there is Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge, one of the most beloved dives in the city (and the country). The notorious den of late-night bad decisions is located in a tiny rundown shack illuminated by little more than the soft red glow of a few haphazardly strewn strings of Christmas lights, fueled by a free-wheeling spirit and a gregarious, bleary-eyed aesthetic that keeps the scene lively until the sunrise, when patrons begin to stumble out of the bar around its 7am closing time.
Over in the Lower Garden District, The Saint is a gritty favorite of bar industry types and fans of loud music who like to start the party after midnight and keep it going until sunrise. The drinks are well made, the dance floor is hopping, and the DJs are always keeping the music as diverse as the clientele.
For partying 24/7
New Orleans is known for keeping things loose, and the same goes towards its attitude about closing times – a number of bars simply never close. The most infamous of these is The Club Ms. Mae’s on Magazine Street, where you can take part in their “24-hour challenge” (where you must consume at least one drink per hour for 24 hours) or wind up on their “Wall of Shame” if you fail to behave yourself. The drinks are famously cheap at this cash-only, air hockey-equipped spot, but you’ll definitely want to have knocked back a few first before arriving.
If you’re looking to do your laundry while boozing for 24 hours, Igor’s Lounge is here for you. With laundry machines in the back as well as pool tables, questionable bathrooms, video poker, and a happy hour special from 5-7 am, it’s one of the more unique dives in one of the world’s most unique cities. And if you’re in the market for some good old-fashioned 24-hour karaoke, look no further than Kajun’s Pub.
For surprisingly good bar food
At some point, all this drinking is invariably going to make you hungry. And while New Orleans is known throughout the world for the quality and diversity of the cuisine served at many of its famous high-end restaurants, you can also get a surprisingly good meal at several local dives.
With a colorful exterior wall mural and a Prohibition-era Art Deco bar, Bar Redux is located in the Bywater’s infamous “Barmuda Triangle” and serves up a delicious assortment of local Creole cuisine and Caribbean-styled delights well into the night to help fuel your adventure onto the next bar following their 2am closing.
Food is served at all hours of the night at criminally underrated 24-hour neighborhood dive Buffa’s, where options run the gamut from standard breakfast plates to more adventurous offerings like redfish po’ boys, crawfish pasta and alligator and chicken gumbo. The bar opened in 1939 and offers live entertainment seven nights a week, including a popular Sunday jazz brunch.
For the best burger in the city, make a beeline towards local no-frills dive Port of Call. Don’t ask questions. Just go.
Related article: Best late-night eats in New Orleans
For hangin’ with the cool kids
Increasing numbers of East Coast hipsters have been moving to New Orleans in recent years, and there are few things the cool kids love more than a good dive bar. Despite its sketchy-looking exterior that gives off a permanently shuttered vibe, Saturn Bar is a lively dive along the increasingly hip St. Claude Avenue featuring cheap drinks, plenty of oddball kitsch, and a friendly cat who roams the bar. Stop in for live music on weekends or their insanely popular monthly Mod Dance Party with DJs spinning vinyl ‘til sunrise.
A raucous party dive on weekends yet a more mellow neighborhood hang during the week, don’t be surprised to see some famous musicians posted up at R Bar. The grungy spot features one of the finest jukeboxes in town and owned by a rock musician from The Afghan Whigs. And if you’ve had a few too many cocktails, the rocker-chic Royal Street Inn is located below.
Bud Rips is another cool kid hang in the Bywater, slinging strong drinks with a classic neighborhood vibe.
For outdoor drinking
When the weather is nice in New Orleans, there are plenty of options for a little outdoor drinking. While it may be a bit more upscale than your typical “dive” bar, Bacchanal boasts one of the most gorgeous patios in the city and is tailor-made for al fresco day drinking. Snag a spot in the leafy beer garden and make your way through the wine-heavy menu as live bands perform on one of the best outdoor stages in the city.
Seemingly dropped in the middle of nowhere in the Warehouse District near the highway, The Rusty Nail is a sweet little find where you can enjoy hours of imbibing on the outdoor brick patio. Grab a shot and a beer beneath the twinkling lights surrounded by lush greenery and commiserate with a diverse crowd of all ages.
For an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood hang
Some of the best dives in New Orleans are waiting to be discovered well off the beaten path. Pete’s Out in the Cold has been slinging stiff drinks to thirsty customers since 1931. Though they’ve recently upgraded with the addition of an exterior sign, you still need to be buzzed in before entering the old-school neighborhood hang.
Meanwhile, in the Bywater, the dark and decadent BJ’s is the stuff of your dive bar dreams where good times will be had and no BS will be tolerated.
In the Seventh Ward, Bullet’s Sports Bar is a neighborhood favorite where you can order a “setup” (a 1/2 pint of booze served with a mixer and ice) while you take in some of the finest live jazz in the city.
Related article: 20 free things to do in New Orleans
For watching the big game
Sports and dive bars go together like peanut butter and jelly. (Or, in the case of New Orleans, jambalaya and a Sazerac). J&J’s Sports Lounge is an often overlooked cozy little hangout in the bar-heavy Bywater that springs to life on game day, particularly when the Saints are on. Cheer on the home team while aided by dive-bar essentials including a dozen draft beers, a pool table and a jukebox.
Over in the typically bypassed Mid-City neighborhood near the New Orleans Fair Grounds, Pal’s Lounge features local food pop-ups, bar games including pinball and a few 50-inch TVs. Surprisingly good cocktails are on the menu, along with conversations until 4am.
You might also like: A first-timer's guide to Mardi Gras