“I’m just not a birthday person.”
Maybe you’ve said this before. Maybe you’ve said it recently. And maybe it’s true. But more likely, it’s a cry for help. Planning a birthday party - especially a “big” one like your 30th - can very quickly make you wish you were never born. Or at least that you were born on February 29.
But we’ve heard your cries for help, and we’re here to answer them. We have many ideas that are all worthy of you and your 30th: ideas that are good for groups, and strike the ideal middle ground between taking shots off strangers’ stomachs and having three friends over to your apartment for Pinot and cheese. With that in mind, here are 18 fun-but-not-total-sh*tshow birthday spots - ranging from bars to sit-down restaurants - that also won’t make you feel old and boring. Because you’re not.
Insa is a nice Korean barbecue place in Gowanus that’s perfect for groups. And right now you’re probably thinking if only it had karaoke too. But guess what? It does. It does have karaoke. So you can either sit at a big table and grill meats with all your friends or rent out a room and sing all the songs you liked in high school when 30 seemed a million years away. Option three: do both.
The view from Westlight makes the view from the top of The Wythe Hotel look like garbage. Westlight is the bar at the top of a different Williamsburg hotel (the William Vale), and it pretty much sealed the fate of Williamsburg as the next Manhattan. It’s a little fancy and a little exclusive - but it’s still a good place to celebrate something that’s only going to happen once. The food and drinks are pretty good, and it’s the perfect place to stare off into the distance and let 30 years sink in (especially in the summer).
If your soul searching about your 30th birthday party has resulted in your quest for a “nice place” for a “cozy dinner” with some of your “closest friends,” you should consider Via Carota. It’s an upscale neighborhood Italian place in the West Village, with both a small private room and a large communal table in the dining room that would be great for an intimate dinner with some friends. Get drunk on negronis and pasta and then walk over to any of the nearby bars (Employees Only, Highlands, The Garrett) for a very solid birthday one-two punch.
Maybe you're thinking about having this party in Manhattan. Would that be more convenient for people? But there’s just more space in Brooklyn. There’s so much space, in fact, that you can build a brewery, attach a bar, and throw on a backyard. And that’s exactly what you’ll find at Threes Brewing. They even have a few private rooms (one fits up to 50) and the outside area is perfect for a group hang in the summer. If your birthday’s in the winter, however, there’s plenty of room indoors. Threes Brewing also has some food (from The Meat Hook), and it’s a little more grown up than your average bar.
The Ten Bells is a Lower East Side wine bar that’s been around for a while. But just like you, it’s only getting better with age. Besides the huge selection of wine, they also have a pretty big food menu that runs the gamut from charcuterie and cheese to foie gras terrine to grilled octopus. Everything is shareable, nothing’s too expensive, and the menu makes for a pretty perfect pass-and-share situation if you have a big group with you. And if you have a really big group, they also have a couple big private rooms you can rent.
The place you choose for your 30th birthday should look like the apartment you had hoped to own by now. Or, at least it’s a bonus if it does - and that’s exactly the sort of place this is. You can eat brunch or dinner here, but Sisters is also large enough to host a bigger drinking-focusing party, and there’s a nice bar area in back that’s a little more relaxed.
Barbuto is a great place to have dinner at any age, but it feels like just the right place to usher in decade number four of your time on earth. The food is excellent (although it isn’t fine dining), and the space feels cool without being too of-the-moment trendy. And if you’re turning 30 and you have a little extra cash, see if you can reserve the semi-private room in back. You're right on the border of Meatpacking and the West Village, so things can go two different ways after dinner: turn right and you could end up with a red bull vodka and a massive hangover, or turn left and you could end up with a fancy cocktail in a fun but slightly more civilized bar. Your call.
Mission Chinese is good for groups and it’s the right amount of was-very-new-and-cool-two-years-ago. It’s fun and most people have heard of it, but it isn’t so new that it’s impossible to get seated before 11pm. Groups of eight or more will have to do a set menu, but that just means you’ll all have to make fewer decisions and everyone can focus on you and how well you’re handling your life. Come eat some traditional and non-traditional Chinese, then end the night at an LES dive.
Who would have thought young people would be so into shuffleboard? Probably not your grandma. This bar consists of a huge indoor space with ten shuffleboard courts and a bunch of tables where you can play a variety of board games. The shuffleboard courts tend to fill up pretty quickly, but they accept reservations for groups of 10 or more. If shuffleboard is a priority, go this route. You will not be the only birthday party here.
Porchlight is a bar before it’s a restaurant, but there is more than enough food to keep you from getting so drunk that you resemble a version of yourself from 12 years ago. The well-designed space is also big enough to accommodate the kind of situation where you invite 50 people on Facebook and have no idea how many of them will show up. Also, the cocktails are excellent. Because even if you end up acting like your 18-year-old self, you should certainly drink stuff that’s worthy of your new age.
Loring Place is a little more grown-up than the other places on this list, so if you’re the sort of person who buys name-brand dental floss and doesn’t kill their plants, this might be the place for you. Here, you and your friends will eat some tasty vegetable-focused food that will make you feel good about your life choices. There’s also a really great private room if you feel like going the extra-special route.
Yeah, getting to Hometown can be a trek, but they also have the best barbecue in NYC. The space is enormous, and some days there’s even live music (check the schedule). The hardest part will be getting people out here, so we suggest renting a hot pink Hummer limo or maybe something classier, like a party bus with a stripper pole.
This space used to be an auto shop, and the name belongs to a chicken place that used to be around here, but now Hot Bird is just a go-to neighborhood bar on the border of Prospect Heights and Clinton Hill. There’s a good amount of space indoors, but there’s an even bigger outdoor area that’s perfect for a summertime hang. It’s also vaguely adult-feeling - sort of like a Union Pool where you don’t feel obliged to get blackout.
Milestone birthdays are properly celebrated by doing things you never could or would have done in prior years. At 23, would you have ordered kohlrabi and known that a six-legged creature wasn’t about to show up on your plate? At 25, would you have navigated your way around a wine list with ease and charm and (at least a tiny amount of) skill? Freek’s Mill is a place where you will feel like the legitimate person-that-has-their-sh*t-together that you are.
Looking for the kind of birthday experience that no one will forget? You can quit your search now, because you’re going to RollerJam USA. It’s NYC’s only remaining year-round skating rink, and it’s exactly the time-space warp you need to celebrate making it through almost a third of a century. Plan to go on a Saturday night, when there’s a live DJ spinning 70s and 80s music and it’s adults-only (21+ up). Sequins and/or neon spandex are non-optional.
The Crown Inn feels like an English pub if everyone in England were exactly 29 years old. On weekends, it’s dark, loud, and lively, but it doesn’t feel too young (like a bar in the East Village). This Crown Heights bar isn’t the biggest in the area, but if you get there early enough, you can snag the elevated sitting area in back.
If ever there was a time to break out a Best In City restaurant, it's your birthday. And if your idea of birthday nirvana involves margaritas and tacos and enchiladas, it's time to break out this Best In City Mexican restaurant. Casa Enrique is light and bright and will put everyone in a good mood even if they had to travel from the Upper West Side to get here. Also, margaritas. They solve everything.
No offense to The Winslow, but it’s strictly a last-minute utility move. If you’re reading this and your birthday is tomorrow, consider this option. It gets lively on weekends, there’s a decent-sized area in back where you sit down or mingle, and the 14th Street location is central enough that you’ll be able to convince most people to at least stop by. You’ll probably also drink so much that you’ll forget this place was a last-minute compromise. That tends to happen here.