Birthdays in your 20s are great. For one, turning older isn’t terrifying yet. Secondly, all your friends will actually show up, because going out is simply part of the weekly calendar. But most importantly, you can make all the drinking mistakes you want, and not feel the repercussions (as severely) in the morning. It’s a beautiful time to be alive, so plan accordingly. From beachside Jamaican jerk shacks to “art bars” in Koreatown with every board game on the planet, LA has some pretty tremendous spots to celebrate this decade. Here are the 12 best.
It’s your first birthday as a resident of Los Angeles, and you want to get a little messy. Maybe really messy. Round up all your friends, and reserve a table at Tokyo Delves. The North Hollywood sushi restaurant does not have good food, and frankly, if there’s room in your bag, you should bring a bag of pretzels for sustenance. But no one comes here for the food. You come here for waiters dancing to the YMCA, restaurant-wide sake bombs, and the chance to see someone trust-fall off a table into the arms of strangers.
This year, you want to do a nice dinner for your birthday. But you also know that most of your friends have $75 to their names, and if you make a reservation at a fancy Italian restaurant, no one will show. Find the middle ground at Jones Hollywood. The old-school Italian spot on Santa Monica Blvd. has fantastic pizza, pasta, and salads at affordable prices, a bar full of exceedingly attractive people, and housemade martinis that’ll give you all the encouragement you need to talk to them.
You want to hit a few bars or maybe see a live show after dinner, but you also know that the more you change locations, the more your friends will start dropping like flies. So go to Checker Hall, where you can do all three in one place. The bar/restaurant in Highland Park used to be a Masonic Lodge, and has all the room you and your friends could want. Their cocktails are fantastic, the food is very solid, and the crowd is definitely looking to mix things up. The attached music venue, The Lodge Room, has live shows throughout the week.
Mao’s is a Venice staple that’s one of the most reliable neighborhood Chinese spots on the Westside. But this lively place right off the boardwalk also works great for birthdays because there are big communal tables that’ll fit all your friends and a BYOB policy that’ll let you roll in with as much wine and beer as you want. The portions are huge, and nothing on the menu is over $13. You’re also within walking distance of some of Venice’s best bars.
You’re at that age where some friends are married and others are locked out of their apartment because they left their keys in the In-N-Out bathroom last night. Finding a place where everybody will feel comfortable can be tricky, but Escuela Taqueria is a great solution. The neighborhood taqueria in Beverly Grove is definitely low-key, but their BYOB policy (which includes hard alcohol) tends to change that as the night wears on. There’s a round table in the corner that can seat up to 12 people.
Clifton’s is where you go when you aren’t totally sure what kind of bar situation you want this year. The massive three-story nightlife-plex has five completely different spaces, including a cafeteria in the woods, a dance floor with a brass band, and a top-floor tiki bar with a boat inside of it. In short, you have many options.
Who says every big group birthday meal has to be at night? Not you. Cha Cha Chicken is an outdoor Carribean jerk spot in Santa Monica that’s the ideal landing place for you and your friends after a long day of drinking vodka out of water bottles on the beach. This is the kind of place you roll into last minute, order a bunch of spicy chicken and dirty rice, and take full advantage of the only BYOB policy in Santa Monica.
Very few neighborhoods in LA know how to party like Hermosa Beach knows how to party. Come Fridays and Saturdays, the Hermosa pier and surrounding downtown area turn into a vodka-soaked paradise, and if you’re looking to head into the heart of the action, get a reservation at Tower 12. The nautical-themed restaurant/bar is located right on the pier and has a very solid menu of burgers and pizza and other things everybody likes eating. If you stick around late enough, the space itself will turn into a full-on party, but if you’re looking a change of scenery, you’re steps away from every other kind of nightlife you could want.
Between food allergies, ill-advised diets, and your friend who won’t eat anything served to her by a stranger, the likelihood of finding a place to eat where all your friends are happy isn’t very high. So scrap the whole restaurant thing and go to Art Major instead. This “art bar” in Koreatown is essentially just a big open room where you and your friends can play every board game imaginable, draw in coloring books, and take polaroids of each other all night. They only serve wine and beer, but you can order-in any outside food you want. And your friend can bring her overnight oats.
All you really want to do for your birthday is drink really strong margaritas and eat free chips and salsa. Skip the crowds (and prices) at El Compadre and El Coyote, and head to Marix. The indoor/outdoor Mexican restaurant in West Hollywood gets wild in a hurry, and though the food isn’t the greatest in town, that’s not what tonight’s about. Tonight’s about seeing how many pitchers you and your friends can drink before you charge 10 quesadillas to your “emergencies only” credit card.
On paper, nothing about an order-at-the-counter sausage joint screams “good for birthdays,” but Wurstkuche in Venice proves otherwise. For one, if you have over 12 people, you can make a reservation for their semi-private space. Secondly, on weekends the back dining room morphs into a full-on party, complete with a DJ in the corner. But most importantly, you and all your friends will realize that a rattlesnake sausage is the best kind of sausage. Don’t forget to order several baskets of their excellent Belgian fries.
The majority of your friends did that thing where they didn’t respond to any of your invite emails and then committed 36 hours before your actual birthday. Suddenly, a group of six turned into 18, and now you have no idea where to go. Located on a quiet stretch of East Hollywood, DeSano is still a bit of an unknown to a lot of people, but their pizza is excellent, and their warehouse-like space can fit as many people as you need for a last-minute big group celebration.