I was in New Orleans for two nights – which meant two nights to immerse myself in the nightlife – which is obviously huge in NOLA. During my research on what to do while in the city, I couldn’t find what so much as where. They listed a few areas, French Quarter, Jackson Square, etc, and on this list I put down Frenchmen Street. Originally, we’d passed it in the day and couldn’t figure out why it was more special than any other street. Luckily, as we were in a Lyft coming away from dinner, we mentioned it and our driver said Frenchmen Street was something to do at night.
So we canceled our first night “easygoing” Bourbon plans, and headed to Frenchmen, not sure what to expect. Just driving in, I could see it was much smaller, but also more of my vibe (coming from someone who’d only briefly walked Bourbon, i.e. not an expert). We found parking on the street after only a little bit of effort, so that should tell you that it really wasn’t too crowded. String lights had caught our eye on the drive in, so we beelined to that big open area.
It was a little crafter and artist’s market! The string lights arched across an entrance on the street into a open pavilion of probably thirty booths set up. There was a sign at the back that said “Palace Market” in cool graffiti, so I guess that’s what we had stumbled upon. There were a lot of really cool prints (I bought two different ones) and a lot of handmade jewelry. I must’ve looked at every ring in the place twice, because I liked it all and the prices were really good.
By the time we finished looking at every booth and found ourselves back out on the street, a live jazz band was trailing from one end to the other. I kid you not! Then we realized there was live jazz in every bar on the street! This area was definitely for the starving artists, hipsters (I hate to say it), and people looking for some of the original culture of NOLA. It was so cool! Even though it was all jazz, every band was different, made up of unique instruments and singers. Male and female, lots of brass, more piano – they had whatever flavor you were looking for just next door!
But obviously, in New Orleans, you can’t really experience this city unless you hit up Bourbon Street. Saturday night, we made plans to do Bourbon right. Jenna had come into town to join my brother and Gabby and me, and with a bottle of rum and a stop at the Winn Dixie for sour mix, we were ready to pregame. Oh, and we also took a party nap just to fully prepare ourselves.
My brother had put together a “pub crawl” for us that started at one end and ended close to our Airbnb. He showed us Carousel Bar, which actually rotated and then stopped by the 21st Amendment, which was the classy part of Bourbon. They were known for their sauzerac (it was okay) and a live quartet was setting up just as we nabbed a front row table. Next was an absinthe bar, which was rough, I’ll be honest. You think you want fire and green drinks, but even very buzzed I could not finish it.
So buzzed though, that I was easily talked into the bull ride across the street. This bar was not on the tour, but we saw the bull and decided we were done being “classy” on Bourbon. Did I ride the bull? Yes, of course. From there we quickly moved through one (possibly two) “shot bars” which had fruity concoctions in test tubes and really cool lighting. My brother and I danced while making Gabby and Jenna take the shots from the trounced up women passing them out. We were sticking with a one drink per bar policy, sharing it if we needed help to finish it. This was our plan to make it through the crawl, but starting pretty drunk was not our brightest move.
We passed through Pat O’Brien’s, a cute bar with an outdoor space where we’d gotten a hurricane the night before. The Swamp was an alright bar, made better by the fact that it’s the only free balcony on Bourbon. We got up there and stared down at the people below, which normally would’ve been amazing – but we quickly got jealous of everyone down there seemingly having a better time than us. I know this is a lot of alcohol talk – but this is how you do Bourbon Street, at least from what I’ve heard.
We skipped ahead one bar, because I spotted “the original hand grenade” under the Tropical Isle Bourbon sign, the drink which I’d been calling the “green drink” and knowing it was a must. Here all four of us got one. I am honestly not sure why because not one of needed another drink – but being newbies Jenna and I were obligated. Side note: I threw my little toy grenade into a basket near the ceiling and gave myself a round of applause. Gabby had given me three chances, I’d cheated by taking four, so I bought us shots anyway. Seriously, we just kept drinking. Which was perfect, because the Cats Meow, famous for karaoke, was our next stop.
I was ready for some singing and attention from a crowd, y’all. I’m outgoing but a little shy at first, but the drinks had given me the right to flaunt my ego. My brother signed me up, and somewhere around the time for my name to be called, Jenna was joining, we’d picked ABBA’s Dancing Queen, and the four of us had had two rounds of jello shots. The rest is a bit of a blur – mostly me trying to figure out if my voice sounded good, if I was dancing too much, and if the audience was having a good time. Does this mean I’m allowed to cross “Become a pop star” off my bucket list?
The final stop, Blacksmith’s, was skipped. (Luckily, on my previous visit to NOLA which consisted of less than three hours I’d actually had a drink from there.) I don’t know how this decision was made, but I know Gabby was ready for bed and left the remaining three of us to find our way to Cafe Du Monde. Everyone has to have those world famous beignets whenever you’re in town. Everyone should also make sure they have cash, otherwise you will scramble last minute, make friends with the table next to you and Venmo them for a ten-dollar bill. Still, worth it.
So, the original question: Frenchmen Street or Bourbon Street? Both! They are just so different and have so many different experiences to offer. I’m not much for the nightlife anymore, but as you can tell from this long, long blogpost, I really went for it! New Orleans is one of those places that is about the bars, the drinks, experiencing the people and the night.