Birthdays are full of mixed emotions, but the strongest one might be the stress of not knowing what the f*ck to do for yours. 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. Because you have more important things on your mind—like being another year older.
That’s where we come in. Whether you want to go out in a big group and find someplace to dance, or hang out with a couple close friends and drink extremely expensive cocktails, we’ve got plenty of birthday-worthy drinking ideas on this guide.
Want to make a great dinner plan for your big day too? Check out the best NYC restaurants for birthdays here.
photo credit: Ms. Kim's
If you want to celebrate your birthday with a small group and possibly belt "Watermelon Sugar,” reserve a private karaoke room at Ms. Kim’s in Flatiron. A small room costs $120 per hour, fits up to eight people, and has a special air filter that ensures you’re not sharing air with any other rooms. We had a lot of fun on a recent trip, during which we belted out hits such as “Mr. Brightside” and “Just the Two of Us” while eating karaage and tender garlic soy chicken wings. Ms. Kim’s is one of the best places to hang if your friend group is roughly the size of a small brass band.
When someone asks where you're going for your birthday this weekend and you tell them House of Yes, you’ll get a response like, “Oh wow, you're going to have a night.” And they’ll probably be right. Between the cage dancers, cabaret, live music performances, and themed parties, this big club in Bushwick is never a low-key scene. If you’re looking to dance, drink, and maybe wear Christmas lights as a fashion accessory, you can have a lot of fun here.
The Rooftop at the Rockaway Hotel
If you're going to celebrate the day you entered this world, you might as well feel like you're on vacation. The sixth-floor rooftop bar at the Rockaway Hotel has views of the Atlantic just a few blocks from the beach, with an indoor space on one side and an outdoor terrace on the other. You’d think a rooftop by the beach would turn into Spring Break pretty quickly, but this place feels like a calm, beachside daytime spot, even when they turn the music up and the bar fills up towards sunset.
Zona De Cuba
If you want bodies next to you on your birthday and you don't necessarily need a chill atmosphere, head to Zona De Cuba. This Caribbean spot in the South Bronx has a live salsa band, a colorful dance floor, and more life-size props than a Disney ride. Whether you decide to hang out inside or on the massive outdoor rooftop, you can get items like ceviche, yuca frita, and mojo-marinated pork chops. If you throw enough hints that a birthday toast is in order, one of your friends might spring for a bottle of champagne.
If you’re looking for a bar that has house-party energy, frozen dole whip cocktails, and a playlist that feels like it was made by your friend who’s a self-described “crate-digger,” head to Lullaby on the LES. It’s in a basement on Rivington (below a sushi spot), and it has couches, low ceilings, and lots of people dancing even though there’s no formal dance floor and the space is pretty small.
When you want to have a larger birthday outing, head over to Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co. This brewery sits at the far northern tip of Greenpoint, and you’ll find a big open-air patio on top of the brewery with some picnic tables and a purely decorative stained glass water tower. The view won’t change your life (unless you’re really into looking at pricey new housing developments), but, as far as large NYC outdoor patios go, this is one of the most pleasant ones. If you get hungry, there are some bar snacks like fried pickles and sandwiches.
Porchlight is a bar on 11th Ave in Chelsea from the people who brought you Union Square Cafe and Ci Siamo, and the huge space will come in handy for all the birthday gifts you'll receive. (Even if you told your friends not to bring anything, they all know you don't mean it.) The booze selection is great, and if your party wants some upscale bar food (they will), you can get things like charred eggplant dip with vegetables and a fried green tomato sandwich with pimento cheese.
If underground DJs and a crowd wearing short fringes and dirty white sneakers is exactly your scene, head to Masquerade. In addition to a festive atmosphere, this Williamsburg restaurant/bar has a short menu of mezze like hot-pink mast-o-laboo and creamy kashk o bademjoon, which comes with sangak bread from beloved New Jersey Persian bakery Gandom. We especially love the small mound of crispy tahchin and its yolky, custard-like inside. You can see what sort of late-night events are coming up on their Instagram page.
Twins Lounge is a two-floor bar in Greenpoint that’s like a pool hall and disco bar rolled into one. In other words, it’s got all of the elements of a great birthday drinking spot. The long bar near the entrance leads to a dark back corner full of pool tables and people who look like they actually know what to do with a pool cue. The bottom floor also has several big booths where your friends can order you round after round of birthday shots as a gesture of goodwill. Upstairs, you’ll find a much brighter area with another bar, a disco ball, and floor-to-ceiling windows. With all the floral print couches and fuzzy rugs up there, you’ll feel like you’re having a celebratory cocktail hour inside a giant vintage furniture store.
With a massive outdoor space where you can hang out with your dog and listen to live DJ sets, Nowadays is unique by NYC standards, and it’s the perfect place to gather a bunch of friends for drinks and snacks on your birthday. If you want to do something that may or may not involve dancing, head to Mister Sunday, the daytime party they throw on Sundays. It happens in the massive outdoor space here, and it's a great way to make the most of your big day (even if it means you won’t make much of your Monday morning).
This Bed-Stuy spot is heavily themed around the late-night roller rink parties you may have attended as a child. There’s an entire room dedicated to retro arcade games, a second-floor balcony for people who are presumably very cool, glowing neon lights, and a jukebox (playing music you legally must dance to). Despite all of the fun decor, we feel the need to clarify that there is no actual roller skating to be done at All Night Skate. (Our server told us that insurance probably wouldn’t take kindly to mixing alcohol with shoes with wheels.)
If you’re the type to get excited about really good cocktails (and having your pick from a menu of around 25 of them), Raines continues to be an excellent choice for special occasion drinking. We prefer this place to other speakeasy-type cocktail bars for birthdays because it’s a bit bigger than most, with booth seating for small groups and an under-the-radar back courtyard. Either make a reservation or arrive on the early side to make sure your wait time is manageable.
Night of Joy
Get to Night of Joy early enough (before 9pm), and you should be able to claim some space for a little birthday celebration. If it’s warm out, head upstairs and get a big round table on the roof, or, if it happens to be winter, just stay inside and claim a couch. This bar is on a relatively quiet corner of Williamsburg, it has some nice rugs and armchairs, and, like Union Pool, it’s a place you go to have a few drinks and meet some new people.
Harlem Hops on Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard serves a lot of hard-to-find beer, specifically from small-batch breweries and businesses owned by people of color. So if you want to spend your birthday trying a bunch of new beer with some friends, this is the place to do it. And even if you don’t really care about the different flavor notes in East and West Coast IPAs, you’ll at least appreciate the backyard. It has tables made out of barrels and a big mural wall.
The TL;DR on LoHi is that it's just a massive rooftop bar in the industrial part of East Williamsburg that could also be correctly categorized as Bushwick. And in a city where big rooftops are rare, that’s a good enough reason to come here—ideally during the day with some friends who want to enjoy several rounds of chuggable hibiscus mezcal cocktails.
Evil Twin Brewing NYC
If you’re into beer, you already know about Evil Twin’s first-ever taproom in Ridgewood, a block from the Halsey L stop. It’s a great spot for a daytime birthday party when you don’t know how many people are coming. Just note that there’s no food in here, but you can bring your own snacks (a whole pizza, for example) or stop by the Guatemalan pop-up that's present Thursday through Sunday. When it’s warm, you can step outside of the greenhouse-like space and take advantage of outdoor picnic tables.
The Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club
Royal Palms is a Gowanus bar that’s 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 book a shuffleboard court in advance—or you can just wait for one to open up and play any number of board games in the meantime. There are also several bars, so if games aren’t your thing, just get a drink and have all your friends post pictures with captions that explain how much they value and appreciate you.
Holiday Cocktail Lounge
You’re trying to get a big group together, and since you’re a nice person, you want to pick a place that’s conducive to everyone enjoying themselves. Holiday Cocktail Lounge excels at people-pleasing: They serve good, creative cocktails (but also beer and shot combos), they always have loud classic rock playing, and the crowd is lively without being obnoxious. Try to grab a few tables in the back.
As a rule, beer gardens are good places for birthdays. They’re casual and spacious, and you can usually be as loud as you want. If you’re near the Williamsburg Bridge, Radegast is your best option—especially if you’re looking for a good daytime spot. There are a bunch of picnic tables you can claim, and there’s a huge selection of European beers that at least one of your friends will probably find fascinating. For people who don’t like beer, there’s a full bar, and the food (sausages, pretzels, burgers, etc.) is all better than it needs to be.
It’s your birthday, so you should be doing as little work as possible. At 169 Bar, you won’t even have to get up for another drink, because you can simply text your order from wherever you’re sitting. This leaves more time for the important stuff, like drinking with your friends amongst dinosaurs, disco balls, and leopard-print pool tables. If you need something to soak up your drinks, get a few orders of the dumplings.
Another Williamsburg beer garden, Spritzenhaus is sort of like Radegast’s slightly cooler younger brother. It’s not quite as touristy, but it still has plenty of space for groups. It’s also just across the street from McCarren Park, so you can all go run around and play tag after you have a few beers and some snacks.
If you’re having a birthday party on the Upper East Side and you somehow got pressured into inviting a bunch of people you aren’t actually that close with, try Five Mile Stone. It’s an enormous pub at the corner of 85th and 2nd, and it has two floors, so you can tell all the people you don’t like that much that the real party is downstairs. This place is a little more upscale than your average pub (it feels kind of like a nice home someone converted into a bar), and you can get standard bar food like burgers and nachos.
For a night out in Crown Heights that might involve shots, a dance-off, and one of your friends losing their keys, Friends & Lovers is where you should go. Up front, this place mostly just looks like a normal neighborhood bar, but there’s a room in the back for shows and dance parties. Check their website to see which DJs are playing and how much the cover charge will be (usually around $5).
E’s Bar is one of our favorite places to drink on the UWS, and it works for a lot of different situations. You can come with a friend after work, bring a date when you might just want to ditch after 15 minutes, or have a birthday party with your own semi-private space. It’s a long, dark room with a jukebox and board games, and there’s an area in the back you can reserve for your party.
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 your friends 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, beautiful, two-story cocktail bar in Greenpoint that’s just waiting to welcome your group of 15. Just be sure to make a reservation if you’re going with a group that big.
The Garret East @ Borrachito
When you’re starting to feel like you might be getting too old for the Lower East Side, but you don’t necessarily want to spend your birthday doing a crossword on your couch, go to The Garret East @ Borrachito. It’s a casual cocktail bar, and while it does get busy, you won’t feel too old or claustrophobic here. Plus, you can reserve a space for your birthday group.
Even weeknights feel like weekends at Rogers Garden. The huge patio at this rum bar on the border of Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Flatbush has lawn chairs, turf, and murals galore, with tons of special programming beyond the cocktails and snacks on the menu. Check out their Instagram page so you don’t miss one of their special pop-up nights or live music events.