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This Is the Coolest Bar in the World

In a city full of pleasures, this backyard wine party still ranks #1.

On a quiet street corner at the edge of the Bywater District in New Orleans, Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits provides the perfect recipe for nightlife nirvana. Live, local jazz under outdoor twinkling lights, picnic tables strewn with bottles of choice wine, cheese, and tapas set the scene for groups of celebrating locals, enamored tourists, and romantic third dates. While Bacchanal no longer flies under-the-radar—topping the list of James Beard nominees for best wine programs in the country two years in a row, and even subject to copycat concepts in other cities (we see you, Miami)—it brings something special to New Orleans and to nightlife in general. Its essence is hard to capture so perfectly anywhere else.

As it transforms from a local secret to a more popular and accommodating venue, it is perhaps Bacchanal’s organic, humble roots that make it so special. Once upon a time, Bacchanal was just a little wine shop with a yard: its first jazz performed by interested locals, its first food served by chefs who had lost their own kitchens in Hurricane Katrina. Today, Bacchanal has its own chef, multiple daily music performances, and an upstairs full bar, but the original magic still remains.

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Little Wine Shop at the Edge of the World

Walk through the doors of Bacchanal and you’ll find yourself in a charming but crowded wine shop, an appropriate first stop in your Bacchanalian exploits. You’ll need to pick out a bottle of wine before any further exploring.

 Bacchanal Wine/Facebook; Bacchanal Wines

The shop of Old World wines and small vineyard picks is arranged by region, but don’t hesitate to ask Bacchanal wine experts for help in choosing a vintage (or two or three) for the night. All bottles are also available for carry-out (prices fall somewhere between a regular restaurant and a liquor store), and you’ll find more unique vineyards and rarer blends than you could get at most corner stores in the city. Don’t forget to grab some glasses from the rack on your way out, and a make-your-own ice bucket for chilled wines (DIY is the theme at Bacchanal).

If you’re lucky, you’ll hit Bacchanal for one of its two weekly (free) wine tastings, Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, where lucky guests sample new wines and interesting grapes from the purveyors and producers Bacchanal supports.

Garden of Tasty Delights

The second thing to choose in the Bacchanal wine shop is a cheese pairing, your first course in a long night of snacking and imbibing. Purchase a wedge of cheese (or multiple) from the small cooler in the shop. It might not look like much wrapped and priced in the cooler, but the cheese will come out to you on a tray complete with baguette slices, toasted nuts, and other pleasing accouterments.

More snacking arrives in the courtyard, where food served from a little window is tapas-style and can be ordered at leisure. The menu rotates, but you can always expect Mediterranean-inspired dishes featuring fresh seafood, bright, citrusy salads, shareable spreads like olives, potatoes, and dips, and braised meats with greens and chorizo. Yum.

Jazz and Wine: a Perfect Pair

Local, young, and new acts grace the stage at Bacchanal every day and night, bringing mostly jazz—the kind of music enjoyable while sipping wine and hanging out with loved ones (no all-out rock shows here). There’s music seven days a week, so no need to worry about arriving on a non-music night. Worry instead about getting a good table by the band. There’s a noon and a 7 pm set most days, with an extra set around 4 or 5 pm on weekends, and during busy seasons like Jazz Fest.

 Bacchanal Wines 

Tangiers combo, Hector Gallardo’s Cuban Jazz Band, and The Willie Green Project graced recent lineups, and a music calendar, with bios on current and past talented crooners, jazz ensembles, and string bands is always up on the Bacchanal website. Bring cash to tip the band between sets.

Further Libations

The newest addition to Bacchanal in recent years is an upstairs seating area, with a full bar that serves beer and specialty cocktails, great for switching it up and for accommodating non-wine drinkers (no judgment). The craft cocktails are as good as at any specialty cocktail bar, with small-batch spirits, citrus, bitters, and playful digestifs and aperitifs filling the chalkboard menu.

The upstairs area, with smaller tables and wide windows usually opened out into the courtyard, makes an excellent place to hang out (and still hear the music) during bad weather, or on crowded nights where you just need a little more space and quiet.

How to Do It Right

The trickiest part of Bacchanal can be the crowds. The beginning of the week is much quieter, and arriving early is a good rule of thumb. The easiest way to guarantee a good table at Bacchanal is to arrive sometime in the afternoon, and let the rosè-tinted early evening fade into a Cabernet-colored night. Or something like that.

The easiest way to guarantee a good table at Bacchanal is to arrive sometime in the afternoon, and let the rosè-tinted early evening fade into a Cabernet-colored night.

Tables are first come, first serve, though it’s acceptable to have a friend scout out seats while you purchase wine. There’s nothing wrong with loitering in the courtyard while you wait for a table, either, (drinking wine while standing is feasible; eating a cheese plate is a little trickier), and there’s a standing area with high tables for this purpose.

Another confusing aspect for Bacchanal newbies is what to get, where. Remember: wine and cheese from the front shop, food from the window in the courtyard, and beer and booze from upstairs. All things can be enjoyed wherever you land (be sure to display your number) and service (bussing your table, getting glasses and silverware) is DIY. Tip the kitchen and staff anyway—they work hard to make this place happen.

So arrive early, set up your table for success, and stay late. A few additional rules: no one under 21, no dogs except service pets. Oh, and don’t ask to host your wedding at Bacchanal, as a certain Fodor’s editor once did (the answer was a resounding no). Bacchanal never closes for private parties: it’s always open to the public, and always a great time.

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