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Little about New Orleans can actually be described as practical, but here are some general guidelines to help you navigate the scene.
Bars tend to open in the early afternoon and stay open well into the morning hours. Live music usually begins around 6 in a handful of clubs that host early sets, but things really get going between 9 and 11 pm. Bear in mind that many venues operate on "New Orleans time," meaning that if a show is advertised for 10 pm then it might kick off closer to 11.
If you're a night owl, plenty of clubs have late-night sets, some not starting until 1 am.
Dress codes are as rare as snow in this city. On any given night in the French Quarter, and especially during the Carnival season, you'll see everything from tuxedoes to tutus, T-shirts to fairy wings, and everything in between. Wear whatever is easiest to dance in.
Many bars on Bourbon Street entice visitors by presenting bands with no cover charge. They make their money by imposing a one- or two-drink minimum, with draft beer or soft drinks costing $5 to $8 apiece. In general, prices for beer, wine, and cocktails range from $4 to $9, unless you land in a good neighborhood dive bar, and then the prices can drop by as much as half. Music clubs generally charge a flat cover between $5 and $20, with the high-end prices usually reserved for national touring artists, holidays, and special occasions.
Bring cash to live-music clubs; many bands play for tips alone. Expect the hat (or the bucket, or the old coffee can, or the empty goldfish bowl) to be passed around once per set.
Although much of New Orleans is safe, especially in the French Quarter, it's always a good idea to keep an eye out and be aware of your surroundings, especially late at night, or if it's readily apparent that you've been hitting the Hurricanes a little too hard. Pickpockets and muggers do exist, but an ounce of prevention in the form of awareness goes a long way toward avoiding any kind of incident. In the French Quarter and downtown, it's usually fine to walk from place to place, but if you're traveling through outlying neighborhoods late at night it's best to take a car or taxi.
A great source for concert, event, and local information is WWOZ, the jazz and heritage community radio station, which broadcasts worldwide over the Internet at www.wwoz.org. Local musicians, music historians, and personalities make up the all-volunteer corps of DJs, and they broadcast live 24/7 out of the French Quarter.
For more detailed event listings, check out Gambit Weekly (www.bestofneworleans.com), the alternative weekly available free in many bars, cafés, and stores. The monthly OffBeat (www.offbeat.com) magazine has in-depth coverage of local music and venues and is available at many hotels, stores, and restaurants as well.
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