Where To Go When You Don’t Want To Make A Big Deal About Your Birthday, But You Actually Kinda Do
14 places for when you tell everyone that you don’t want to make your birthday "a whole thing,” but you’re lying.
Last year, one of your friends asked you to go to Tulum for their birthday, and now it's your goal to never be like this friend. Still, a part of you would like to have a big, fun birthday. Whether you want to drink a cocktail out of a fishbowl or celebrate with a bunch of friends at a restaurant that actually serves good food, here's where to go. Below are some special-but-not-stuffy places that are great for groups, and they're all significantly cheaper than a flight to Mexico.
photo credit: Kate Previte
There's only one TGI Friday's left in New York City, and it's across the street from Penn Station. You probably shouldn't have your birthday there, but you can have an upgraded version of the same kind of campy restaurant experience at Bernie's in Greenpoint. This neighborhood tavern has big booths, stained glass lighting fixtures, and crayons on the tables, and the food is actually great. Bring a group, and enjoy a birthday meal that consists of mozzarella sticks, a cheeseburger deluxe, and a brownie sundae.
Wu's Wonton King
Wu’s Wonton King is BYOB and full of big round tables, so it's ideal for groups. Tell each of your friends to bring a bottle of wine, ask your server for an ice bucket, and use your table's lazy susan to conduct a wine tasting. For dinner, order some crab and jellyfish, and share a big family-style wonton soup. If you want to mix it up with strangers afterward, 169 Bar—a classic dive with inexpensive shot-and-beer combos—is basically next door.
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You might start the night off with a low-key drink at the bar at Insa—a Korean barbecue spot in Gowanus—but it’s not hard for a casual drink here to turn into you singing “Hit Me Baby One More Time” in a karaoke room in the back. In between those two events, you and your group can share some soju and grill shrimp and pork belly at a big communal table in the open, wood-covered dining room.
With its colorful lights and loud music, Republica is sort of like a club, except you can sit at a table and eat a whole fried snapper. Try this Dominican rooftop restaurant in Inwood the next time you want have a lively birthday with reasonably good food and an early-enough bedtime. This place also works well for a birthday brunch. Whenever you stop by, you'll probably see people dancing.
So many places in K-Town could make an appearance on this guide. It's a great area to eat with a group. But we especially like Let’s Meat because it offers two all-you-can-eat set menus for under $50 per person. With either option, you’ll have 100 minutes to eat unlimited marinated hanger steak, pork jowl, and spicy marinated chicken alongside $15 bottles of soju and flowing towers of beer. After dinner, do some karaoke nearby.
photo credit: Kate Previte
Have your next adult pizza party at Santa Panza in Bushwick. You’ll escape the drama and prices that normally come with big parties at restaurants, while still being able to split multiple carafes of wine as you hang out for a few hours. The pies here are wood-fired and Neapolitan, and there are gluten-free and vegan options, so everyone in your group should be able to find something to eat.
Your friends have heard of Hometown Bar-B-Que, and all of the rumors are true. Hometown serves top-tier smoked meats, and it's an essential NYC dining experience. Visit this massive Red Hook spot for brisket, pulled pork, and a lamb bánh mì. You order and pay at a counter, so you won't have to awkwardly split a check, and there are plenty of picnic tables that are perfect for groups. Lines can get long on weekends, but just use the wait time to reconnect with any third-tier friends who actually showed up to your party.
photo credit: Noah Devereaux
This Peruvian spot in Williamsburg works for lots of situations, including but not limited to fun group dinners. In fact, some of the best dishes here are large-format plates meant to be shared—like the lomo saltado that comes with some scallion pancakes to enjoy alongside your steak and french and fries. The space has big windows and high ceilings, and it always feels like a mellow house party. If it’s nice outside, make a reservation on the roof.
The Happiest Hour
Multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded that people would rather meet at a bar for burgers than go to a sit-down dinner for your birthday. You can find the ideal middle ground at The Happiest Hour, a cocktail bar in the West Village that also happens to serve one of our favorite burgers in the city. This place gets a little clubby later in the night, which might be exactly what you’re looking for.
If you want to keep your birthday casual but also wouldn’t mind spending the whole night consuming margaritas, start things off at Playa Betty’s. The communal tables and casual space (surfboards on the walls, palm trees in the corners) make this UWS restaurant ideal for big groups. No one is going to complain about the solid guacamole and tequila cocktails, and everyone will appreciate the fact that they didn't have to spend more than $30 on food.
Miss Lily's 7A Cafe
Miss Lily’s 7A is a low-key birthday move in the sense that it’s a relatively affordable spot where you shouldn’t have much difficulty getting a reservation. But dinner here does tend to turn into a party. The East Village branch of this mini chain has colorful booths, frozen drinks, and shareable food like codfish fritters and jerk pork spare ribs. It gets darker and louder later in the night, when the bar area becomes packed with people who dance to the first 10 seconds of every song the DJ plays before standing around awkwardly.
L&B Spumoni Gardens
Founded in 1939, L&B Spumoni gardens is a classic New York City establishment, famous for its Sicilian pies with thick crust and sauce-covered cheese. It's a wonderful place to grab a slice and sit outside when the weather's nice, but you also need to come for a full sit-down meal in the old-school dining room. Plan your next birthday here and—in addition to at least one Sicilian pizza—order some red sauce classics like rigatoni with vodka sauce.
Listen, La Caverna is what it is: a subterranean restaurant that looks like a prehistoric cave and feels like a party attended mostly by NYU students. But you can actually eat a full meal here, and it isn't tough to make a last-minute reservation for a group of 8 people. The tacos and margaritas are decent, but that's not really what you're here for. You come to mingle in a fun, cheesy room featuring loud music and stalactites hanging from the ceiling.