The Bourbon Street Survival Guide

By: Valeria Ramos

Bourbon Street is the only place in the world where you can dance your way down 13 urine-scented city blocks with the biggest smile on your face, watch as men and women flash their bodies for beads without blinking an eye, and party like it’s Mardi even when it’s not.

Before my first trip to New Orleans, I read up on a couple of travel guides, many of which suggested one day on Bourbon St. would be more than enough thrill for a week-long vacation. Others defined this popular tourist attraction as tacky and grimy. However, I must disclaim that as a 21-year-old, I ate (or more literally drank) Bourbon Street right up.

For four nights in a row, my friends and I soaked up all the neon bars, clubs, drinks, and street food this place had to offer and did it (for the most part) without finding ourselves in any trouble. Whether you’re a college student or not, if you’re headed to Bourbon Street for a good time, here are a few things you should know about partying in the Big Easy’s most visited street.

  1. Travel in a Pack

    Staying in a group from bar to bar is the best way to avoid losing a member of your drinking crew and avoid coming into contact with any seedy people. More importantly, however, was the fact that everyone in our group had only one goal in mind and that was to have fun. I suggest going to Bourbon with friends who like to party, will sit on the curb of a street and eat greasy food with you, and can rally.

2. The Drinking Rules

There are none. New Orleans’ public drinking laws allow you to take your poison from any bar and walk right out with it, just as long as it’s in a plastic cup. I have to admit, leaving brunch with a mimosa to-go was a pretty satisfying feeling. This also results in the streets between bars themselves feeling like a party. When everyone is strolling through Bourbon with drinks in their hands, don’t be surprised if you get caught up in a dance party or jazz parade right there in the street.

3. Drink Water and Eat Food

This tip may sound like common sense, but there is something about being on Bourbon that makes that go right out the window. If you’re drinking from noon till the a.m., taking food/water breaks between barhopping will save you from morning regret. I can remember feeling sick after too many cocktails and downing a hand grenade a little too fast, but after drinking a water bottle and eating what I felt then was the most delicious hot dog of my life, I was good as new and ready to bounce to the next bar.

4. Best Bars and Drinks

Topical Isle: Home of Bourbon Street’s famous Hand Grenades. Don’t be fooled by the sweet taste and whimsy cups, these drinks pack a punch.

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop: This place takes its name from pirate Jean Lafitte who is said to still haunt his old stomping grounds. As the oldest building that has served as a bar in the country, this place and its piano bar should not be missed. If you’re feeling brave, order a Hurricane.

You’ll also want to check out Jean Lafitte’s Absinthe Old Absinthe House, where legend has it Lafitte and Andrew Jackson negotiated a treaty during the Battle of New Orleans in 1812. The Absinthe Frappe drink is said to have been a favorite of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain.

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, Photo:  Andriy Blokhin /Shutterstock

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, Photo: Andriy Blokhin/Shutterstock

Photo:  Cats Meow /Facebook

Photo: Cats Meow/Facebook

The World Famous Cat’s Meow: A trip to Bourbon St. isn’t complete until you’ve stopped at the Cat’s Meow for karaoke. This place is full of friendly drunks cheering each other on and their 3-for-1 happy hour from noon to 8:00 PM makes it the perfect place to get your party started!

Willie’s Chicken Shack: Yes, I’m aware NOLA is home to 5-star cuisine, but when you’re drunk and need something to help you rally until the hours of the morning, Willie’s chicken hits the spot.

Saints & Sinners: Channing Tatum’s Saints & Sinners is a restaurant by day, party house by night. Along with Razoo’s, this little house was our favorite place to dance on Bourbon.

Musical Legends Park: If you want to sit down and listen to some live jazz, this outdoor bar is the perfect spot. With statues of local musical legends around this park, you can’t miss it. Bring your to-go cup and some beignets for a good time.

Musical Legends Park Photo: Cheryl Gerber

Musical Legends Park Photo: Cheryl Gerber

Smile courtesy of Willie’s Chicken Shack daiquiris

Smile courtesy of Willie’s Chicken Shack daiquiris

5. Keep Your Things Close

Due to the fact that this rumbling city area is filled with drunk tourists, Bourbon St. can be home to pick-pocketers looking for easy targets. Keeping your wallet, phone, bag, etc. close to you is something you should be aware of at all times, especially if you plan on taking shots and dancing on stages.