Three-for-one beers, hand grenades, anything that comes in a giant novelty cup—sure, there’s a time and a place for these drinks. But you can only spend so long on Bourbon Street before every fire-spurting courtyard fountain starts to look the same. So venture off the beaten path and explore a few local watering holes. After all, the French Quarter is a neighborhood where the residents share rich social ties, and these hangouts are where all the socializing goes down. Visiting one is the best way to see another side of the Vieux Carre (and possibly make a new friend).
Molly’s at the Market (1107 Decatur Street)
Molly’s has been a fixture since 1974, and the memorabilia-lined walls (hung with newspaper clippings, flags and business signs from institutions that “ain’t dere no more”) are a tribute to its storied past. You’ll find a great jukebox, tattooed bartenders and the best frozen Irish coffee on the continent at this lower Decatur Street hangout. And if you want the neighborhood vibe but your friends are set on hurricanes, have no fear–Molly’s Bar on Toulouse offers the same feel and menu, but is only steps away from Bourbon Street.
Black Penny (700 N. Rampart Street)
A dim, rustic hideaway for beer snobs, this beautifully weathered bar serves more than 90 American, regional and craft beers. The exposed brick walls, heavy overhead beams, chandeliers and arched doorways give the space a feel reminiscent of the belly of a pirate’ ship. Friendly, knowledgeable bartenders make the Black Penny atmospheric without being depressing. Bonus: it sits right on the Rampart Street streetcar line.
Tiki Tolteca (301 N. Peters Street)
What’s better than tacos, queso, tortilla chips and giant burritos? Not much–unless you pair these Mexican dishes with cold, sweet tiki drinks. And that’s exactly what happens at Tiki Tolteca. Located upstairs from Felipe’s, this kitschy tiki lounge features a bamboo canopy bar, loud tropical prints, wood carvings of Moai tiki gods and classic and experimental tiki drinks mixed with house-made liqueurs. Daily specials include a $5 Mai Tai on Mondays, or you can sample the original hurricane.
Erin Rose (811 Conti Street)
It’s a divey Irish pub in the heart of the French Quarter, serving Guinness and Harp on tap alongside huge po-boys, but no, Erin Rose doesn’t have an identity crisis. Rather, it exhibits the kind of cultural mingling that makes New Orleans great. More about those po-boys, though: Killer Po-boys serves the hefty sandwiches from a takeout window in a cramped, tiny room at the rear of the bar, and though they’re a little pricier than what you’ll find at a corner store, the “internationally inspired, chef-crafted, New Orleans-style sandwiches” (description via Killer Po-boy’s website) are well worth the price.
Buffa’s (1001 Esplanade Avenue)
Perched right on the edge of the French Quarter on Esplanade Avenue, Buffa’s has been a neighborhood favorite since 1939. The unassuming back room at this 24-hour hangout hosts top-notch musical acts, plus a jazz brunch on Sundays, but the long-term regulars in the front room would probably prefer to keep that fact under the radar. Pub grub includes standards like burgers and fries, along with distinctly Louisiana fare like boudin balls and jambalaya.