Springtime in New Orleans is a beautiful thing. The azaleas begin to bloom behind the wrought iron fences of centuries-old historic homes down in the Quarter. The oysters are plump and sweet, just waiting to be sucked from their shells, and the crawfish are bright red, freshly boiled and spiced, begging to be shucked and eaten by the pound.
After the chaos of Mardi Gras and the quiet of Lent, the city prepares itself for Jazz Fest, a weeklong jam session that brings local favorites like New Orleans’ own Irvin Mayfield together with international superstars like Bruce Springsteen to celebrate New Orleans’ long and storied musical heritage.
But if you find yourself in New Orleans for the festival, or if you visit the city anytime, really, don’t ignore the local spots. The little places dotting the land where jazz was born and remains alive and well keep the city swaying to its own beat — that of a jaunty trombone wailing against the steady thump of a sassy bass.
We’ll walk you through all the best places to hear music from local legends along with talented up and comers. This list will take you all over the city, from the cool clubs of the trendy Faubourg Marigny to the storied, salty bars of the Bywater. To make our list, we first looked at the history of the clubs. In New Orleans, history is everything, and we’ve brought you the spots where greats have stood.
But we also looked at the present day line-ups. Go into any of these clubs on any given night, and you’ll find the best the city has to offer in terms of talented jazz musicians: upstarts and old favorites alike. Finally, because New Orleans is all about a good time, we looked at the atmosphere of the clubs. Each spot we’ve picked is sure to get you dancing, drinking, and just generally letting le bon temps rouler.
10. Apple Barrel
This cozy spot right outside the Quarter on Frenchmen Street is the perfect place to start a day of music and drinks in the city. The music rarely stops at the Apple Barrel, and the lineup features established acts as well as newcomers looking to break into the city’s jazz scene. The acoustics in this tiny bar are said to be so good that many artists chose to record live albums during their sets.
9. The Spotted Cat
Located just outside the French Quarter in the district called the Faubourg Marigny, this ramshackle wooden nightclub is one of the city’s hidden gems. Don’t let the splintered exterior fool you; The Spotted Cat features some of the New Orleans’ music scene’s heavy hitters. On any given night, visitors might see local favorites the Shotgun Jazz Band or the Jazz Vipers, Big Easy award-winners for “Best Traditional Jazz Band.”