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 20 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.
Twins Lounge is a two-floor bar in Greenpoint that’s like a pool lounge and disco bar rolled into one. In other words - it’s got all of the elements of a great birthday drinking spot. The long wooden 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 love. Upstairs, you’ll find a much brighter area with another bar counter, a disco ball, and floor-to-ceiling windows facing Manhattan Avenue. 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. And since we know party hosting is hard work, it’s important that we mention the small outdoor terrace. There isn’t much of a view, but it’s an ideal place for stepping away to get some air.
With a massive outdoor space where you can hang out with your dog and listen to live DJ sets, Nowadays is always unique by NYC standards. It’s the perfect place to gather a bunch of friends for drinks and snacks on your birthday. But if you want to do something more upbeat that may or may not involve dancing, head to Mister Sunday at Nowadays in Ridgewood. The daytime dance party that happens in the massive outdoor space here every Sunday is a great way to make the most of your big day (even if it means you won’t make much of your Monday morning).
At Tokyo Record Bar, you’ll eat a tasting menu of Japanese snacks and pick a song you’d like to hear on vinyl. And while on the surface, that doesn’t sound like a typical birthday bar experience, know that this dark basement on MacDougal Street is the ideal place to have a party with a smaller group of friends. The bar area has cherry blossoms on the ceiling and anthropomorphic foxes painted on the walls, and much like your original bar plan, you’ll end your meal here with a slice of pizza.
This Bed-Stuy spot is heavily themed around the late-night roller rink parties you may or may not have attended as a child. Meaning 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). They don’t have an events calendar to speak of, but they usually post about Saturday night drag shows or DJ sets a couple of nights before they happen on Instagram. Despite all of the fun decor, we feel a 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). Although if you bring a pair of skates, you do get a 10% discount - but then you might have to carry skates to the apartment of a person you met here.
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 or arrive on the early side to make sure your wait time is manageable.
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, if it happens to be winter, just stay inside and stake out 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 f*cking big 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 a group and several rounds of chuggable hibiscus mezcal cocktails.
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 where 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 (or a whole pizza, for example) and stop by the taco truck parked out front. And when it’s warm, you can step outside of the greenhouse-like space and take advantage of outdoor picnic tables. If you want to learn more about the new location they just opened in Dumo, read more 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
For a night out in Crown 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.