Walking down Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, you may be struck by the colorful old buildings and the lively atmosphere. You find yourself falling in love with the place—and then a bunch of musicians with an array of instruments appear as if from nowhere. As they begin their own concert on the corner of Royal Street, people stop to appreciate them, and a dance party ensues. You've just experienced your first taste of the New Orleans music scene.
New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz music, and as a result, you can't go anywhere in the French Quarter without hearing it. Since living here, I've compiled a list of my favorite jazz clubs, and they all vary in style because sometimes it depends entirely on the mood or type of evening you plan on having. Some jazz clubs are for partying, and others are a more relaxed dine-in affair.
1. The Spotted Cat
This funky spot is a long, narrow club with a bar and an intimate stage. Live bands play here daily, and sometimes there's a cover charge. During the evenings, this is an extremely lively bar, and despite the lack of space, you'll always see people making room to dance.
The Spotted Cat is located on Frenchmen Street outside the French Quarter in the Marigny (pronounced Ma-re-nee) area. Some of the jazz styles here include traditional, blues, funk, and a variety of others. There are very few seats inside and no food options—but if you're just after the jazz, the drinks, and meeting people from all over the world, this is the place.
2. The Three Muses
This Frenchmen Street venue is one of my favorite clubs to start the night. It's a small, relaxed place but offers a menu serving items like Banh Mi, fries, and Korean Fried Chicken sandwiches. They have a fully stocked bar with cocktails and as well as drinks. They often have live bands playing Friday to Monday nights.
From 5 pm-7.45 pm, the music tends to be piano soloists, and then from 8 pm-11 pm, you can expect to see jazz bands. The Three Muses is also great for introducing children to jazz music.
3. Fritzel's Jazz Bar
Fritzel's has been a fixture on New Orleans' Bourbon Street since 1969. While I'm not a fan of the gaudiness and the bucks and hen nights that the street attracts, Fritzel's is a must-visit institution.
They have live music playing 365 days a year from 12.30 pm onwards. Make some time to see Richard “Piano” Scott, who plays during the first time slot — you won't believe someone can move their fingers that fast and still produce fantastic music.
4. Preservation Hall
This venue was established in 1961 and focuses on local musicians. You'll often find queues lining up outside to get in to see bands that perform 360 days of the year. These are ticketed performances, and no kitchen or bar is on site. Only bottled water is allowed inside.
Over the years, Preservation Hall has witnessed legendary jazz names such as George Lewis, Sweet Emma Barrett, and The Humphrey Brothers. They also have their house band, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. All up, there are over 50 local master musicians in their collective. If you're a jazz fan and only have one night in the city, this is where you want to go.
5. Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro
This jazz club is located on Frenchman Street, just a stone's throw away from the bustling French Quarter. Snug Harbor has provided live jazz and a regional menu for over 30 years. There are three rooms within a beautifully restored 1800s storefront: a cozy dining area, a well-stocked bar, and an inviting music room.
Snug Harbor offers nightly live music performances—primarily featuring the vibrant world of New Orleans' modern jazz—seven nights a week. This place has a more formal vibe than the intimacy of a place like the Three Muses (mentioned above). You can't eat in the music room—so this is a ‘enjoy your dinner and then go in to watch the show' type of venue.
6. The Palm Court Jazz Cafe
This place has a refreshing atmosphere that reminds me of a 1920s garden party vibe. With its white walls covered in jazz paraphernalia and its exposed brick stage, the round tables with linen tablecloths, it offers something different on Decatur Street in the French Quarter. With most jazz clubs concentrated together, this gem was a great find.
They have live traditional jazz five nights a week. You'll also find them open in the daytime during JazzFest, which happens in April/May. Palm Court's dinner menu is a fine dining experience with items such as Crawfish Nantua flamed in Brandy Cream Sauce and Creole Beef Indienne.
7. Club Bamboula's
This venue has been named after a drum and a dance called ‘Bamboulas.' If you ever hear it, I dare you not to want to dance. Club Bamboula's is a large Frenchmen Street venue devoted to all jazz genres, including Cajun Zydeco.
If you're in a partying mood, this is the place to go. They also offer Casual Caribbean-Creole fare and often have ‘lagniappe' — free food samples such as red beans and rice. There's no cover charge for the band.
8. Blue Nile
The Blue Nile is a Frenchmen Street jazz venue where you'll find some of the most recognizable names in the genre. One of New Orleans' favorites, Kermit Ruffins, will often play here. This is also where Trombone Shorty got his start. Some events are ticketed.
This is primarily a standing-room-only sort of place where you'll find the majority of patrons on the dance floor. There's no food, just a well-stocked bar and a delicious cocktail menu.
9. Maison Bourbon
“Dedicated to the Preservation of Jazz” is written on their signage, and that's precisely what they do. Maison Bourbon is devoted to sophisticated, traditional live jazz. It is located on Bourbon Street and combines beamed ceilings, exposed brick walls, and an elegant gleaming bar. It stands out as one of the genuine jazz establishments along Bourbon Street, offering top-tier musical performances.
The band's renditions of traditional jazz flow almost continuously within the club, with minimal interruptions. Admission is free, with a simple requirement of one drink per set. Despite its location along the bustling street, the atmosphere inside remains surprisingly serene, and ample seating is available, creating the perfect setting for unwinding to the sounds of authentic jazz. Additionally, Maison Bourbon strives to provide accessibility, making it a suitable choice for wheelchair users seeking an authentic jazz experience.
10. Jazz Playhouse
The Royal Sonesta New Orleans houses The Jazz Playhouse, a renowned jazz club in the heart of New Orleans. With its dark walls and comfortable furnishings, this classy venue offers exceptional jazz performances, cocktails, and appetizers. Admission is on a first-come, first-served basis, with a one-drink minimum per set.
The club provides a comfortable setting, reasonable prices, and even complimentary water refills. It's an ideal spot to enjoy jazz in the French Quarter without a cover charge. In addition to the energetic music, you'll sometimes find other entertainment here, including burlesque shows.