French Quarter Addendum
While I semi-ranted on the need to get out of the french quarter below, I want to add, that for nightlife/drinking, you can get pretty much all you need within the quarter.
From daqueri's "to-go" to rooftop drinks, you cannot go wrong at night in the quarter. I am one of those that still loves Pat O'Briens, and can sit for hours, trashed, singing along to the dueling piano's, especially when someone comes out to play the plates. Napolean House is another classic that is really is classic. The scene in JFK where they sit in Napoleon House in the rain and watch TV, IS Napoleon House. You will get all the music you need in tourist stretch along Decatur and all the drinks you need at the various other bars. A couple more great choices include the old schoold saloon attached to Tujagues and the crumbling Lafite's way past where bourbon street is bourbon street.
Like the food, the bars outside of the quarter are a bit more New Orleans than the bars inside, but I do not know if the New Orleans bar, to the general tourist, has much to offer. The primary experience of a New Orleans bar does not truly come out until well past midnight. If for instance, you found yourself in F&M at 9 pm, you would really puzzle at all the fuss.
Then, again, nothing can beat late afternoon drinks at the Columns...
I think the quarter bar/drinking scene gets real old, real quick (woo-hoo another Hurricane! oh, look at that guy puking his brains out on my shoes...). New Orleans has such great bars. Once you get sick of B-street - venture outside - see the world (although I do enjoy the Absinthe House and for something truly strange check out the Dungeon)
Note: once you leave the quarter immediately take off any Mardi-Gras beads that might have accidentally fallen around your neck (unless it's Mardi-Gras, of course)
A few faves:
Near the quarter: Cafe Brazil - love hanging on the street, checking out the scene
Start mellow at the Columns (as mentioned)- get a table outside and enjoy a cocktail
Then go to Magazine and progress:
Ms. Mae's/the Club - ultimate dive.
Le Bon Ton - pool table, good music, etc.
F&M (a late night must! - I've been there at 9 too - oh wait that was 9AM...)
Other good uptown places include: the Bulldog (awesome beer selection), Fat Harry's, Maple Leaf (music), Tip's (music again), Whiskey Blue (to feel like you are in NYC)
re: Brad K.
I'll second the suggestions for Cafe Brazil, F&M's, and the Bulldog. Okay, maybe every New Orleans local has ended up at F&M's at 9am. :) The best cheese fries in the city, to boot. Aaah, the Maple Leaf -- the first bar I was ever thrown out of.
Don't forget about Cooter Brown's, Vaughn's, the Saturn Bar, the Mermaid Lounge, Rock'n'Bowl, and the Half Moon. I took some California friends to Vaughn's 2-3 years ago to see Kermit Ruffins play -- they had never seen anything like it, and probably never will again.