New Orleans works her wily exotic charms most effectively after dark, when the jazz singers and cocktail slingers ply their magic. It is impossible to imagine this city without a soundtrack of jazz, brass bands, R&B, hip hop, Cajun, and zydeco. After all, this is the town that sends you to your grave with music and then dances back from the cemetery. It’s the city that lets the good times roll, and lets you take them to go (you can stroll the streets with a drink in hand, as long as it’s in a plastic “go cup”—or “geaux” to use the faux-French). Here, some of the world’s greatest musicians (no exaggeration) can be seen and heard with relative ease in remarkably intimate surroundings. And when the clubs get too full, no matter: The crowd spills into the street, where the talking, drinking, and dancing continue.
We’ll help you wend your way through all the awesomeness, but don’t forget that tomorrow beckons, with more of the city’s enchantments to explore. First, a few things to know:
* Club hopping is easy. The city is relatively compact, so most clubs are within easy walking or taxi distance from your hotel or dinner locale. Many are closely clustered so you can hop from one to another. Club clusters can be found on Bourbon Street in the Quarter; Frenchmen Street in the Marigny; Tchoupitoulas Street in the Warehouse District; and around Willow Street in the Riverbend.
* Showtimes vary. Posted start and end times range from strict to strictly a suggestion (and sometimes indicate door times, not show times). Call if your schedule depends on it.
* Yes, they card. Some clubs allow 18-year-olds, and a few allow kids to early shows when accompanied by a parent (Three Muses, Maison, Rock ‘n’ Bowl). Mostly, though, it’s 21+ and expect to be carded. Even you, grandpa. It's da law.
* No cover doesn’t mean free. It means buy drinks (bottled water counts) and tip the band (and/or buy their CDs, merch, whatever).
* Early shows rock. Shows starting anywhere from 4 to 7pm are often no or low cover, mellower music, and a great way to avoid the crowds and the crazy.
* Cover charges vary widely. During big events and for big acts, they can be much higher than cited here. Crowd sizes also vary accordingly.
* Music is everywhere. A blurry line separates “clubs” from bars, restaurants, hotel lounges, streets, parks, and front stoops. All can showcase music, so don’t overlook them.
* What’s going on: Check Offbeat.com and sign up for “Weekly Beats” e-mails or go to WWOZ.org/livewire (you can also tune in to 90.7; club lineups are announced at the top of every odd hour). Both have good apps, worthy of downloading for the duration of your visit (and after).