Birthdays are full of mixed emotions, but the strongest one might be the stress of not knowing what the f*ck to do for it. All you know is that you want it to be fun for you, fun for your friends, and not something you have to worry about anymore. Because you have more important things to think about - like not being in your early twenties anymore.
That’s where we come in. Whether you want to go out in a big group and find someplace to dance, or ball out with a smaller group and some highly advanced cocktails, or attempt the perfect bar crawl, lots of birthday-worthy drinking ideas ahead.
We can help with your birthday eating too - check out the best NYC restaurants for birthdays here.
Bushwick today is sort of like what Williamsburg was 10 years ago. So if you want to time travel, you don’t have to try to find a wormhole or do irreparable damage to the resale value of a DeLorean - you can just go to Duck Duck. Technically, it’s in East Willimasburg (but that just means it should be easier to get all your friends out there), and on weekends it feels like a low-key house party. Stay late enough, and you’ll probably end up dancing. It’s also pretty likely that you won’t be the only birthday party here.
Rooftops downtown tend to be crowded, overpriced, and full of people who drink vodka sodas because they have fewer calories. But Good Story (also known in the summertime as Harold’s Surf Shack) is actually a pretty nice place. It’s the rooftop bar at The Arlo Soho, and it has a little indoor lounge space as well as a big outdoor patio for those several months when you actually want to be outside. So if you’re forcing all of your friends to meet you at a bar on top of a building, maybe choose this one. No one will make you buy a bottle.
If you can convince all of your friends to meet you in Gowanus, Royal Palms is a pretty ideal spot for a big-group birthday. The bar itself is about the size of a small airplane hangar, and there are infinite ways to entertain yourself here. If you’re with 10 or more people, you can rent out a shuffleboard court - or you can just wait for one to open up and play any number of board games in the meantime. Plus, there are several bars. So if games aren’t your thing, just grab a drink, and have all your friends use their photo booth thing to post pictures with captions that explain how much they value and appreciate you.
As a rule, beer gardens are pretty good places for birthdays. They’re casual, spacious, and you can usually be as loud as you want. If you’re near Williamsburg, Radegast is your best option, especially if you’re looking for a good place for a daytime hang. There a lot of picnic tables where you can hang out, and they have a huge selection of obscure European beers that at least one of your friends will find fascinating. They also have a full bar for anyone who doesn’t like beer, and the food (sausages, pretzels, burgers, etc.) is all better than it needs to be.
If your birthday is more of a roll-through-and-have-a-drink-whenever sort of thing, Ghost Donkey is a good choice. It’s in Noho, it’s close to a lot of subway lines, and there are a bunch of little festive lights hanging from the ceiling. The space isn’t huge, but if you get there early enough you can claim some seats in a nook along the wall. They also make some really good cocktails with an emphasis on tequila and mezcal, and there’s a drink with a popsicle in it.
The biggest draw of Northern Territory is the roof. It’s only two stories high, but there’s still a nice view of Manhattan, and there are plenty of seats. So if the weather is even relatively nice, and you want to have an outdoor party with a big group, this Australian restaurant/bar in Greenpoint is a pretty ideal ideal option. There’s also a big indoor area if it’s cold or if starts raining, and they serve some vaguely Australian bar food like meat pie and fish & chips.
Know why childhood birthday parties are more fun than adult ones? Themes. Power Rangers, princesses, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or whatever weird thing you were into as a child. But just because you’re way past puberty doesn’t mean themed birthday parties can’t be a part of your yearly tradition. Resurrect that magic at OTB, an excellent cocktail bar/restaurant with a horse-racing theme. Which is basically the same as teenage mutant ninja turtles.
If you’re the type to get really excited about really good cocktails (and having your pick from a menu of around 40 of them), Raines continues to be an excellent choice for special occasion drinking. We prefer Raines Law Room over some of the other OG speakeasy-type cocktail bars for birthdays because it’s a bit bigger, with booth seating for small groups and an under-the-radar back courtyard. Either make a reservation (Sundays - Tuesdays), or arrive on the early side to makes sure your wait time is manageable.
On your birthday, you want what you want. And you should absolutely get to do things your way. But if you’re wrangling a big group of people, you also want to pick a place that’s conducive to everyone enjoying themselves. And Holiday Cocktail Lounge excels at people-pleasing: they serve good, creative cocktails (but also beer and shot combos), loud classic rock is always playing, there are big booths at the back for larger groups, and the crowd is lively without being obnoxious. Bonus: depending on your order, chances are you’ll get a plastic toy animal in your cocktail - like a Happy Meal, only better.
Turning 29 for the 8th time? Just like you, no matter how many years pass, Maison Premiere will never lose its cool. There’s no better way to feel like a birthday king/queen than getting a table at MP and filling it with some of the best cocktails and raw bar offerings in NYC.
We’ve never understood the phrase “have your cake and eat it too.” Why the f*ck would you have a cake and not eat it too? Let us know your theories, but in the meantime, what we do know is that your birthday is the ultimate time for having your cake and eating it too. And at Butter & Scotch, a bakery + bar mashup, you don’t just get to have a (highly delicious) cake, or pie, or donut, or sundae - you get to have alcohol with it too.
It’s your birthday. Meaning you should be doing as little work as possible. And at 169 Bar, you won’t even have to get up to get another drink, because you can simply text in your order from wherever you’re sitting. Which leaves more time for the important stuff, like getting drunk with your friends amongst dinosaurs, disco balls, and leopard-covered pool tables. If you start to need something to soak up the (very cheap) drinks, get involved with the dumplings.
If you’re looking for a civilized, cocktail-and-small plates kind of birthday, come to Bathtub Gin before 10pm. If you’re looking for a cocktail rager, come to Bathtub Gin after 10pm. We understand some people need a bouncer to be present to feel like they’re at a proper birthday party. Here, you get the bouncer and a bathtub. Now we’re talking.
Bars so cramped you can barely move your eyelashes are something you learn to get used to in NYC. But on your birthday, you want a place where you and your crew can spread out and take over - and as nice as private rooms are, you also want to be near the action of the rest of the bar. Enter Ramona, a giant, two-storied, beautiful cocktail bar in Greenpoint that’s just waiting to welcome your group of 15.
Rooftops are for two things and two things only: drinking and birthdays. The Ides is one of the best in the entire city - and if you’re judging by views alone, it’s definitely the best roof in the city. We recommend The Ides as the starting point for your birthday - come here for an early evening drink while it’s still light out, then move onto somewhere with cheaper drinks and a less touristy crowd for your full-on party (see below).
Wish you could throw a dance party in your living room, but have a living room the size of a fingernail, or a roommate that hates parties, or a neighbor that calls the landlord every time you play audible music past 7pm? Kinfolk Studios is your birthday bar answer. At night, it transitions from a laid-back coffee shop vibe to a laid-back dance party vibe, with a DJ spinning excellent tunes. If you have a big group with you, go one door down to Kinfolk 94, which has a bigger space and an equally cool environment.
NoBadDays, says the pink neon sign at The Garret East. Gotta love an inspirational quote at a bar, especially on your birthday, aka the least bad day of the entire year. If you’re familiar with the original Garret location in the West Village, know that the new East Village one is nothing like it - it’s much bigger and brighter, with lots of standing room and seating, and a living room setup at the back with couches. Translation: it’s an ideal setup.
Call us superficial, but sometimes looks really do matter. Like on your birthday. When it’s crucial that people walk into your party and immediately know they’re going to have a great time, because how could they not have a great time in this ridiculously good-looking place? From the bar, to the gold mirrors everywhere, to the courtyard, to the cocktails (which look like something you should be drinking on a fashionable island), this place has your next birthday written all over it.
Berlin25 Avenue A
We thought for a second about making up a fake reason for you to come to Berlin on your birthday. But we quickly realized you deserve the truth: Berlin is full of attractive people. Beyond that, it’s also the rare environment that’s divey but not too divey, a little trashy but not dirty, and dancing is strongly encouraged. Be warned: if you’re not into lines or bouncers, avoid. Otherwise, go forth and birthday.
Pouring Ribbons is the best of all worlds: inventive and highly tasty cocktails, an unpretentious environment, and a roomier and more comfortable space than you’ll find at most speakeasy bars like this. If you’re looking for a lively-but-not-rowdy scene, this is an excellent East Village option.
When planning a birthday drinking excursion, there is one question that needs to get answered first: does dancing need to be involved? If the answer is yes, and you’re gathering on a Friday, Home Sweet Home is a strong candidate for your final destination. From 10:30pm to 4am Home Sweet Home hosts a 50’s and 60’s dance party that draws a highly enthusiastic crowd. The drinks are cheap, there’s taxidermy everywhere, and everyone is dancing. It’s the ultimate birthday basement experience.
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