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 not being in your early 20s anymore.
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, there are lots of birthday-worthy drinking ideas ahead.
We can help with your birthday eating, too - check out the best NYC restaurants for birthdays here.
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. Plus, there are 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.
If your birthday is more of a stop-by-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.
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 at least one of your friends will probably find fascinating. For people who don’t like beer but came anyway, there’s a full bar, and the food (sausages, pretzels, burgers, etc.) is all better than it needs to be.
Another Williamsburg beer garden, Spritzenhaus is sort of like Radegast’s slightly cooler younger brother. It’s not quite as touristy, but it’s still large enough to have 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.
At The Spaniard, you can reserve a big booth, drink some good cocktails, and share some decent bar food with friends while you look out at a room full of people and paintings of boats. This place is kind of a mix between a restaurant and a bar (although it leans a little more toward bar), it gets busy, and it’s a great spot to begin your birthday night.
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 a magic DeLorean - just go to Duck Duck. The drinks aren’t very expensive, and on weekends the big, open room feels like a low-key house party, which is why it’s pretty likely that you won’t be the only people celebrating a birthday here.
On your birthday last year, you had dinner with a few friends, then fell asleep by 11pm because you wanted to feel responsible and not wake up hungover. But maybe this year you want your night to end on a dance floor surrounded by beams of colorful light and friends who can’t dance. Go to Mood Ring in Bushwick. It’s an astrology-themed bar with a back room for dancing, plus drinks with names like “Gucci Belt” and “Bodega Dreams.”
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.
If you’re the type to get 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 this place to other 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 make sure your wait time is manageable.
For a night out in Prospect Heights that might involve shots, a dance-off, and one of your friends losing his or her keys, Friends & Lovers is where you should go. Up front, it 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), and keep in mind that this place is cash only.
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 also 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.
As useful as it is, Five Mile Stone isn’t the coolest bar on the Upper East Side. If that’s what you’re looking for, you want Jack & Fanny’s. This is another big uptown spot, and it’s designed to feel kind of like a rec room from the 1970s. It has a few couches, a couple big booths, and plenty of seating at the wood-paneled bar in the middle, and there’s also a bocce court in the back. Bring 15 friends and see how many times they’ll let you win at bocce.
We’ve never understood the phrase “have your cake and eat it too.” Why would you have a cake and not eat it? Let us know your theories, but in the meantime, what we do know is that your birthday is the ultimate time for having cakes that you also consume. 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 some alcohol as well.
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 just a long, dark room with a jukebox and board games, and there’s an area in the back you can reserve for your party.
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 for another drink, because you can simply text your order in from wherever you’re sitting. Which leaves more time for the important stuff, like drinking with your friends amongst dinosaurs, disco balls, and leopard-covered pool tables. If you start needing something to soak up your drinks, get a few orders of the dumplings.
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 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, 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.
Wish you could throw a dance party in your living room, but have a living room the size of a fingernail, a roommate who hates parties, or a neighbor who 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 to a laid-back bar, with a DJ and a little dance floor in the corner. If you have a big group with you, go one door down to Kinfolk 94, which has a bigger space and a much larger dance floor.
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.
Berlin isn’t where you go when you want to have a quiet drink with a few friends and reflect upon the past year of your life. It’s where you go when you want to party. This East Village bar is the rare spot that’s divey but not too divey, and where dancing is strongly encouraged. Be warned: if you’re not into lines or bouncers, avoid. Otherwise, go forth and birthday.
If you’re a tourist, you should eat a few bagels and see the Statue of Liberty. And if you live in this city, you should spend at least one of your birthdays dancing late at night on the Lower East Side. If you have yet to do this, try it this year at Home Sweet Home. It’s a semi-divey basement bar on Christie Street with cheap drinks and lots of taxidermy. There’s also a big dance floor in the back, with a functioning disco ball that will shine its lights all over you while you do your best impression of a good dancer.
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. It’s a casual cocktail bar (with a hidden taqueria in the back), 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.