I’ll put one thing to the forefront: this is going to be a long NOLA night.
To be more specific, this is a night out that begins well before happy hour, and there is a very good chance that this adventure could stretch from the late evening into the early hours. So, in this way, this is more than a night out somewhere; it’s really a journey from place to place that begins in the afternoon and will potentially end the next morning.
Like any good expedition, there is some preparation and a schedule, but there’s got to be flexibility, especially in a place like New Orleans where an extra drink you vowed not to have is always a possibility.
Yes, there’s music in New Orleans, and plenty of nightlife, too. But this guys’ night out involves comfort food and strong libations on repeat with a few of the city’s most iconic neighborhoods as your backdrop.
Let’s get started:
The first stop is going to be in the historic Bywater neighborhood. One of the parts of New Orleans that has enjoyed growth in a variety of new businesses over the last ten years, the Bywater is not necessarily the neighborhood that is seen on a typical visit to New Orleans. But it’s an essential facet of the city’s physical and figurative identity, and its roots are connected to the original French/Francophone “downtown” area by the river. Like other nearby neighborhoods (the Irish Channel, the Lower Garden District, the Marigny), other Europeans — Irish, Italian, and German — came to live there, alongside settlers from the French Caribbean and beyond.
Enough with the history. Right at this very moment our first stop, The Joint, is perhaps the best barbecue spot in the entire city. I’d advise getting there between the lunch and dinner rushes; The Joint’s reputation long ago spread around the city, and on a recent visit there at around 6 p.m. the line stretched a few people out the door.
My recommendation? Mid-afternoon is the perfect time to get there, then order a Chaurice (Cajun sausage) sandwich, which is made locally and smoked out the back, with a side of mac and cheese, as well as whatever Abita is on draft. After eating, it’s worth grabbing another drink—the paloma (tequila, grapefruit, and lime juice) is particularly good and refreshing—and enjoying the outside area. The down-home atmosphere and full bar will set you up with a relaxing launching point for the next location, the famous Napoleon House, in the French Quarter.
Napoleon House & The French Quarter
Just like the Bywater neighborhood, the Napoleon House is a key touchstone in the city’s complex, dynamic history. Over 200 years old, the building’s first resident was Nicholas Girod, mayor of New Orleans from 1812 to 1815. However, it was a potential resident, Napoleon Bonaparte, who not only gave the bar its name, but also part of its fame: Girod offered up his accommodation to Napoleon when the embattled leader was in exile. Napoleon never got there—though it really might’ve been best if he had—but the name endured.
Unlike the Napoleon House itself, we’re not sticking around too long here: all we need is a strong Pimm’s Cup (or two) and some time in the courtyard. (Incidentally, when the light is right in the courtyard, you can squint your eyes and be transferred to somewhere else, like an old bohemian haunt in Port-au-Prince or Paris.)
From French to Irish
In truth, you might stick around for an extra cocktail before grabbing a cab and heading to another, different kind of house: Chef Matt Murphy’s The Irish House on St. Charles Avenue. Big, comfy, and with a welcoming staff, The Irish House is a popular spot with tourists that also has a strong local following. Another thing you’ll notice at the bar is the amount of “foreigners” who congregate to watch rugby or, more commonly, football/soccer.
The bangers at The Irish House are a true taste of Old World pub tradition. Put simply, they’re the best sausages I’ve eaten in New Orleans
Most importantly, at The Irish House you will be catching what’s one of the best happy hours (3-6 p.m.) in New Orleans for food and drink: half price beer, wine, and cocktails. What’s more, they have $6 small plates of bangers and mash, fish and chips, and Shepherd’s pie. (Please excuse a brief tangent. I’m not too prone to nostalgia, but the bangers and mash took me back to childhood; growing up in New Zealand, this was a meal that we ate on a regular basis. This may just be the word of a homesick foreigner, but the bangers at The Irish House are a true taste of this Old World pub tradition. Put simply, they’re the best sausages I’ve eaten in New Orleans, making me an enthusiastic advocate for just how good this plate is.) Regardless, any of the aforementioned small plates are delicious fuel as you continue on your night out.
Heading out from The Irish House, cut down from St. Charles into the Lower Garden District towards Magazine Street, where you’ll hit another part of the city’s Irish identity: the Irish Channel neighborhood. Stop by Tracey’s to mingle with the regulars who populate the bar or, if you skipped having something to eat at The Irish House (or, in fact, even if you didn’t), get some freshly shucked oysters.
Tracey’s is currently in the process of building a permanent oyster bar, but never fear: there are still fresh oysters available right outside the bar’s front doors. And just to place another temptation before you, Tracey’s has one of my favorite specials in this part of the city: $5 for a very generously poured shot of Tullamore Dew and an ice-cold bottle of the champagne of beers, Miller High Life.
No matter the season, Tracey’s is one of the best places to watch sports, with enthusiastic fans of everyone from the University of Wisconsin Badgers to the New York Rangers. (And, of course, it’s a great place to watch the Pelicans or Saints.) It’s an easy place to spend a few hours, especially when the doors are open and the ebb and flow of bar and street traffic seems to be one and the same. But don’t stay too long because there is one last spot on the night’s figurative menu: Parasol’s.
I haven’t lived here my whole adult life —far, far from it— but the place that has felt most uniquely New Orleans to me is Parasol’s, a corner bar and restaurant just down from Tracey’s in the Irish Channel. Parasol’s reminds me a wee bit of that bar in Star Wars: you’re going to see a delightful yet strange cross-section of New Orleans, where cooks and tourists and real estate developers and painters could be sitting next to one another.
The music has been good (last time I was there I heard a back and forth of early Drive-By Truckers and Lil Wayne), and there is the most amazing Bailey’s frozen cocktail straight from the blender. And, like I said, excess is a part of the evening: if you’ve got room, the large roast beef po-boy on French bread is worth the whole excursion. Remember, it’s been a long night.