Needless to say, best depends on your personal preferences and personality. None of the freshman dorms are very new, but after that they are much newer, in general.
Monroe and Sharp are the two "typical" freshman dorms. Both hall bath style, and certainly considered the more active dorms for parties.
Butler is the Honors Program dorm, although non-HP students live there too. Also hall bath style. It is the quietest in general, but certainly not unsocial. Just not as wild usually as Monroe and Sharp.
JL is the all female dorm, the only one that is not co-ed. Also hall bath, but most of the rooms have their own sink, I think. I will quickly editorialize that while many incoming students recoil at the idea of being in a single sex dorm, almost all change their mind after living there. Many end up liking the fact that they have a "refuge" of sorts to go home to.
Wall is the Residential College dorm, meaning a professor and her/his family live there as well. It is suite style, so you are responsible for cleaning your own bathroom, but of course it is more accessible and shared by fewer people. Also it requires an application and acceptance by a Wall committee to live there. Each student is required to serve on at least one council that involves governance or some other facet of living in that dorm.
Finally there is Paterson, which is also called the wellness dorm. It is a mix of freshmen and upperclassmen, I think. It is a mix of suite style and communal bathrooms. It has a focus on programs and activities that involve promoting a healthy lifestyle.
I think I covered them all. The best way to ensure you get the one you want is to find a roommate and then make sure you both have the same #1 and #2 choices when you turn in your housing applications.
Hopefully current students can weigh in, but as far as I am concerned there is really no difference in overall "character". From a practical standpoint, Monroe is taller (12 floors if I remember correctly) and so if the elevators go down that is a pain if you live high up. On the other hand, if you live on the city side especially the view is nice. But as far as which students tend to choose those dorms, the room layouts, all that kind of thing they are pretty indistinguishable.
We saw Paterson on the tour and my son made it his first choice, based on what our tour guide said (he had lived in both Monroe and Paterson. He said "live in Paterson, have friends who live in Sharp or Monroe."). He didn't mention anything about the wellness aspect. Just that its social but not crazy.
You can also check out videos of each dorm on the Tulane website.
There's little difference between Monroe or Sharp.
Wall is definitely the nicest dorm freshman can live in. It's pretty new, nicest furniture, no communal bathrooms etc.
Butler isn't exactly that nice, but the people living there seem to form a nice community. I wouldn't suggest living there over Wall or Sharp/Monroe. Never any parties there tbh.
Paterson is sort of like Butler. It's not as crazy fun as Sharp/Monroe and not as nice as Wall, but there is definitely a community there.
For partying tho, Sharp/Monroe are the best. I'm partial to sharp but MO kids have fun too. It really won't make a difference either way. MO has singles tho, if you're interested in that. The rooms in either are pretty tiny, but you'll have the time of your life either way. I say Sharp.
Isn't still unusual for a freshman to get a single, like never? Or were you speaking about any time in the future? I actually had a single in Monroe my senior year. That was nice. My D was lucky enough to get a single in JL her 2nd year. She was in Butler freshman year, and she would agree that there are not the spontaneous parties that you get in Monroe/Sharp. But the rooms themselves are pretty much on par with Monroe and Sharp, which is to say traditional, older college dorm rooms. Nothing like the newer ones such as Wall. Eventually Tulane wants to have all the dorms be like Wall I think, or at least most of them.
Yes, very expensive. When they announced the plans for Soho (Weatherhead), they also said that the 15 year plan was to have all the dorms residential college format. Now whether that means actually replacing Sharp and Monroe, along with some of the other older dorms I am not sure. As you say, pretty expensive. But the new building that is replacing Bruff will have dorm rooms as well, and I assume they will stick with the plan to make it residential college as well, although I haven't read anything that officially says that.
My guess (and that is all it is) is that once that new building is done, they will replace Bruff and Irby with a new dorm, and continue the pattern that way. As they add more dorm rooms by having the new one you mention as well as the one I hypothesize, they might be able to have the flexibility to tear down Sharp and then Monroe (or vice versa) so they can continue to modernize. But for all I know, the actual plans are totally different than that. That is just what makes sense to me, if you assume that Sharp and Monroe will be too old to be worth continuing to renovate in another 5-10 years.
OK, first I will give you the technically correct answer and then the real answer.
The technically correct answer is that alcohol is not allowed in any of the dorms (OK, stop snickering). But I know what you mean is are the rules any different for Paterson, or is there some kind of agreement with the students that live there that is above and beyond the general rules for the rest of the dorms/campus. The answer is no, as far as I know. What makes it the "wellness" dorm is that its understood charter is to have the residents participate in various talks and activities regarding a healthy lifestyle. Healthy eating, exercise, Yoga, various meditation techniques, etc.
So from what I have heard from students in the past, these options are there for the students that want to take advantage of them (and of course students from other dorms that are into these topics can also take part). But not all of the students at Paterson are there for this reason, and some don't follow the healthy lifestyle regimen. But from what I have heard, while there are exceptions most tend to respect the spirit of the dorm's value proposition and there is not anything like the scenes you often see in Monroe and Sharp.
As the mother of a student who had a hard time deciding between Sharp & Monroe I can tell you the differences in the rooms themselves: Sharp has built in cabinets in the wall over each bed. This means that there is more storage space but you cannot loft the beds so you cannot get as much stuff under the beds as you can in Monroe. Sharp has no doors on the closets so you can't hang shoe racks, etc from closet doors. The size of the rooms are essentially the same. My D requested Sharp as her first choice and got Monroe, but was very happy there last year. One of her close friends requested Monroe as her first choice but got Sharp so the room assignment seem kind of random.