Compiling a general list of the best bars in New Orleans might be an impossible task — the breadth of watering holes in this city being just one of the problems — so it makes sense to break it down in other ways. Best neighborhood bar; best cocktail bar; best bar for happy hour… there are many ways to categorize these sacred NOLA spaces. With the return of football season, we’ve got all the best spots for you to catch a Saints game with friends. The language used both here and in the title of this post is deliberate: Not all of these places self-identify as “sports bars,” but they are fantastic spots to watch sports. Most importantly, they’ve all earned their respective (and admittedly often very specific) superlatives.
Best Place to See Sports Inside and Out: Dat Dog on Magazine Street
Home to one of the best courtyard drinking areas in Uptown, Dat Dog truly has the best of both worlds — a bar outside that’s as comfortable as the one inside, especially as the cooler weather rolls in. There are plenty of television screens, servers bustling about delivering decadent hot dogs, and bartenders attentive to your drink needs, plus the option of sitting in a booth or at the bar (inside or out) while still having a clear view of the all-important game. What more could you want in a sports bar? Your team to win, probably.
(Extra point: After much research, it’s been shown that the best tonic to alleviate the pain of your team losing is Dat Dog’s Bacon Werewolf dog.)
Best Place for Indian Food and NFL: Rendezvous
Rendezvous, the Magazine Street institution, has perhaps my favorite game day deal in the whole city: along with drink specials on Sundays, they also offer a complimentary buffet from the nearby (and arguably the city’s best) Indian restaurant Nirvana to customers who’ve purchased a drink. Just as curry became England’s number one takeout food because it’s a great partner for beer, I’m starting to think that even a bad NFL game is enhanced by steamed rice and chicken tikka masala.
(Extra point: If you want to get one of the coveted seats at the bar for when the Saints are playing, you’ll want to get to Rendezvous several hours before kickoff.)
Best Place for Soccer, Rugby, or Cricket: Finn McCool’s
An Englishman, Australian, and Irishman walk into a bar. In Mid-City, this isn’t the just the first line in a hack joke; it’s something that you could observe at Finn McCool’s prior to kickoff of a rugby or soccer match. If Finn’s had another superlative, it might be the best place to hear a range of international accents. Whether you want to go somewhere to support Celtic Football Club, watch a Scotland v. Wales rugby test, or view the Cricket World Cup Final, there’s quite simply no better spot in New Orleans.
(Extra point: A local writer and Finn McCool’s fan, Ted O’Brien, set his short story, “What’s the Score?” at Finn’s. The story is one of the most compelling in the very good collection, New Orleans Noir.)
Best Place to Go For Happy Hour and Stay for Game: The Rusty Nail
This list doesn’t intend to privilege weekend sports viewing, and it doesn’t intend to follow the easy connection between beer and sports. In fact, wine and sports go together quite well (I’ve done some testing), and at The Rusty Nail, they offer half-price bottles of wine for happy hour (Monday through Wednesday, and Friday, 4:00 p.m. —7:00 p.m.). Sports aside, it’s my favorite bar in the Warehouse District.
(Extra point: The Rusty Nail is a favorite among University of Alabama fans, so if you’re looking for somewhere to holler “Roll Tide!” on a Saturday afternoon in the fall, this is definitely your place.)
Best Place to Eat Pizza During the Game: Wit’s Inn
There are plenty of places in New Orleans with pizza and television screens, but I’m not sure if there’s another place with 15 television screens — ensuring that you’re likely able to see what you need/want to — combined with the kind of pizza that makes you eat too much. Wit’s Inn, another option in Mid-City alongside Finn McCool’s, allows you to revel with fellow fanatics no matter your sporting code/allegiance.
(Extra point: Thursday is $5 pizza night — a perfect accompaniment to a Thursday night of sports of any variety.)
Best Place to Become Part of Drew Brees’ Team: Walk On’s
Okay, so you’re unlikely (very, very, very unlikely) to walk on to our beloved Saints by heading to Walk On’s Bistreaux & Bar. But what I can promise is that you’ll be eating at “his” establishment (Brees brought into the company that owns Walk On’s in May 2015), and you’ll be watching football in a space that Brees enthusiastically endorses. It’s also very, very, very close to the Superdome.
(Extra point: In 2012, Walk On’s was voted ESPN’s “Best Sports Bar in North America.”)
Best Place to Marvel at the Size of the Screen (and Your Beer): Cooter Brown’s Tavern & Oyster Bar
I have a photo of a friend gazing up at the huge screen at Cooter Brown’s, big draft of Abita Andygator in hand, entranced by the glowing spectacle of football. Cooter Brown’s has a well-deserved reputation for its beer selection and a loyal local following, but it also has the markings of a great spot to watch the game: several huge screens, passionate fans, and great service.
The oysters at Cooter Brown’s are not to be missed.
(Extra point: Coming from a colleague of mine more experienced in the matter, the oysters at Cooter Brown’s are not to be missed.)
Best French Quarter Spot to Slip into the Sports World: Pat O’Brien’s
If there’s a place that epitomizes the meeting of old and new New Orleans on this list, it’s Pat O’Brien’s. Established more than 80 years ago, Pat O’Brien’s has transformed from speakeasy to local favorite to world-renowned part of the NOLA experience. Now, don’t let the last part scare you; Pat O’s has stayed true to its simple mission — “Have Fun!” This sentiment nicely seeps into the sports-viewing experience. No matter your team’s fortunes, the lively surroundings (and the sweet elixir of Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane) will smooth out the low of a loss or enhance the endorphin-rush of a win.
(Extra point: You might end up ordering two plates of Pat O’s wings. This is not a bad thing.)
Best Place to Enjoy People Watching and the Game: The Bulldog on Magazine Street
Maybe it’s a personal obsession with this city’s outside drinking spaces, but I find it hard to pass The Bulldog without the desire to grab a seat in the patio area and soak in some SportsCenter on the large outdoor television. And, on Sundays, it’s absolutely buzzing, with people outside traversing Magazine Street and those inside the fence transfixed by the fortune of the Saints.
(Extra point: The chicken sandwich at The Bulldog on Magazine is a very reasonably priced and delicious complement to a cold draft beer. Speaking of, keep your eyes peeled for the outdoor beer-tap water fountain.)
Best (and Most Underrated) Place to Indulge Your Inner Sports Fanatic: Markey’s Bar
Last is not least on this list, but it might be one that you haven’t thought of as a location to watch your team, whether it’s college, pro, or national. Markey’s has pretty much all the elements you’re looking for — an intensely loyal group of locals, friendly staff, and a true sense of place. This is not only a Bywater staple; it’s one of the best places in the city to go to support your team, whether they be local or from outside the city.
(Extra point: Let’s not use the term “dive bar” again.)
Best place for the hardcore fanAtic (and foodie): Manning’s
I’ll start with the obvious. First, Manning’s is simply one of the best sports bars in the city: there are TVs strategically placed all around the restaurant, allowing one to view a variety of games from any position; there is a perfectly designed stadium seating in front of four huge screens at the “far end” of the bar; the staff are courteous and move quickly when it’s busy; and, when there is a crowd, due to the size and the layout of Manning’s it never feels cramped (a flaw in some sports bars). Second, as it is owned and operated by New Orleans Saints legend, Archie Manning—the scion of the country’s greatest football family—the walls of the bar/restaurant are chock filled with incredible memorabilia, largely related to Archie’s two sons, Eli and Peyton. This alone is worth a visit to Manning’s.
But what people don’t necessarily know is that under the careful and considered direction of talented Chef and General Manager Scott Love, who has designed a menu of enticing cocktails and delicious food, Manning’s is a must-do for any sports-loving local or visitor in the city, and we have some recommendations: try the Deviled Eggs (Louisiana blue crab, sweet relish, paprika), the Slider Trio (pulled pork, bacon mac-n-cheese, and the “Archie Manning”),and the Coaches Plate (alligator sausage, andouille sausage, pimento cheese); pair any of the above with their wide array of domestic and international drafts or, if you’re feeling like something sweeter, the Touchdown Margarita (Don Julio Tequila, fresh squeezed citrus, and Grand Marnier) or, my favorite, the Archie Manning (Dragonberry Bacardi, sweet tea and fresh raspberries).
(Extra point: The courtyard at Manning’s is the perfect spot for an after-work happy hour, or, looking forward to the fall, a place to catch LSU or Saints games.)