When planning a trip to New Orleans, most visitors look forward to indulging in amazing food and listening to some truly exceptional live music. Not only is NOLA regarded as the birthplace, circa the late 19th century, of jazz, but the city has also maintained and expanded upon its diverse, ever-evolving auditory offerings over the past century-plus. If a Sazerac-soaked night in a small, smoky club is your thing, then you’re in the right place. And if your tastes favor a vodka-slicked evening of indie rock or earplug-optional arty punk, you, too, will find what you’re looking for here. Here are the city’s best music venues encompasses a full range of styles, from classy jazz to down-and-dirty funk and more.
This venerable institution crowns the to-do list of NOLA visitors and residents alike. Founded in 1961 to help preserve New Orleans’ prized art form, jazz, Preservation Hall is a music venue, a nonprofit organization and a touring band all rolled into one. Easily accessible in the heart of the French Quarter, the intimate club hosts rollicking, brassy jazz performances almost every night of the year. While the hall doesn’t serve alcohol, you’re allowed to BYOB in any plastic container, so make sure to pick up some Solo cups on your way over.
If New Orleans’ music scene could be traced to a single street, it would definitely be Frenchmen. The three-block section in the city’s now-hipstery Marigny district is packed with some of NOLA’s most well known and frequented bars and clubs, including The Spotted Cat and The Maison. A relative newcomer to the scene, The Three Muses opened in 2010 and quickly distinguished itself not only for holding its own when its comes to heavy hitting musical acts—hosting lively performances of hot jazz, country and western and piano—but also for its superb food and drink offerings. Dive into a plate of bistro-inflected fare, such as beer-braised pork belly, grab a house cocktail such as the Spaghetti Western (bourbon, Campari, rosemary syrup), and soak in the good vibes.
This Frenchmen charmer kicks the evening off with early afternoon performances of live local music. The tiny, softly lit bar is mostly standing room, but still manages to pack in area favorites such as the six-member jazz band the Cottonmouth Kings and Miss Sophie Lee, a jazz crooner and co-owner of nearby The Three Muses. Cash-only with no cover, there’s a one drink minimum per set that’s best spent on a cold Abita brew—you won’t find any fancy cocktails here.
Long and narrow, with a handsome tin ceiling that glows gold under soft-lit sconces, Maple Leaf Bar hosts some of the city’s best acts nightly. Tuesday nights with the Rebirth Brass Band are a floor-stomping citywide institution, while Sunday evenings feature the more laid back Joe Krown Trio. The bar offers a free crawfish boil that’s been known to include odds ‘n’ ends such as sausage, pork chops and even a whole pig’s head. Located in New Orleans’ stately Uptown district, Maple Leaf is a nice departure from the French Quarter scene.
Located in the musically rich Treme, this under-the-radar joint most likely escapes most visitors’ attention. Though Ooh Poo Pah Doo Bar lies a bit off the well-trod New Orleans tourist circuit, it’s the ultimate destination for avid NOLA-style jazz fans and a hangout for some of the city’s most prolific musicians. Named for the 1960 Billboard hit recorded by R&B singer Jessie Hill, the bar is owned and operated by the Andrews family, which has produced some of the city’s most talented musicians, including trumpeter James and his trombonist brother Troy. Catch James and his “All-Star Band” each Monday at 8 pm, other acts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, and the impressively curated jukebox the rest of the week.
6. Snug Harbor
Occupying a renovated 1800s storefront in the Marigny, this jazz club has been a New Orleans staple for more than 30 years. Its cozy exposed-brick interior is often accented by twinkling multicolored lights, but patrons’ eyes—and ears—are typically directed towards the small, piano-dominated stage. Here acts such as the Charmaine Neville Band and members of that jazz royalty family, the Marsalises, appear nightly. A seafood-focused menu that highlights the area’s peerless Gulf shrimp is a draw, too.
7. Gasa Gasa
Formerly an underground, artist-dominated coffee shop, the Freret building that houses Gasa Gasa was taken over in 2013 by an experimental art collective that upholds the space’s visual and sonic past. A nice departure for New Orleans music lovers looking to see something other than the city’s amazing jazz, Gasa Gasa’s diverse calendar includes small indie rock bands, Thursday night cornhole in the courtyard, and the occasional 90s dance party. Art installations, such as wall-mounted 3-D triangles form a canvas for the club’s sophisticated projection mapping setup, and event prices are millennial-friendly, typically topping out at around $10.
For those looking to venture even further afield from NOLA’s jazz scene, Siberia is a high-energy, crowd-surfing good time. Located in up-and-coming neighborhood St. Roch on thriving St. Claude Avenue, the club is a haven for punk rockers looking for ear-splitting music delivered by a top-of-the-line sound system. The covers are low, the bands are thrashy, and if you’re not into punk, never fear: Siberia’s calendar boasts other fun events such as Tuesday night trivia and Comic Strip, an evening of comedy and burlesque rolled into one. If you get peckish, hit up Siberia’s Slavic menu for cheap blinis, stuffed cabbage and other Eastern European gut-stickers.