You’re really trying to downplay your birthday this year. The hangovers keep getting worse, as do the gifts, and no far-flung relatives send you money anymore. Plus, the attempts to one-up last year have just started to feel a little desperate. Let’s be honest - you’ll never beat your sixth-grade birthday when you had a hot fudge sundae-filled bathtub inside a bounce house. And come to think of it, the aftermath from that night wasn’t pretty either.
On the other hand, your only interactions with 90% of your friends this month have been by text thread or DM and this would be a decent excuse to see some people in real life that aren’t your coworkers or the neighbor you keep passing on the street and may have accidentally fallen in love with. So maybe you’ll get a little something together. You’re at a point where celebrating a birthday doesn’t have to get out of hand (though maybe it still kinda should?). You need a place that’s good for groups and not too fancy, but just celebratory enough that forcing your friends to sing to you won’t be entirely out of place.
If you’re unsure how you want your birthday to end up, Hotel Clermont gives you options. Start downstairs at Tiny Lou’s with a dinner of things like foie gras dumplings and escargot. As you’re finishing up, you’ll have to choose from the elaborate dessert cart they wheel to the table before making an even more important decision: upstairs or downstairs? You could keep things casual with a final drink on the rooftop bar. Or, if you’re ready to give in to your friends that keep insisting that birthdays are meant for bad decisions, go downstairs to the Clermont Lounge.
As you’re getting seated and everyone is still distracted by the hanging plants and gazing eyeball wallpaper, take the opportunity to casually sneak in an order of three to four dozen oysters. When the ice-covered trays hit the table, everyone will realize that this night is probably going to be bigger than you initially let on. It’s certainly not at the level of your 21st birthday in a beach town seemingly created for 21st birthdays and Spring Break, but a few rum drinks might get you closer. Make sure to reserve the Lazy Susan table for a group and then fill it up with a whole fish, buffalo shrimp, hush puppies, and BBQ grouper collar. That should keep things in balance and lower the chances of you being found in a beach chair tomorrow morning with half of a slice of key lime pie and a warm daiquiri by your side.
The highlight of your 10th birthday at Chuck E Cheese’s wasn’t the pizza and it definitely wasn’t the robot animals with creepy eyes playing music on the stage. It was the games and seeing how many glow-in-the-dark bracelets you could fit around your wrist. And when you want to relive your childhood without the unsettling memories and potential choking hazards, Twain’s is the right place to do it. After a few beers, a basket of wings, and a smoked pork shoulder plate, challenge your friends to a round of pool, darts, shuffleboard, or foosball.
In the back corner of Krog Street Market, there’s a doorway to what looks like a New England clam shack. And while they do serve a great Ipswich clam roll and Narragansett by the can, it’s actually one of the best cocktail bars in the city. Their signature Ticonderoga Cup is a good place to start before working your way through the rest of the cocktail list. And if you’ve managed to convince a large group of people to celebrate with you, consider reserving their private Captain’s Table upstairs and ordering the Chuck Wagon steak dinner, a 48 oz chuck roast big enough to feed Moby Dick, if whales ate anything aside from plankton.
For your birthday last year, your sister-in-law got a little too creative and bought you a gift certificate for salsa lessons that you never got around to using. Your lack of dance skills haven’t been a problem, but you still kind of like the idea of being able to do more than the Cha Cha Slide when you get on the dance floor. Get a table at Eclipse di Luna, order a few rounds of tapas and, if you picked a Thursday night, take a free salsa lesson before the live band takes the stage. Or you can skip the lesson, get a pitcher of sangria, and hope one of the regulars will give you a few pointers after stepping on their feet one too many times.
One time you hired a Journey cover band to follow your friend around all night singing “Don’t Stop Believing” every time someone bought them a shot. Instead of losing another friend this year, spend a night at Venkman’s. This restaurant and concert hall in Old Fourth Ward is owned by members of Yacht Rock Revue, a local ’70s and ’80s soft rock cover band. So order a pastrami sandwich or pulled pork tacos, before giving your full attention to belting out the lyrics to those Steely Dan, Toto, and Doobie Brothers songs.
We can’t really imagine ever turning down an invitation to sit around a fire and grill meats, especially if several hours of drinking beer and soju is involved. Which is why it will never be a hard sell to get a group to go to Hae Woon Dae. They use actual charcoal in their barbecue tables, making the restaurant a little smokier than most other spots that have electric instead, but their beef short ribs and pork belly taste all the better for it. They’ll also make you wear a festive hat while singing “Happy Birthday,” which you’ll pretend is embarrassing, right up until you try and get them to do an encore where you rope in all the tables around you.
You’re not looking to repeat last year’s birthday dinner when the place wouldn’t seat you because one person didn’t show up for half an hour. This year, you’d like to avoid everyone starting the night with three rounds of drinks on an empty stomach. Post up at a picnic table on the enclosed outdoor patio at Georgia Beer Garden for a whole afternoon and you’ll quickly forget your late friends. The beers here are exclusively from Georgia breweries and the food includes German drinking staples like soft pretzels, bratwurst, and schnitzel sandwiches. And for your super late friends, just have them meet you across the street at Joystick to fight it out over Mortal Kombat.
If you’re starting to feel self-conscious about your age, the flames and tricks of a hibachi dinner are a good way to distract from the quantity of candles on your birthday cake. Nakato is a Japanese spot with everything from fresh sushi and unique small plates to a hibachi dinner that manages to strike a balance between corny and delicious. And while you’re still mad that no one surprised you with a face cake, the onion volcano and beating heart fried rice should make up for it.
Tapas usually promotes sharing, but we’ve too often seen it turn into a no-holds-barred scramble to get a third of toast. Cooks & Soldiers doesn’t want anyone leaving dinner with a sprained thumb so they’ve made their portions large enough to make it all the way around the table. You’re still going to want to put in at least three orders of the Bikini though, because a grilled cheese with jamon iberico and black truffle is always going to be hard to get enough of. The massive bone-in ribeye is amazing too and, as the birthday boy/girl, you could justifiably keep it all for yourself. But you’re with your friends, so do the mature thing and give everyone a very small piece.
You’ve always dreamt of a Hawaiian luau birthday, but you’re pretty sure you can’t afford it right now and you’re definitely sure none of your friends would make the 12-hour flight. Thankfully, you can still throw on that Hawaiian shirt you bought and go hula under palm-thatched ceilings at Trader Vic’s. You’ll find plenty of other large groups here sharing communal Scorpion Bowls and busting out embarrassing dance moves. Order a Cosmos Tidbits pupu platter with crispy prawns, crab rangoon, char siu pork, and BBQ ribs for the table and you should be all set. And if you can, plan your Pacific Island getaway for a Thursday when there’s live music and $6 Mai Tais after 8:30pm.
Maybe your family doesn’t live nearby, or maybe they do, but you’re trying to avoid them. Either way, when you want a comforting birthday meal that feels home-cooked without actually having to speak to people you’re related to, head to Revival. Start with a few cocktails or a sweet tea on the roomy front porch of this historic former house in Decatur. Then move to a table inside and pass around plates of fried chicken, meatloaf wrapped in bacon, and sides like mac and cheese and sweet potato souffle.
Bring a case of wine and every one of your friends to this BYOB, family-style Italian place on the Westside. Order the ziti, al forno lasagna, diablo chicken, and lemon sorrento chicken at the counter before finding yourself a large table or two. Also, Antico, their sister restaurant next door, serves some of the best pizza in the city and will fully support you putting a few candles in one of their pies and bringing it along for the party. Cake’s usually overrated anyway.
If you’re still unsure what to do after weighing all the other birthday options on this list, just say “f*ck it” and go bowling. And while you might associate bowling alley food with the uncomfortable one-two punch of eating chicken fingers followed by jamming your greasy fingers into a bowling ball, the Painted Pin is a little different. Between turns and Lebowski quotes, you’ll relax on couches and eat soy ginger-glazed edamame, tuna poke wontons, and wood-fired pizzas. The Moscow Mule slushies go down quick though, so maybe just take it easy like The Dude and order a White Russian.