I’ve always said that no real dive bar was ever designed as such. A beloved dive is built over time, like a lawless symphony of syncopated drunken nights. A true dive’s character is acquired bit by bit, like a patina, cultivated and nurtured by the comings and goings of its patrons (who should, by all rights, be characters). Locals often jokingly claim that you can only find one if you are already drunk.
The best dives here in New Orleans are legendary. These are the places frequented by local service people more eccentric celebrities, and other randomly assembled folks from all this town’s many walks of life. The bartenders at these spots—who tend to pour beer, shots, and strong well drinks (no craft cocktails here)—have usually been working there for years, and don’t plan on leaving anytime soon. And that’s how it goes at dives. Your evening at one of the bars listed here might well start off with “just one drink,” and then somehow become an all-night affair.
A service-industry favorite, this French-Quarter watering hole has been serving drinks and rowdy good times since the mid-1950s. Most of the regulars here opt for a Jameson-and-draft-beer combo that’s staggering in both the intensity and speed of its buzz. If you’re more of a lightweight, try the superb house-made Frozen Irish Coffee.
Frequented by the ultra-hip, this late-night dive is where dreams (and maybe screenplays) are born. I have personally done shots with Quentin Tarantino at the back bar of this place; shortly afterward, we broke up a drunken skirmish between two college girls. On Tikioki nights, bartender Nick Jarrett serves island-style drinks while people sing drunken renditions of their favorite songs.
Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge
This red-lit bar, set in what looks like a sagging roadside shack, should come with a caution label. Warning: If you like to go to bed after just a couple drinks, don’t come anywhere near this place. If you do enter, order a Shlitz and keep an eye on your watch, because the tiny tinted window in the door is the only way to tell when morning comes.
This uptown late-night hang—which is actually open 24 hours—has some of the cheapest drinks in the city. (In fact, when the owners raised their prices by a dollar a few years back, locals were up in arms.) There’s also air hockey, and a pool and a foosball table, for good-natured drunken sport.
This bar at the Royal Street Inn stays dark and loud most of the night, and has been known to foster more than its share of spontaneous acts of bravado. On Mondays you can get a shot and a haircut for ten dollars. Don’t be scared! I’ve done it, and it’s one of the better haircuts I’ve had.