The Bywater

New Orleans, Louisiana

Following the bend of the Mississippi away from Bourbon Street is advisable thanks to a string of lowkey, neighborhood dives.
Beck Tavern - Columbus Dive Bar - Interior
Bourbon Street is the tourist magnet, but the Bywater might be the dive bar magnet equivalent in New Orleans, a neighborhood just around the (Mississippi’s) bend from the more well worn parts of the city. On the doorstep of the Lower 9th Ward, the Bywater can at times feel like a land forgotten, a gateway to neighborhoods no tourist will likely ever see. And that kind of “in between” space makes for a prefect breeding ground for local, authentic, neighborhood dive bars

True to that lofty setup, the Bywater houses arguably the best dive bar in the city in Vaughn’s Lounge (Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge may just edge it out). And if the faded paint on Vaughn’s isn’t enough to sell the area, maybe the abandoned naval complex adjacent to Bar Redux can do a better job. The spots recommended here are in fact so tightly bound together that the term Barmuda Triangle has been thrown around to describe the area.

And it cannot be stressed enough that no time allotment should be placed on a trip to the Bywater. The local food joints and neighborhood bars are best experienced with no time table, no plan. Wandering from one to the other is the beauty of the Bywater, home to New Orleans’ best dive bar drinking.

The Stops

1. Vaughan's Lounge

4229 Dauphine St, New Orleans, LA 70117
Google Map
(504) 947-5562

With all due respect to the stiff competition in the area, Vaughan’s Lounge is the dive bar king of the Bywater. Family owned with a heritage that includes businesses gone by (check the faded sign on the exterior wall), Vaughan’s is an institution. One look at the front porch alone provides all necessarily credibility, but the original fixtures and lovingly-worn features inside complete one of the country’s best dive bar experiences.

2. Bar Redux

801 Poland Ave, New Orleans, LA 70117
Google Map
(504) 592-7083

The Bywater already feels like the edge of the known New Orleans universe and Bar Redux takes it even further, a multi-colored outpost in the shadow of an abandoned naval building. The cinder block building itself is small, but the outdoor space extends the atmosphere, a vast collection of reclaimed artwork bordering a small outdoor stage.

3. BJ's Lounge

4301 Burgundy St, New Orleans, LA 70117
Google Map
(504) 945-9256

For a collection of neighborhood dive bars as strong as those found in the Bywater, BJ’s Lounge may be the most connected to the area, countless photographs of regulars papering the walls inside. Old school jukebox, pool table and a see-it-to-believe-it piece of wall art complete the dive bar vibe for the white and green extension of the residences that surround the bar.

4. J&J's Sports Lounge

800 France St, New Orleans, LA 70117
Google Map
(504) 942-8877
Web Site Link

It’s hard to go wrong with a dive bar that features a Blatz-branded sign above the front door and a “PABST” marquee in the window. Slightly less divey than some of its close neighbors, J&J’s Sports Lounge offers yet another Bywater-style neighborhood vibe, albeit with a slightly cleaned up interior in contrast to the beautifully faded exterior.

5. The Joint

701 Mazant St, New Orleans, LA 70117
Google Map
(504) 949-3232
Web Site Link

After four of the city’s best dive bars in succession, a little barbecue probably wouldn’t hurt, The Joint offering some of the city’s best right as almost an eye of the storm to the circling dive bars that surround the location. All manner of smoked meats are offered in concert with a strong collection of beer and cocktail options. This reviewer can’t recommend the ribs strongly enough.

6. Parleaux Beer Lab

634 Lesseps St, New Orleans, LA 70117
Google Map
(504) 702-8433
Web Site Link

It’s quite possible that good beer doesn’t exclusively require faded paint and a corrugated metal roof, earning Parleaux Beer Lab a spot on the list. The brewery certainly dresses up the Bywater vibe but the area’s authenticity can be felt here as well. True to the brewery’s name, the game here is small batches, rotated frequently, making for unique offerings each visit.

7. Elizabeth's

601 Gallier St, New Orleans, LA 70117
Google Map
(504) 944-9272
Web Site Link

Because Elizabeth’s is a brunch spot, its place in your Bywater itinerary will depend on how early you’re willing to start your day drinking. And if a brunch place feels out of place on a dive bar itinerary, the mural-covered exterior of Elizabeth’s should put that emotion to rest, a selection of southern favorites available inside. Just look for the sign marked with the fitting slogan “Real Food Done Real Good.”

8. Markey's Bar

640 Louisa St, New Orleans, LA 70117
Google Map
(504) 943-0785
Web Site Link

Some kind of establishment dispensing alcohol has existed on this site since the 1920s, first a brewery, then a bar that has been part of the Markey family ever since. The amenities have evolved over the years, additional taps, TVs and the like, but the core here, as throughout the Bywater, is the authenticity of the space so tightly coupled with its longevity.

9. Rosalita's Backyard Tacos

3304 St Claude Ave, New Orleans, LA 70117
Google Map
(504) 354-2468
Web Site Link

Sometimes marketing isn’t difficult. Rosalita’s is a neighborhood spot serving tacos out of, you guessed it, a backyard. The unassuming front door looks a little polished, but those fears evaporate after seeing the outdoor space with its painted wooden fencing and beautifully haphazard seating options.

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