Although New York may be the city that never sleeps, New Orleans is not far behind. This city of cocktails and cuisine gets partying as soon as the work day ends and well before dinner commences.
Happy hour is the perfect way to try the best of what New Orleans has to offer in libations and nibbles and have money left over in your po’boy and beignet budget. New Orleans is a city that does hospitality well and that is extended with aplomb to those hours that could be discarded as a way to keep servers and bartenders occupied but, in the Big Easy, those chasing the deals at happy hour are treated with the same honor and respect as the high rollers coming in for dinner an hour or so later.
Play the game right and you may be able to get a few happy hour experiences in one day and never have to buy a proper dinner.
Start with the Arts District
Start your happy hour experience with the deal that keeps on giving at one of two locations of Domenica, a casual Italian restaurant known for house-made charcuterie and wood-fired pizzas from local star chef John Besh. At either the Arts District location in the famed Roosevelt Hotel or on Magazine Street (Pizza Domenica) in the Garden District, enjoy half off pizzas (and these are pretty big ones with many unique toppings) and half off beers and wine by the glass…all Italian, of course. Hours vary between locations and by season but usually 2-5 PM or 2-6 PM is the sweet spot. You won’t need dinner and may even have leftovers for lunch the next day. Your total tab will be about $14.
If you are at the Roosevelt Hotel location, walk to another couple of excellent happy hours, starting with the quietly hip lounge at the Q & C (Queen and Crescent) Hotel. This is the first hotel I stayed in during the first of many visit to New Orleans and I always go back for the happy hour classic of a New Orleans-born French 75 and french fries. This pairing of the Champagne and Cognac of the cocktail with the fattiness of the fries (with two sauces) is a perfect balance and a bargain at $7 during happy hour when other drinks and nibbles are also on special.
From the Q and C, the Compere Lapin is not far away in the Arts District. This restaurant from James Beard Award-winning chef Nina Compton features star bartender Abigail Gullo, who makes it even more interesting with classic cocktails and wines by the glass for $6 Monday-Friday from 3-6 PM. A cocktail class from a guest bartender on Mondays with $5 Caribbean-inspired snacks like conch croquettes and spiced pig ears allow you to try cuisine from one of New Orleans’ top restaurants for a song.
Imbibing in the French Quarter
Happy Hours in the French Quarter mean keeping it all in the historic heart of New Orleans while not breaking the bank. Kingfish on Chartres Street has a huge extended hours happy hour (2-7 PM) and you’ll find all beers and wine by the glass half off and cocktails like a Daiquiri (classic NoLa-style) or a Prohibition Punch at $5. Classic bites like boudin balls, chicken and sausage gumbo or pork cracklins are only $5.
The Brennan Family and their restaurants are well known for the history of Commanders Palace, Brennan’s and The Palace Café…and they all have happy hours. In the Quarter, Brennan’s is known for their Champagne Happy Hour with deals on bottle prices and Champagne cocktails with a Champagne sabering show every Friday at 5 PM. Bubbles at Brennan’s is Monday-Thursday at 7 PM and Friday beginning at 9 AM. Dickie Brennan’s Tableau has a balcony overlooking the action at Jackson Square and happy hour is every day from 2-5 PM with $5 menu items like steamed mussels and sweet potato and bacalao brandade fritters….even the twisted Tabasco caramel corn. $5 drinks like Aperol Spritz and Dark and Stormys make for a creative couple of hours.
The Bombay Club flies under the radar in the French Quarter yet offers a bargain of a happy hour every day of the week. $4 buys boudin rangoons, black-eyed pea hummus or Cajun poutine and $6 is good for cocktails including a classic rum and lime juice daiquiri (famous in New Orleans) called “The Midtown” or “The Churchill” Martini. Abita or Dixie beer is $4, too. 4-7 PM weekdays and 3-7 PM weekends.
If you visit New Orleans, a visit to Antoine’s in the French Quarter is a must for the collections of Mardi Gras memorabilia that decorates the walls of the oldest restaurant in New Orleans. Although it may be pricey for a meal, dropping by the Hermes bar on Monday through Friday from 4-7 PM means you can experience the same nostalgic immersion into Mardi Gras but at $4 for a house brand glass of wine or cocktail or a $2 domestic or $3 domestic beer. Like cocktails and a show!
The Garden District
Head uptown to the Garden District and indulge in one of the most unique cocktail specials in the city knownfor cocktail specials. The legendary Commander’s Palace continues the tradition of the multiple martini lunch with a selection of four martinis available with the order of an entrée for only 25 cents. That is not a typo. A half a dollar gets you two drinks…and cut off. The food is fabulous, the setting splendid and the cocktails are crazy at this price!
Freret Street, bordering the historic and acclaimed Tulane University, has come into its own as a food and cocktail mecca recently which means happy hours have popped up, too. Cure is a popular craft cocktail bar that features a long list of classic cocktails for only $6 during the hours of 5-7 PM Monday-Thursday and 3-7 PM Friday-Sunday. Sazeracs, Moscow Mules, classic Daiquiris, Champagne cocktails, Negronis, Manhattans and more all made by some of the best mixologists in the city.
More into beer? Try the Freret Beer Room for $2 local draft beers and $5 house wines and interesting food including a $6 wedge salad and $1.50 deviled eggs. Happy hour is every day from 3-6 PM.
My favorite discovery on Freret Street is Wayfare for a happy hour of both killer cocktails and sumptuous food at bargain prices. Daily from 3-6 PM try a Pork Belly Old Fashioned or a Pear 75 for $5 paired with duck fat pommes fries or beet fries for $4. A huge meat and cheese platter is $14. Wines by the glass are also $5. Two can eat and drink for about $30 and have food to take home.
Last but not least are the famed oyster happy hours of New Orleans. There are many but I have whittled it down to my favorite three, each a bit different and each a must try when in the Big Easy. Gulf oysters are plentiful here and they make up the menus of seafood joints around town and there are lines down the street outside of popular name like Acme in the Quarter
Instead of lining up there, put your name in at Superior Seafood uptown on St. Charles Street at Napoleon and wait for a deal so good everyone in town shows up at one time or another. This is a bustling fun bistro with a live piano player and 50 cent raw oysters from 4-6:30 weekdays with 2 for 1 frozen drinks like a French 75 or daiquiri, half-price bottles of wine and $3 beers. While waiting, enjoy the low key happy hour next door at Fat Harry’s Bar.
The happy hour at another of John Besh’s restaurants, Luke, is a white table cloth, uniformed-waiter affair and actually takes reservations. With a beautiful seafood bar, freshness is obvious here and the raw oysters are served elegantly at only 75 cents each with fried oysters at $1.25. Cocktails are beautifully made and half off as is beer and wines by the glass during the daily happy hour from 3-6 PM. If you fail to make a reservation, get there early.
Samuel’s Blind Pelican is practically a stop on the famed street car line on St. Charles Street. Happy hour is every day of the year…yes, every day, including Christmas and the Super Bowl! From 4-8 PM, buy one alcoholic drink and get a dozen raw oysters for $3…that’s 25 cents each. And chargrilled oysters are 75 cents each with the same drink-per-dozen caveat. Chargrilled oysters are another world altogether, smothered with butter, breadcrumbs and cheese and grilled under a broiler…eat the oysters and mop up the sauce…wash it down with that alcoholic drink you bought. I suggest a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, slightly oaked Chardonnay or a local beer. In New Orleans, there is a reason the hours between work and dinner are happy.
Barbara Barrielle is a long-time publicist, writer, actress and producer. She writes about travel, wine, food and entertainment. She is published regularly in major newspapers, magazines and online travel sites. As a producer, Barbara has a feature film, BREAK NIGHT, in distribution and three more going into production. She is also completing a documentary on the wine country fires of 2017 and their effect on the wine industry and the people who work in it.