When you were a kid and your birthday was in the summer, it was bittersweet. Sure, you could have a pool party, but you were probably one of the youngest in your class, and you never got a special birthday treat at school, like a cupcake or a pinata full of stale bubble gum (everyone knows half-birthday celebrations are a lame consolation prize).
But you’re an adult now, and you no longer need to rely on others to procure celebratory baked goods or expired candy. Plus, you get to celebrate your birthday during the best time of the year in Chicago. Do so at one of these places.
Park & Field doesn’t just have an outdoor patio - it has an outdoor empire. The space is gigantic, with tables, bocce courts, Adirondack chairs, multiple fire pits (where you can make s’mores), and a camper-turned-bar. If you do decide you want to go inside for some reason, you’ll find that the space is decorated like an old-timey gymnasium. So unless you like vintage pommel horses, stick to the patio.
Kaiser Tiger has one of the biggest patios in the city, so your group of 15 will have plenty of space to spread out with food and beer. You should know about a menu item called “The Bomb” - five pounds of beef and pork sausage stuffed with bacon and wrapped (much like a birthday present) in a brown sugar bacon weave. It’s served with buns and fries, and, in case this wasn’t already clear, it’s a good thing to share. If you can still move after eating it, there’s a bocce court at your disposal, too.
As the name suggests, this place has a theme: it’s decorated like a cabin from the 1800s. In keeping with that idea, there’s a lot of game on the menu. For a celebration, consider arranging one of their whole animal meals - you can choose from things like antelope leg, alligator, or wild boar. And there’s a lot of space outside, giving your friends an easy exit if the alligator turns out to be too much.
Green Street Smoked Meats
This West Loop barbecue spot doesn’t accept reservations, and gets really crowded during peak hours. But the chance of getting a table increases significantly in the spring and summer, when the outdoor seating area is open. The patio has the same picnic table setup you’ll find inside, so the best strategy is to have one of your friends scope out a table while the rest of you go strategize your attack on the menu. Don’t be discouraged if there are a lot of people (there will be), because the cafeteria-style line moves quickly, and there’s a huge bar to keep you occupied while you wait.
Remember in college when you’d have 20 people come out for your 19th birthday, and you didn’t even know who most of them were? Being at Homeslice will remind you of that time. The pizza here is the best version of the kind you ate in your dorm room (like Domino’s, but really good), and there are enough varieties to please a crowd, even though it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks because this celebration is all about you. The outdoor space is huge, with an airstream trailer, TVs, and plenty of tables for your friends. Whose names you (probably) now know.
Honey Butter Fried Chicken
At first, Honey Butter might seem like an unusual choice for a birthday. But this neighborhood spot happens to have a wonderful garden out back where you can consume fantastic fried chicken, sides, and cocktails. The picnic tables and friendly service will make you feel like you’re at a family birthday picnic, just with people you like.
This place is an ideal summer hangout, and particularly great for a low-key birthday. It has a gigantic outdoor area and a menu of good bar food-type things, like burgers and nachos. It’s run by the same people who own Scofflaw (a bar with very good cocktails right nearby), so it’s not surprising that the drinks at The Moonlighter are also great.
Parson's Chicken & Fish
Why are there so many more pizza parties than fried chicken parties? You may ask yourself this question after hosting or attending a birthday on the patio at Parson’s Chicken and Fish. The outdoor area is big, with picnic tables and big umbrellas providing shade. Plus, the outdoor bar has negroni slushies. Every party should have those.
Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba has been around since 1985, and it’s a Lincoln Park neighborhood staple for a reason - this Spanish spot has great tapas, like chorizo-wrapped dates and chicken empanadas. When it’s warm outside, you and your friends want to be out on the patio drinking sangria. Don’t think your birthday meal has to be a dinner, either - come for brunch to get things like mini pancakes.
90 Miles Cuban Cafe
There’s no good reason not to come here for your outdoor birthday celebration. It’s one of the best places in the city for a large group dinner (birthday or not), and the fact that it’s BYOB means it’s that much more affordable. Order the Cubano sandwich, or an entree like ropa vieja. The environment is fun and relaxed, and the back patio is huge, making this an overall great place to hang. So do that.
At this point, Big Star is as much a part of Chicago as the Daleys and the Bean. And while we’re not going to say this place has the best tacos in the city, we will say that the tacos are good - and the great cocktail menu doesn’t hurt, either. Both locations (Wicker Park and Wrigleyville) have large patios that can easily accommodate a group. Come here for a laid-back birthday, and get the queso fundido with extra tortillas for everyone to share.
If you combined Big Star and Homeslice, you’d have Parlor Pizza. It has a fantastic patio (two, in fact - one is on the roof), and the space is perfect for groups. The Neapolitan-style pies here aren’t the best in Chicago, but they’re perfectly tasty, and the large menu of satisfying bar food will please any non-pizza-eaters in your group. Plus, the abundance of outdoor seating means you won’t need to wait until October to get a table.