Short on amenities but long on lore, some of New Orleans’ most popular bars might be considered dives in other cities. But here, bars with storied pasts, the patina of good times had and the anything-goes vibe of a diverse clientele are regarded as hallowed ground for their regulars. They are found in old buildings that had previous lives as homes or corner stores which imbues them with the sort of authenticity you just don’t find in newer establishments.
While such institutions are the stomping grounds of locals, visitors are universally welcome, whether you show up for a late-night music performance or drop in for a drink during the middle of the day.
Aunt Tiki’s: Don’t let the name fool you; there are no umbrella drinks here. And don’t even think about ordering one, the bartender might toss you out. What you will find is a worn sofa, a well-stocked jukebox and extra-strong cocktails at hard-to-beat prices. Who needs mai tais?
Chart Room: When this local landmark changed ownership after 40 years in 2015, loyalists lamented the end of an era. But, thankfully, little has changed at the corner of Chartres and Bienville: the atmosphere is still easygoing, the bartenders unpretentious and the shots just keep on coming.
Golden Lantern: It’s from this 24/7 watering hole in the wall that the annual Southern Decadence parade—a booze-fueled, flesh-filled celebration of debauchery—kicks off each Labor Day weekend. Gay but straight-friendly, the Lantern keeps patrons lit with strong pours and a daily happy hour that runs from 8 am to 8 pm. Great drag shows on weekends.
Brothers Three: Despite its sunny yellow exterior, inside this Magazine Street lounge it’s dark, dank and divey 24/7. There’s country on the jukebox, a rotating cast of colorful characters at the bar…and the drink prices are almost as low as the ceilings.
Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge: A NOLA dive-hunter rite of passage; even Anthony Bourdain has boozed it up in this tumbledown shack. Gritty, grungy and lit mostly by Christmas lights, this legendary land of the lost is eternally cool and quintessentially New Orleans.
Rock Bottom Lounge: The name kinda says it all. But don’t be put off by the bars on the windows; this former apartment building-turned-"black cultural bar" is home to a friendly crowd of neighborhood regulars and a number of social aid and pleasure clubs. Strong drinks at rock-bottom prices.
Ms. Mae’s: Another Magazine Street must-stop. There are pool tables, air hockey, foosball and a small patio, but the real draw is the friendly patrons and crazy cheap drinks.
The Saint: A dive with a doorman? Yep, and a DJ and hopping dance floor. The party at this easy-to-overlook nightspot gets started long after the others, beginning around midnight and going until sunrise. When it gets too crowded inside take it to the back patio. Tiki-themed karaoke on Tuesdays; free jukebox on Sundays.
Checkpoint Charlie's: Dirty clothes? Perfect, you’ll fit right in with the grunge crowd. Or you can clean up at the on-site laundromat while getting down to live bands—no cover, though there is a drink requirement for bathroom use. Music runs the gamut from blues to rockabilly. 501 Esplanade Ave., 504.281.4847
The John: In a city filled with every type of bar imaginable, it takes a lot to stand out. Enter The John. Cheap drinks in Mason jars, ping-pong…and toilets. Pulling up a stool here means grabbing one of the many gold toilets that serve as seats. Who says you can’t sit on the toilet and drink in public? 2040 Burgundy St., 504.942.7159
Saturn Bar: In recent years the Bywater neighborhood has become hipster central. But the cool-kid crowd has been orbiting around the Saturn Bar for more than four decades and still lands there today. Catch King James and the Special Men Mondays at 10 pm.
J&J's Sports Lounge: With happy hour starting at 11 am, J&J’s morphs from sports bar by day to locals dive in the early evening hours. Deep in the Bywater, this spot is great for catching Saints or LSU games—and a really cheap tall boy. Keep an eye out for the neighborhood cat who has his own bar stool.
BJ's: Sure, it’s been featured in the New York Times and Robert Plant has been known to drop by for an impromptu jam session, but this low-key corner bar remains one of Bywater’s best and least affected. Live music on Fridays.