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.
the birthday bars
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.
There are a lot of ways to do Tutu’s, and all of them are great setups for birthday success. You could start your night at Roberta’s, then head to Tutu’s as the first stop on a birthday-worthy bar crawl. You could also end your night at Tutu’s, with its back room that’s perfect for late-night partytime. Or you could spend your whole night here, eating in the front, then moving onto drinks at the bar, and then making your way to the back to dance the night away under the disco ball.
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.
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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