Local Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Allen Toussaint's chartreuse suit and one of the WIld Tchoupitoulas' Mardi Gras Indian get-ups share the spotlight with Little Richard and Johnny "Guitar" Watson at the Hard Rock Café. (©Shawn Fink)

Things to Do in New Orleans: A Bourbon Street Music Stroll

By Douglas Brantley on 08/13/15, updated 05/22/17
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Contrary to popular belief, Bourbon Street wasn’t named for the libation poured in its many bars, but after the French royal family. Nor has it always been known as New Orleans’ party central. In fact, from its founding in the 1720s until the 1920s, the 14-block stretch remained largely residential. You can credit “Count” Arnaud Cazenave, of Arnaud’s restaurant fame, with bringing nightlife to Bourbon. In 1926 he opened Maxime’s in the 300 block, paving the way for numerous other nightclubs on what would become one of the most famous entertainment avenues in the world.

While the Bourbon Street scene has changed and evolved over the years from tony supper clubs to tawdry strip clubs to rowdy karaoke clubs, music has always been—and remains—a mainstay. Today you’ll find hip-hop, hard rock and jazz all coexisting in perfect harmony. Grab a go-cup and set off on a magical musical history tour.

Hard Rock Café

(©Shawn Fink)

Restaurants

Hard Rock Café

Hard Rock may have been formed in London during the early 1970s, but it’s been rocking New Orleans since the late ’80s. The beer-bottle chandelier over the bar nods to its Bourbon Street location, while the memorabilia-adorned walls and side-room showcases pay homage to the city’s musical heritage, as well as national notables.

New Orleans Musical Legends Park

(©Shawn Fink)

Attractions

New Orleans Musical Legends Park

This aptly named, oft-overlooked courtyard and café features life-size depictions of Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, Fats Domino, Irma Thomas and other New Orleans greats, with free live jazz performed throughout the day. Want to hear more? Toss a few coins in the fountain to benefit the music education of French Quarter elementary students.

While it may look like—and be—a hotel, this sprawling property at the corner of Toulouse and Bourbon was once home to the equally massive French Opera House. Opened in 1859, the nation’s first opera house was destroyed by fire in 1919. But you can still hear opera performed here today in the hotel’s Puccini Bar.

Pat O'Brien's

(©Pat O'Brien's)

Nightlife

Pat O'Brien's

The home of the blow-you-away Hurricane cocktail is also known for its copper-covered pianos. Located on St. Peter, Pat O’s offers a separate courtyard entrance at 624 Bourbon. Scope out the flaming fountain, then tuck into the piano bar. Splurge on a souvenir glass, but nix the mix; they never taste as good when you make 'em yourself.

Fritzel's

(©Shawn Fink)

Nightlife

Fritzel's European Jazz Pub

This small space draws big crowds with its nightly performances. Traditional jazz lovers pack in close to catch house pianist Richard Scott, along with visiting musicians from around the globe. Music starts at 7 pm; arrive 15 to 30 minutes early to secure a seat. Hungry for a taste of bygone Bourbon Street? Dig in.

Don’t be deceived by this record store’s Lilliputian size. Though barely big enough to spin around in, the shop is packed with a huge assortment of new and used vinyl, CDs and DVDs. From Motown to metal, rock to reggae, owner Scott Wells offers hard-to-find imports, rare recordings and a wealth of music knowledge.

Map of Things to Do in New Orleans: A Bourbon Street Music Stroll