New Orleans parties hard for Saints games, no matter if the team is playing a nooner or under the prime time spotlight. But there’s something special about a home game starting at 3:05 p.m., and this weekend we get to experience it when the Seattle Seahawks come to town.

The later afternoon kickoff is my favorite because it achieves the golden mean of extended time before the game to prepare and plenty of time after the game wraps around 7:30 p.m. to celebrate a victory (yes, I always err toward optimism when it comes to the Saints).

The proximity of the Superdome to the downtown action is one of its great endearing traits, and it gives fans a dizzying array of options for places to party within walking distance. There are a few approaches for narrowing the field and finding the right place to rev up before or relive the recent glory afterward. These days, you can simply head to Champions Square, the new festival grounds the Superdome management runs just outside the stadium. Bands perform, there are beer hawkers galore, and local restaurants serve exceptional festival food from vending tents. 

En route, however, you’ll pass plenty of other options to convene with Who Dat henchmen and hoist a glass together. For instance, Cajun Mike’s Pub ‘n’ Grub (116 Baronne St., 504/566-0055) and Chuck’s Sports Bar (510 Gravier St., 504/524-9485) have unapologetic backstreet ambiance on their side and bartenders who know how to serve thirsty patrons quickly. Tchoupitoulas Street neighbors Vic’s Kangaroo Café (636 Tchoupitoulas St., 504/524-4329) and Lucy’s Retired Surfer’s Bar (701 Tchoupitoulas St., 504/523-8995) shed their theme pretensions (Aussie and aloha, respectively) for game day and focus on fueling Saints excitement. Closer to the river, Ernst Café (600 S. Peters St., 504/525-8544) comes alive for Saints games as fans pack in beneath its soaring ceilings. A rookie in the mix this year is Extreme Sports Bar and Grille (535 Tchoupitoulas St., 504/599-2119), an aptly named place heavily tricked out in sports bar regalia. Big-screen TVs are everywhere, as are signed memorabilia from recent Saints and Hornets seasons and all manner of sports totems to set the scene.

Some fans may be after a bit more polish, however, perhaps a place where a respectable meal might be had before plunging into the Superdome’s cauldron of plastic beer bottles, processed cheese food and high-decibel cheering. Such circumstances call for the velvet hammer in the world of pre-Saints barroom preparations, the upscale establishments where the extra perks can add up, and certain hotel bars fit this role nicely.

You could pay a pre-game visit to Shula’s Steakhouse (614 Canal St., 504/586-7211) in the JW Marriot hotel in the hopes that some of the magic that brought namesake Don Shula a perfect season as coach of the Miami Dolphins in 1972 will somehow be transferred through you to the Saints. Other upscale options abound, including a perch at the Swizzle Stick Bar (300 Poydras St., 504/595-3305) at the Loews Hotel or the Polo Club Lounge (300 Gravier St., 504/523-6000) at the Windsor Court Hotel.

But sometimes the right call is a bar found apart from the full mayhem near the Dome but that may still offer surprising convenience to all the game day activity around it. One tip: Consider where those CBD streets near the Dome end up when they cross Canal Street. For instance, O’Keefe Street becomes University Place, which, in the French Quarter, becomes Burgundy Street, where Three Legged Dog (400 Burgundy St., 504/412-8335) is open all hours. Just around the corner, the Erin Rose (811 Conti St., 504/523-8619) or the Alibi (811 Iberville St., 504/522-9187) offer similar side street convenience and amenable early-bird hours.

Even locals who studiously avoid tourist-oriented bars in the French Quarter are known to carve out exceptions on Saints game day. The Old Absinthe House (240 Bourbon St., 504/523-3181), for instance, crams in a solid crowd of longtime Saints fans before and after home games. Heck, this weekend, you might even get the chance there to tell a visiting Seahawks fan where he “got” his shoes.