Louisiana is known for a lot of things, from the black bayous to the Mississippi River Delta to the simple joy of indulging in crawfish and sweet tea served by hospitable and friendly southerners.
There are few regions of the United States with such a rich and unique culture. Even before Louisiana gained statehood and was still known as the Territory of Orleans, the French settlers who inhabited the swampy, spooky marshlands near the Gulf of Mexico were determined to carry on rich traditions from their home country.
The capital of Louisiana is actually not New Orleans, but Baton Rouge. Nevertheless, the former, in all its eccentric hedonistic glory, is far more renowned, and drives more tourism than any other city in the Bayou State — mostly during Mardi Gras season.
For the traveller seeking a quieter and more laidback experience, New Orleans can provide a wealth of opportunities to immerse oneself in Louisiana history. The French roots of the city are evident everywhere, from the street vendors selling beignets to the jazz and blues bars scattered along the French Quarter.
Since the official founding of New Orleans in 1718, a specific street in this district, known as Rue Bourbon, has been particularly alluring to tourists. A destination for the 21+ crowd, Bourbon Street is one of the world’s most famous nightlife strips, with the caveat that it is charmingly traditional in a way you are unlikely to find in flashier districts like the Vegas Strip.
Whether you’re celebrating a bachelor party or simply hitting the town, a weekend on Bourbon Street can either be a disaster or a dream come true, depending on how selective you are with your neon signs. (There are so many bars on this one promenade that even the locals can get overwhelmed.) Done right, you will leave more culturally enlightened, with memories to last a lifetime. Just heed our warning and avoid the dive bars; if you’re after luxury, you can find it at some of the following.
Bourbon O Bar
Located in the lobby of the Bourbon Orleans Hotel, this place is your typical French jazz bar with an upgraded and sleek aesthetic. Despite its relatively modern interior décor, servers here are experts at mixing classic New Orleans cocktails, including aged French absinthe drips. In fact, some of the city’s best mixologists work here, routinely winning local accolades for their skill at shaking, mixing, and pouring.
With its romantic mood lighting, a rich masculine colour scheme, and live jazz bands performing nightly, the ambience at Bourbon O is excellent if you’re looking for a classy and relatively slow pace to start off your evening.
There are few bars on Bourbon Street that actually invite relaxed conversation, so take the opportunity to share a heartfelt chat over a craft cocktail with your loved ones while you’re here.
Old Absinthe House
Opened in 1807 and believed to be the site where outlaw Jean Lafitte negotiated an alliance with Andrew Jackson against the British during the War of 1812, this Bourbon Street saloon is known for its historical significance and still draws in tourists thanks to its wide selection of absinthe cocktails.
While plenty of travellers stop in for a drink, just as many are intrigued by the rumours of lingering ghosts; this is known to be the most haunted bar in New Orleans.
It’s hardly a surprise. If these walls could talk, they would certainly have stories to tell — the Old Absinthe House has served patrons across the literary, cultural, and political spectrum, including Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and Franklin Roosevelt.
My Bar at 635
A cozy, rustic haunt like no other, this well-kept secret is two storeys and occasionally showcases live blues, jazz, and Cajun-style music. There is one private room available if you are able to book far ahead of time and prefer a more exclusive experience.
Despite being centrally located in the French Quarter and only steps away from the many rowdy dance clubs and flashing lights Bourbon Street is known for, My Bar is the antithesis of the crazy Mardi Gras culture and effectively insulates guests from the chaos. This is the hideaway for you if you actually like to be able to talk over drinks, rather than shout.
The building has remained much the same since it was first built in 1834, boasting beautiful French doors and smooth mahogany wood. Step out into the courtyard or order your drinks on the balcony for a sprawling view of the city below.