Glued, or somehow otherwise affixed, to the ceiling above the whimsically curving bar at the Mayfair Lounge is a collection of eccentric knick-knacks ranging from Barbie dolls to Mardi Gras beads.
A great dive bar is something like a cult film: it is not created deliberately, but in time people find themselves drawn to its unique brand of campy charm. Though New Orleans has seen a post-Katrina boom of upscale, hipster-approved craft breweries and cocktail lounges, the city still offers many perfectly simple and debaucherous dive bars that have survived the test of time and cheap drink prices. The following five New Orleans staples provide an ideal mix of unpretentiously made, and priced, drinks with the type of dimly lit, seedy charm that allows you to forget your cares until last call—if there is one.
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17612 Oak Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70118
Hours: 7 pm–7 am
Nestled into a deceptively quiet residential neighborhood, Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge sets the precedent for beyond-casual appeal. Snake’s, as regulars refer to it, operates out of a narrow structure that more closely resembles a shed than a bar. Once you pass through the door that sits beneath the dilapidated Christmas wreath, you’ll enter a Schlitz-soaked world that seems to exist in a time and place entirely its own.
The interior of the bar is lit almost exclusively by red Christmas lights, which, in combination with the wood paneling and vaguely dated décor, give the bar a cozy, elusively retro feel. Snake and Jake’s regulars vary widely, ranging from uptown professionals to college students to service industry employees coming off of late shifts. This diverse group of locals supplies increasingly spirited conversations, fodder for a brand of people-watching that becomes more entertaining as the night wears on and the drinks add up. The Christmas Club Lounge is known for its permanent special of $2 Schlitz beer, but be wary of anyone who tells you that nudists drink free—that’s just dive-bar lore used to haze frat boys and gullible tourists.
21431 Royal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70116
Hours: 3 pm–3 am (6 am on weekends)
Just a short walk from the French Quarter and an even shorter walk from Frenchmen Street, The R Bar is the kind of place that seems as if it has already survived an apocalypse. It’s difficult to pinpoint why exactly—perhaps some combination of the shabby-hold-the-chic interior and the Mad Max extras … er, clientele.
Though the R Bar offers a relatively large assortment of craft beer and practically any liquor you could want heavily poured, the signature special that makes the bar unique is the $10 shot and haircut combo available on Monday nights. A vintage barber’s chair sits just inside the front door, and bartenders have mastered providing expert haircuts despite the relatively poor lighting and frequently tipsy customers. Whether you’re stopping in for a trim, a game of pool, or just to have a beer and observe the wide range of locals and tourists who stumble through, the R Bar never fails to provide a strange and memorable experience.
3718 North Rampart Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70116
Hours: All day and all night, baby
This twenty-four-hour dive is located on the very edge of the French Quarter and provides an after-work respite for restaurant employees, tour guides, drag queens, and others who work nightly to entertain millions of tourists and additional locals seeking entertainment and libations in the Quarter. It is often difficult to find a bar in this part of town that offers the proper combination of cheap drinks and rag-tag clientele to qualify as a dive, but the Voodoo Lounge meets and surpasses these expectations.
The lounge offers a wide range of craft brews for prices that put other bars in the area to shame as well as mixed drinks that meet the crucial dive-bar thrift-to-strength ratio. Another aspect of the Voodoo Lounge that makes it a step above the average dive is its wide assortment of scotches offered at reasonable prices. Of course, it’s still the French Quarter, so sugary (and strong) hurricanes are available as well.
44336 Magazine Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70115
Hours: All of them!
A centrally located, time-honored New Orleans dive staple, The Club Ms. Mae’s never closes, is cash only, and boasts some of the cheapest and most effective drinks in the city. Mae’s attracts every demographic at all hours of the day and night—another sign of an A+ dive.
Options for inebriated recreation vary widely at Mae’s as “The Club” not only offers the standard pool table but air hockey, foosball, and an assortment of both board and arcade games. If you and your friends want to turn Scrabble into a drinking game, Mae’s is the place to do it without fear of judgment. But that’s not to say judgment is never a concern at Mae’s—the bar has an entire “Wall of Shame” devoted to pictures of patrons who have passed into various unfortunate stages of intoxication. Heed this as a warning should you ever partake in Ms. Mae’s 24-Hour Challenge, which requires players to stay at the bar for a full twenty-four hours while consuming at least one alcoholic drink each hour. If you’re not feeling that competitive (or are holding out for a future in politics), just come in for a reasonable few on “Throwback Thursday,” when house drinks boast retro prices: only $1, and doubles are $2.
51505 Amelia Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70115
Hours: Noon–3 am (4 am weekends)
The Mayfair Lounge is located in an unassuming neighborhood just off of the St. Charles streetcar line; drinkers must buzz into the bar from the quiet street outside. Once inside, the senses are quickly overwhelmed with a combination of jukebox hits, bizarre décor, and congenial, tipsy revelry. Glued, or somehow otherwise affixed, to the ceiling above the whimsically curving bar is a collection of eccentric knick-knacks ranging from Barbie dolls to Mardi Gras beads, culminating in what looks like an art student’s surrealist sculpture.
The Saints calendar behind the bar and variety of Y’at accents make it apparent that the Mayfair is a favorite for all manner of easygoing locals out to relax after a long day at work. The bar has been owned for more than thirty years by local bon vivant Ms. Gertie, who now co-owns the bar with her grandson, and the duo undoubtedly add to Mayfair’s charm. Here you’ll find some of the nicest bartenders in the city with the strongest pours; every drink served is a double. There are also $4 pitchers of Budweiser (to share with friends or just for yourself), 50-cent games of pool, and free, friendly conversation.
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