Music is the main draw at Tipitina's, but patrons keep the bartenders very busy. Photo by Cheryl Gerber It's almost impossible to find a watering hole in New Orleans that doesn't have live music. Even on a Tuesday night at 2 a.m., the odds are that if you stumble into an out-of-the-way tavern with barely room enough for 10 stools at the bar, you'll trip over the bass player wedged into the corner, or at least a DJ. At times, it can feel like there's a live band glut what happened to conversation? Or dropping quarters into the jukebox?
On the opposite end of the scale are the bars that live to provide live music: the showrooms that exist to book nightly bands and serve cocktails as a garnish to the main musical dish. You'd hardly pop into the House of Blues for a quick after-work martini but while you're rocking out to Tom Jones in the main concert hall, you might down a drink or three. Here's the scoop on the booze situation at a few of the music rooms " big and small " around town.
House of Blues gets beaucoup points for cocktail accessibility, with five bars open in the main showroom during a big gig. This can be quite advantageous at a sold-out show where a thousand headbanging people stand between you and your can of Amstel Light (HOB's main room serves most beers in cans probably to avert the broken glass that those thousand headbanging people could cause). Nice as they are during a gig, they're basically (well-stocked, well-manned) troughs. If it's open, the real treat is the patio bar behind the club. Tucked away in a pretty, verdant courtyard and lit with strings of colored lights, the thatched bar and breezy seating area is a tiki oasis in the midst of the rock.
The CBD's Republic, with its velvet rope and swanky, cavernous two-story interior, pushes for Miami club chic, and if you squint right, you could easily be sipping in South Beach. Once or twice a month, big-name indie rock acts swing through and pack the place with the collegiate and young-hipster crowd, but to really take advantage of the vibe, check out one of the weekly dance nights. Thursdays offer complimentary wine and champagne to women until 1 a.m. On Wednesdays, it's Sabor, a Latin party with pulsing Reggaeton, mojitos and top-shelf tequilas on special.
At the other end of the spectrum is the venerable, homey Mid City Lanes Rock 'N' Bowl with its vintage collegiate sock-hop vibe and the thunder of bowling balls and falling pins adding unintentional percussion to the rock 'n' roll, swing and zydeco played onstage. Couples of all ages two-step and jitterbug on the dance floor, but owner John Blancher prefers to dance on the bar. If you're lucky, you'll catch him stepping up to the mic for a quick guest vocal. Nobody's stopped him yet.
At Tipitina's, the long bar near the merch stand has stood between stalwart bar staff and most of New Orleans' (and the world's) finest purveyors of rock and funk, under the beatific stare of Professor Longhair from his mural above the stage. Downtown at the Hi-Ho Lounge, the bar once protected drink slingers from a rowdy punk rock crew. Now refurbished, the St. Claude Avenue corner joint hosts everything from bluegrass jams to jazz improv sessions.
And local bands lately have been making the trek across the lake to gig at the homey Green Room in Covington.
On the Frenchmen Street strip, music pulses from every doorway, and you could easily get an evening's worth of rock and jazz without ever crossing a threshold (or ponying up for a cover). But, of course, thirsts must be slaked, and if you pop into the Dragon's Den, you'll also get the feeling that more exotic, shadier pastimes are afoot. It's all in the décor, but the now two-story bar has embraced its dim, mysterious opium-den vibe for years. Lounge on pillows on the floor and dig the eclectic roster of world, punk and hip-hop bands and DJs that saunter through. Inside the Blue Nile, improvised jazz and funky brass pumps inside a swimming-pool-azure cave. At Café Brasil across the street, whose hours currently are even more eclectic and abbreviated than usual, a quirky selection of French, Italian and Belgian beers are cooling chasers to the music. Snug Harbor, the street's bastion of top-notch jazz, offers one of the best deals in town for cheapskate tipplers: If you don't want to head up to the showroom or have a steak or burger at the restaurant, just pull up a stool at the bar and watch the gig going on upstairs on closed-circuit TV.