As a destination long known for revelry and celebration, New Orleans does more than cater to those seeking Bourbon Street’s libations and the opportunity for public consumption. The historic city has adapted time and again to the needs of all drinkers—from the invention of the Sazerac cocktail in the mid-1800s to the booming craft beer scene today, it remains ahead of the curve.
The first beer garden opened on Rue Bourbon (named for the French family, not the brown spirit) in 1868—a time when the city was known as the Brewing Capital of the South. Almost a century later, after an expansion and retraction of the industry, the Big Easy would be the first to introduce pressurized draft beer.
Today, more than 10 million tourists arrive per year to tap into a scene that stretches from one end of the city to the other. Hundreds of venues serve up both mainstream craft brews and local beers, but some watering holes represent the city’s offerings better than others. The following are seven of the best.
d.b.a. : Marigny Neighborhood
Arguably, live music pairs with beer better than anything else—especially in New Orleans. While d.b.a. may be a New York spin-off, the venue offers a diverse roster of musical performances every night, with some of the most captivating jazz the city has on show. In the Marigny neighborhood, the pub’s tap menu rounds out at 20 options—and more than half are craft brews. There’s a cover, but drinks are reasonably priced. Ultimately, the experience is about enjoying music and beer together.
The Bulldog : Uptown
Of the 48 beers on tap at The Bulldog Uptown, nearly all are local—or regional—craft beers, with a new micro-brewery featured each month. And if that’s not enough for you, more than 100 bottled options are served too. The venue has frequently been awarded “best beer selection” in the city, as well “best beer bar food.”
With placement well away from the French Quarter, its surprisingly calm environment is of equal importance—it’s also dog friendly, and frequently populated with pups. What’s not to love?
The Davenport Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans
For an elegant craft beer experience inside one of the city’s most elegant dwellings, The Ritz-Carlton Davenport Lounge serves up 13 Louisiana-brewed beers—including NOLA’s own Holy Roller IPA Bayou Blaze Irish Red hailing from Mandeville, La.—and live music on the regular. The third-floor escape takes its name from long-time headline performer Jeremy Davenport, who regales audiences with Rat Pack standards and more.
Reservations are required for attendance, but from the first-class decor to the stunning service, it’s beyond worthwhile. If anything, the Davenport Lounge represents the state of craft beer today—in New Orleans and beyond; it’s worthy of The Ritz-Carlton.
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Junction : Bywater Neighborhood
In Bywater, Junction occupies a building as historic as the neighborhood itself. It’s a classic tavern with 40 constantly rotating beers on tap, many of which come from Louisiana and others from Mississippi. Bottles and cans support the list, as do bar bites and their acclaimed “creative” burgers.
As for ambiance, Junction can best be described as a high-end dive bar, with a few wooden booths and a smattering of stools. Depending on the day, it’s either like stepping into a low key locals-only spot or a bustling destination sought out for its menu.
The Avenue Pub : Lower Garden District
Consistently ranked one of the top 50 beer bars in the world, The Avenue Pub’s drink menu is known as the “Big Beer List.” It’s updated daily, with the changes listed online, as well. A part of the pub stays open 24 hours a day, seven days a week (the balcony and back patio are on a slightly reduced schedule).
Depending on who you ask, the bar is either located in the Lower Garden District or Central City. Both can be considered correct, as it falls on the dividing line: St Charles Avenue. Inside, there’s plenty of old-world charm complete with fireplaces and a tin ceiling. And the best way to experience it all is to explain to your bartender what you like—or what you don’t—and let them decide for you.
NOLA BrewingTap Room : Irish Channel Neighborhood
NOLA (New Orleans Lager & Ale) Brewing Tap Room sets the standard for craft beer’s resurgence in New Orleans over the last decade. The brewery features a multi-level bar with an expansive roof deck. Located in the Irish Channel along the Mississippi river, there are roughly 32 brews available (at least 20 on tap) and several flight options for the real explorer.
It’s more of a complete craft beer destination, in that the venue hosts several activities (from tours to tap room yoga… seriously) and food to pair from McClure’s BBQ. But its greatest asset happens to be the caliber of beer on hand, including both the wildly experimental and the standard categories everyone knows and loves.
Abita Brewing Company : Covington Neighborhood
Founded in 1986, the Abita Brewing Company has grown from a local favorite to stalwart New Orleans representative. (It’s impossible to visit the city and not come across the beer.) But there’s nothing quite like visiting the facility in Covington (accessible via the Nola Brew Bus) to taste their seasonal and signature brews on site.
From the tap room to the visitors center and brewery, it’s a destination for craft beer aficionados, as quite a bit of knowledge is conveyed with every pint. With about two dozen options to try at any given moment, from their celebrated Purple Haze to the obscure Pecan Ale, there’s something for every palate.