Planning a birthday can mean a lot of different things. For Molly Ringwald in 16 Candles, it just meant cake and not being forgotten. For others, it might mean drinking a bottle of wine while actively trying to be forgotten.
Regardless of party preference, a 25th birthday birthday spot should be two things: affordable (because you’re still somewhat new to this career thing and/or your friends don’t all work in banking) and fun. All the places on this guide meet those criteria, and they’re divided up into bars and restaurants. So whether you want to share pizza with six other people or dance in the mist from a fog machine with 30 friends, you’ll find the perfect spot right here.
(Also, feel free to use this guide to plan a birthday to celebrate any age. If you want to have your 60th at Panna II, we’re here for you, and we salute you.)
An important piece of information for all: you can reserve the basement cave of Emily West Village for a private party without committing to a prix-fixe menu or paying an extra fee. There’s a wood-fired oven down there, all of the Detroit-style square pizzas and burgers from the normal menu, and you can hang with your group (up to 12 people you actually like enough to invite) for a max of three hours. But private basement or not, having your 25th at Emily West is the fastest way to reboot your ninth birthday pizza party in a way that’s neither juvenile nor Chuck-E Cheese sponsored.
Having a party here is an easy way to tell the world that you’re young, fun, and determined to drink four margaritas. You’ve been saying “25 is going to be the best year ever” a lot recently and having your party at Tijuana Picnic is a good place to start, for a few reasons: it’s on the Lower East Side (aka near bars you already know you like), they serve good tacos and strong drinks, and the downstairs lounge gets pretty rowdy around 11pm. Beware that margarita pitchers are sneaky expensive, but it’s your birthday and 25 is going to be the best year ever.
You’re 25. Inexpensive, alcohol-prioritized birthdays in the East Village are still very much part of the birthday-party package. If you’d like to embrace that fact, go to St. Marks Taqueria. We’ve rolled up with 11 people here on a Friday night without a reservation and somehow made it work, so this is ideal for a last-minute “it’s my birthday?” situation. There’s unlimited (free) chips and salsa, a full bar, $3.50 tacos, and the space downstairs has lots of lights and beer brand decor, big tables, and people your age doing the same thing you are.
Miss Lily’s is great for groups, scene-y enough for your friends who somehow got way cooler after college, and has good Caribbean food. There’s a back room that’s covered in ska and reggae records and feels like the right amount of sweaty-clubby (if that’s what you’re aiming for). Just know that Miss Lily’s is a little more expensive than some other spots on our list, but if the space itself is what’s important to you, Miss Lily’s is one of the best choices for a birthday.
Fish Market is the underdog choice on this list, so don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it before (if you have, it’s possible you’ve already thought about having your birthday party here). This is a very casual neighborhood spot in the South Street Seaport that serves affordable and very good Malaysian and Chinese food, but is also somewhat of a sports bar. Even on days when you’re not turning 25, Fish Market feels like a party (Jeff, the bartender, likes to give everyone who comes in free shots of Jameson). There will likely be people watching TV at the bar in the front, but there’s a jukebox that you can take over (this is the aux cord of restaurant parties) and plenty of tables in the back for your friends to eat pork dumplings, crispy fried rice, and ginger chicken wings.
Lil Frankies could honestly work just as well for a quiet date as it will for your medium-loud birthday party. You and your friends might make the people on quiet dates pretty mad, but you won’t be paying attention to that because there’s a pizza and pasta in front of you. This is one of our go-to places for casual atmosphere with big tables. Just know that it’s cash-only and gets crowded, so we’d recommend making a reservation for a big group.
If you want to share Korean small plates in an East Village basement space while you drink alcoholic fruit drinks out of pouches with light-up cubes inside, your best option is Thursday Kitchen. It’s where you can do all of these things - just be aware that they don’t accept reservations. You’ll probably have to wait for table (and you shouldn’t come with a group of more than six people), but the food will also be worth it. Share some steak, fried chicken, a seafood pancake and whatever else looks good. Nothing costs too much, and the space itself is nice and homey.
This is an Indian restaurant on 1st Ave that’s more notable for its bright lights than the actual food they serve. The food is edible, but the party string lights are why you come here for your 25th birthday. No but seriously, there are more Christmas lights here than there are in state of Delaware during December. Also, it’s BYOB, cash only, and very casual. Come here for a birthday with a vibrant setting, but not as big of a production as Miss Lily’s or Tijuana Picnic.
Ops is where you go for a birthday dinner with six-ish of the kind people who will, at some point during the meal, take turns saying their favorite things about you (this practice is called a Fluff Circle, by the way). It’s comfortable to the point you’ll want to move in, does great Neapolitan pizzas, and has some of the better chocolate cake you can find in Bushwick. The servers let you try as many wines as you want until you find the one you like (they’re all the same price by the glass) and tip is included, so there’s no mess dealing with group bill-splitting that could change the nice things Laurel said about you during the Fluff Circle.
Soho isn’t an especially affordable neighborhood, but at Galli you and all your friends can spend around $40 on dinner, then move on to whatever it is you’re doing with the rest of your night. It’s also a pretty big space, and there’s a dining room in the back with exposed brick walls and a big communal table. So if you’re going out downtown and you need some solid Italian in a casual setting where you can drink a cocktail and enjoy the fact that your friends won’t complain about the prices, Galli is where you should go.
This place is a bar, restaurant, and live music venue at the same time and it’s certainly a notch above the action at your typical bar (it’s your birthday, after all). There might be show, or a dance party, or people just casually eating and drinking. If any of those things sound appealing to you, it’s because your older friends at the office were right about you: you’re 25 and very fun.
169 Bar is a dive bar on the Lower East Side that feels like a cool 70’s basement with mirrors, fish tanks with fake fish, and a decent amount of space for your group. You can order your drink via text and they actually have some pretty good dumplings. The night will be fun and a little weird, but that’s what birthdays are for.
Home Sweet Home peaked roughly one decade ago. It’s still fun, however, and the key elements remain the same: it’s still in a basement, there’s still a disco ball, and they still play good music. You might hear stuff from the 1950s, 1980s, or early 2000s, and there’s a big dance floor in the back where people probably won’t judge you. Also, drinks are pretty cheap, and you can always just sit to the side while you space out and stare at the disco ball.
For people born during the months where it’s nice enough to be outside (or people who lie about their birthdays), Greenwood Park is a great indoor/outdoor 25th birthday spot. This beer garden in South Slope is perfect for a relaxed afternoon celebration where people are coming and going throughout the day. There are bocce courts outside, lots of room to hang, and some solid bar food to share. You could definitely have a winter-time birthday here (there’s enough room inside and the outside seats have heaters), but it’s at its best during the warmer weather.
Mood Ring is a very 25-year-old-friendly astrology-themed bar in Bushwick. If you started your night at King Noodle or Ops, then Mood Ring is an easy second step for your party. Or you could just tell everyone to show up here and not plan a dinner at all (or have a secret, smaller dinner without alerting the masses). There’s a back room with lasers, fog machines, and a DJ, and a bar area up front with some booths. You won’t be able to hear anyone, but that won’t matter because you’re here to dance and take housemade lychee and vodka shots called “Mystery of Luv.”
Maybe on your 24th birthday, you put on a tiara, went to a dive bar on the Lower East Side, and drank tequila until your tiara fell off and you told your friends that you hated them. This year, try The Garret East. It’s a cocktail bar, but it isn’t the sort of place where you have to keep your voice down and stay seated, and it feels sort of like a nice little living room that happens to have a few very large booths. You can also book some space in here ahead of time, if you want your own little section.
Get to Night of Joy early enough (before, maybe 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, it happens to be winter, just stay inside and sit on 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 new people who may or may not be interesting.
We wouldn’t say it’s dive bar, but Sweet & Vicious definitely isn’t fancy. It’s just a big, dark room in Soho where you can get an inexpensive drink and hang with a large group. So if you’re going out with a bunch of people downtown, this is a great place to start your night. Hang out for an hour or two, then go do something else (or stay all night). It gets pretty lively, and you’ll probably see at least one other birthday party.
As long as you’re in your 20s, Union Pool works well for a birthday party. It’s a huge, there are cheap beer & shot combos, and there’s a taco truck in the back where you can grab some drunk food without having to leave the premises. There’s also little venue to the side where they host ticketed shows, although, when it’s warm out, people mostly just congregate in the big backyard. It’s like a town square, full of drunk young people pretending to have conversations while they look at one another.
Much like cake and polite conversation, Royal Palms works for pretty much any kind of birthday. It’s a enormous, garage-like space with ten shuffleboard courts and plenty of board games. It’s sort of like a big retro pool party but without the pool, and if you have 10 or more people you can rent out your own booth and shuffleboard court. There are also a few photo-taking stations, so everyone can take pictures and say nice things about you in the captions.