With a legendary jazz scene, a thriving theatre district and bars with centuries’ worth of acclaim, the largest city in Louisiana does not rest for much.

The largest city in Louisiana does not rest for much. A night out could involve a poetry slam, appreciating a bartender’s skills and jukebox’s eclectic mix in a neighbourhood bar then finishing up in a jazz joint where locals jam until dawn.

Twelve Mile Limit is simply a great bar. It’s a neighbourhood joint in Mid-City so you’ll need to make a special trip there, but the mixed drinks are excellent (strong), the cocktails creative and the vibe is accepting. The barbecue is spot on – try the pulled pork – plus they host free buffet dinners on Monday nights (00 1 504 488 8114; 500 S Telemachus St; draught beers £1.90).

The mojitos at St. Joe’s Bar could well be the best in town, and the jukebox is well stocked with jazz, rock and blues. Patrons are in their 20s and 30s, friendly and chatty, as are the staff. Although narrow in front, the bar extends past a series of faux-Catholic shrines into a wide backyard with a Southeast Asian feel. Perfect for one of those mojitos or a beer – Nola and Abita are the popular local breweries (5535 Magazine St; Abita beers from £1.90).

Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, located in a gutted brick cottage, is thought to be the oldest working bar in the country and one of the most atmospheric in the French Quarter. The house dates back to the 18th century and rumours suggest it was once the workshop of pirates Jean Lafitte and his brother Pierre. Gather round the back-room piano to sing along to Fats Domino and Otis Redding (941 Bourbon St; beers from £3).

Live music
There might be bigger venues but overall Snug Harbor is the best jazz club in the city. That’s partly because it usually hosts doubleheaders, giving you a good dose of variety, and partly because the talent is kept to an admirable mix of reliable legends and hot up-and-comers. It’s a swish, martini sort of place so get dressed up (626 Frenchmen St; tickets from £10).

Tipi Tina’s, or ‘Tip’s’, is one of the musical greats of New Orleans. The legendary nightclub is the site of some of the city’s most memorable shows, particularly when big names such as Dr John come home to roost. Outstanding jazz, blues, soul and funk from the local talent pool still draw a lively crowd year-round, and the joint really jumps in the weeks prior to Mardi Gras and during Jazz fest (501 Napoleon Ave; tickets from £10).

A night at the Rock ‘n’ Bowl is a New Orleans must – a strange and wonderful combination of bowling alley, deli and huge live-music and dance venue, where you can get down to New Orleans roots music. The best time and place in the city to experience zydeco – a type of Cajun dance music – is the weekly Thursday night dance party held here (3000 S Carrollton Ave; Thursday night tickets £7.50, bowling £15 per hour, shoe rental 65p).

Housed in the old Marquer Drugstore, the Shadowbox Theatre regularly features plays written and performed by locals, as well as established shows from outside the city. There’s an indie flavour to what’s on offer, and the theatre also hosts poetry slams and the New Orleans Fringe (2400 St Claude Ave; tickets from £3).

Improv theatre, by its nature, can be hit or miss, but The New Movement is a high hitter. The company has a cast of regular players from the area and a stable schedule of classes that train new talent in the art of off-the-cuff new comedy. The theatre hosts regular shows, usually around 9pm or later (1919 Burgundy St; tickets from £3).

In Depression-era slang, ‘mudlarks’ were orphans, which sets an appropriate tone for this cast of punky bohemians and their theatre of fantasy. Surreal giant puppets adorn the walls of the Mudlark Theatre and even take to the stage. The theatre also hosts performance art and fringe shows (see Facebook for schedule; 1200 Port St; suggested cover £6).

There are no direct flights to New Orleans from the UK. Airlines including American Airlines (with a BA codeshare), Air Canada, Delta, United and US Airways fly to New Orleans from UK airports with a change in US or Canadian cities (from £620). Jefferson Transit’s E2 airport bus will take you downtown (£1.20). The Regional Transit Authority runs the local bus service and streetcars – single fares are 80p plus 15p for transfers. A one-day Jazzy pass is available for £1.90. You can also hire a bike (half day £15).

Where to stay
The Auld Sweet Olive Bed & Breakfast feels right out of Mardi Gras – the large parlour resembles a banana-tree jungle and the soaking-tub room is painted to look like a night sky (2460 N Rampart St; from £65).

The Columns Hotel is an 1883 white-porched mansion with 19 rooms beyond a magnificent mahogany staircase. To soak up late-night revelry from the front porch ask for a second floor front room (3811 St Charles Ave; suite from £100).

At Audubon Cottages you can sleep in immaculately restored French Quarter buildings. You’ll have your own saltwater pool, attentive staff and a peaceful retreat close to all the action (509 Dauphine St; from £180).

The article 'Mini guide to New Orleans nightlife' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Traveller.