2. Dragon's Den (435 Esplanade Ave., 949-1750) -- "Opium den" is the description most used for the interior of the Dragon's Den, thanks to its winding staircase, dim lighting and regular sake specials. But the Den's music bookings are intoxicating enough on their own; check out freewheeling local faves such as the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars and Jeremy Lyons and the Deltabilly Boys.
3. El Matador (504 Esplanade Ave., 569-8361) -- This hipster hangout is owned by Rio Hackford, son of director Taylor Hackford, and mixes L.A. attitude with New Orleans' laissez-faire ambience. Red velvet walls and a central island bar make the backdrop for edgy New Orleans bands including Tin Men and Stump Knockers.
4. House of Blues (225 Decatur St., 529-BLUE) -- Don't be fooled by the name; House of Blues is actually light on the blues and is the premier venue for national touring acts of all genres, especially rock and world-music artists. (And HOB occasionally pulls off big-name shows such as Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan.) Next door to the main room is the entrance to the Parish, a more intimate venue that often features rising songwriters and jam bands.
5. Howlin' Wolf (828 S. Peters St., 529-5844) -- Howlin' Wolf ("The Wolf" for short) specializes in college rock, though this Warehouse District hot spot does its fair share of local favorites, too. A top-notch sound system and stage set-up make the bands happy, too, and there's a pair of pool tables to keep you occupied between sets.
6. Maple Leaf Bar (8316 Oak St., 866-9359) -- As the second home of departed piano genius James Booker and poet Everette Maddox, the Maple Leaf welcomes bohemians, intellectuals and music aficionados alike. Between sets by local faves like the ReBirth Brass Band or Papa Grows Funk, check out the killer jukebox, or hang out on the flora-draped informal back patio.
7. Mermaid Lounge (1100 Constance St., 524-4747) -- If you love 91.5 WTUL FM, you'll love the Mermaid. This out-of-the-way Warehouse District mainstay consistently has the most adventuresome bookings on the scene, leaning heavily on up-and-coming (or completely unknown) indie bands. Its scrappy vibe has recently been complemented by Sunday afternoon flea markets on site.
8. Mid City Lanes Rock 'N' Bowl (4133 S. Carrollton Ave., 482-3133 ) -- If you've never heard of the local fave Mid-City Lanes (simply known as "Rock 'N' Bowl"), don't roll your eyes when you hear it's a bowling alley that features live bands. Mid-City Lanes' popular Thursday zydeco nights are an instant primer on the genre, with plenty of willing dancers to help show you the ropes. Classic New Orleans R&B bands rule many weekend nights.
Tipitina's (501 Napoleon Ave., 895-8477) -- The huge banner of Professor Longhair hanging over the stage is your first clue that there's some hallowed history behind Tip's walls. Just about every New Orleans legend -- and a ton of national acts -- have graced Tip's stage, and the club still has a deep commitment to New Orleans' homegrown acts. Their multi-act brass band and Mardi Gras Indian bills are always a blast and a great way to get your feet wet in the local music scene.
TwiRoPa Mills (1544 Tchoupitoulas St., 522-1544) -- A relative newcomer on the scene, this sprawling complex has made a name for itself with a number of grand-scale events featuring everything from brass bands and jugglers to jam bands and reggae -- in the same night. With six stages, six dance floors and eight (!) bars, there's plenty of room to explore. For the latest music and dance extravaganza at TwiRoPa, check out the burgeoning Latin nights most Saturdays.
- Dance the night away to a zydeco beat -- courtesy of dynamic bands such as Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas -- at Rock 'n' Bowl.