Forget what people say about birthdays. They’re not about growing up, or celebrating another year of life, or even about emotionally manipulating everyone you know into buying you presents. No, birthdays are really about drinking. On which other day are you allowed to regress into a tipsy toddler whilst your mates continue to buy you cocktails like you’re a socialite? That’s why you’ve got to make the most of it and pick the right place, safe in the knowledge that your table is booked, and that none of that precious party time is wasted in a queue. From a Soho speakeasy to a cool tequila and mezcal bar on Kingsland Road that just so happens to serve our favourite margarita in London, these are the bars you should book for your birthday. Oh, and we hope you have a great night.
In case you’re looking for a birthday dinner, we’ve got a guide for that too.
Last year you left your birthday plans up to your partner and you ended up drinking warm beer at a gig for a band called The Sad Vapes. This year you want to be somewhere grown-up, somewhere a little fancy, somewhere exactly like The Nightjar. This Shoreditch basement bar has everything from classic cocktails to a live jazz band. All of this makes it popular though, so be sure to book way in advance of your birthday if you want one of the bigger tables at the weekend.
The area around the Dalston end of Kingsland Road is one of London’s most fertile grounds for nights out that are low on quality and high on booze consumption. Although that’s fine for an average Friday night, you should look for something better on your birthday, and that something is Hacha. As far as bars go, this is a very straightforward one. It’s unpretentious, comfortable, and lets you book tables for six or more people. Their drinks or on another level though - the signature mirror margarita looks like water but definitely doesn’t taste like it. After a few of these you’ll forget about your scuzzier haunts in no time.
Birthdays are generally pretty theatrical. Inevitably someone gets too drunk and serenades you with ‘The Circle Of Life’ whilst you act your arse off pretending you still don’t need glasses. Old school, candlelit bar in Soho, The Arts Theatre Club is just the place for these kind of shenanigans. This place is all broody red lighting, plush velvet sofas, and excellent cocktails. At the weekend their vintage piano doubles as a DJ booth, and they’re open until 3am most nights.
Swift loves a mirror. Upstairs, downstairs, your reflection is... everywhere. This is either a very good thing or a very bad thing, depending on what a few espresso martinis do to your ego. Either way, it makes for a well-placed birthday spot in Soho with the potential for lots of selfies and probably regrettable content. The downstairs is available to book for up to 12 people, and cocktails are mostly around the £10 mark.
What’s funnier than a ‘happy birthday pensioner!’ card? Absolutely anything. Including rowdy drinks at Notting Hill’s Electric Diner. This American-style, big red booth spot is a great setting for some serious hilarity. During the day it’s a restaurant with some decent mac ‘n’ cheese on offer, but it gets progressively louder and party-party as evening comes. This is a great spot if you want to start off with casual conversation and cocktails but end the night dancing without having to actually go anywhere. We’re very into their prosecco-packed cocktail, Payday, so get involved. Just keep in mind that it gets pretty messy at the weekend after 11.
One of the many uncontrollable and anxiety-inducing elements of birthday drinks are your friends. If your social group is the kind that goes together with alcohol like Mentos and Coke, then you probably want to minimise risk - no smashables, no walls, lots of exits. Peckham Springs is perfect pen, sorry, place, for this. It’s an indoor/outside space right next to Peckham Rye with cheap cocktails, plenty of food options, and reservations for up to 25 online.
Looking for something less lairy and more lowkey? The Winemakers Club is almost definitely the answer. It’s a candlelit wine bar based in some 150-year-old arches in Farringdon, and the mood is part intimate underground bar, and part horror film set involving a bloodthirsty sommelier. Tables can be booked for six or more people, and there are plenty of nibbles on offer to soak up all that red.
If you’re of the My Super Sweet Sixteen school of birthday thought and want everyone you’ve ever known to come and get involved in your birthday, The Prince is a good shout. This huge spot in Earl’s Court is part food market, part bar, and part giant pergola garden. You can reserve up to 199 seats here. Yup, 199. Head here for on-tap £8.50 cocktails, craft beer, and a very pretty background for your inevitable birthday photoshoot.
There are two types of people when it comes to birthday drinking. The shandy and the shot. But if you’re looking for the best of both worlds then Sager + Wilde is the place to head. This wine bar is in an enormous arch in Bethnal Green and has plenty of indoor and outdoor seating for groups of 12 or more to book. Extensive wine list aside, there’s also a good selection of cocktails and if you’re after some nibbles later on, there’s some decent handmade pasta, charcuterie, and cheese options to choose from.
Happiness Forgets in Shoreditch is exactly the kind of place to forget that you’re one small step to being - as your younger cousin would say - ‘well old’. This place is more intimate candlelit basement than full-blown party situation, so the maximum you can book for is six people. It’s worth cutting a couple of friends-of-friends and that influencer your best mate is seeing off your guest list to get a booking here though - the atmosphere is relaxed, the service is friendly, and the cocktails are excellent.
Getting completely mortal isn’t top of everyone’s birthday list. That said, if it is top of yours, then you want to think about going to Night Tales. This Hackney Central terrace bar and club is the cause of many next day apologies for people leaving exes, family members, and mistyped numbers incomprehensible voicemails. Tables are available for 6-12 people or you can go all Love Island on it and book a heated sofa area for 20. It’s open till 3am on Fridays and Saturdays which probably isn’t for the best, but you’re only [insert age here] once.
The idea of being trapped in a vault with a bunch of different friends that haven’t met before, and your sister’s Tinder date (she double booked, alright?) might sound like a bit of a birthday nightmare. But trust us, The Vault is a great little cocktail bar on Greek Street that’s casually hidden behind a bookcase at Milroy’s whisky shop. Expect lots of oak panelling, cute coves to sit in, and a handy old school piano that’s a great distraction for when your school mate and work friend start squabbling. It’s a small space, so the biggest booking available is for 8 people.
If you want a quiet, grown-up evening where all the memories of your birthday could be soundtracked by Enya - well, do not go to Meatliquor W1. Go here if you want your birthday memories soundtracked by Fred Durst and Black Sabbath - or realistically, drink so many of their absinthe-packed cocktails that you don’t even have any memories past ten. Just off of Oxford Street, this shout of a bar is open until 3am every night of the week and can take bookings of up to fifteen shot-ready friends.
The Little Yellow Door
Keep your candles. Keep your Poundland balloons. And keep your well-meaning confetti that we still can’t get out of our rug four years later. No, when you want birthday drinks at your house - without actually having to deal with the mess of having everyone at your house - head for The Little Yellow Door. This converted town house in Notting Hill operates under the illusion of being your mates’ flat that just happens to serve excellent cocktails and has a handy resident DJ in attendance at the weekends. You can email or Whatsapp one of the ‘flatmates’ to book, but whether you go for an early evening situation with board games and boozy decanters, or for late night dancing in their downstairs party den is up to you.
Unless we’re massively underestimating the age span of our readership - or the general life span of humans in the 21st century - we can safely say that you probably weren’t alive during the 1940s. That’s exactly what makes a night at Cahoots in Kingly Court feel quite so unique. Inside a jazzed-up abandoned tube carriage, this is a 1940s, D-day celebrations themed bar with a live swing band and a seriously long list of excellent cocktails. Sure, it can be a little corny, but you’re guaranteed a whole lot of fun until the early hours. Heads up, there’s a minimum spend of £25 per person.
Your only aim for your birthday night is to not end up in a police station. Unless of course, you’re talking about converted Shoreditch police station, TT Liquor. You get to this popular speakeasy through the TT Liquor Store, and it’s a proper charmer of a bar. Think strong cocktails, a great selection of wines, and cells converted into big, red leather booths that are perfect for groups and decidedly badass. They also have regular boozy tasting sessions if you’re after an evening complete with activities.