Sometimes you’re just stumped when it comes to picking a bar/restaurant/activity. When you’re drawing a blank of where to go and what to do, hopefully my themed roundups will serve as a helpful guide.
My first few (ok, 6) birthdays in NYC were basically just bar nights. I would pick a favorite bar – someplace not too fancy – and just tell all my friends to show up. I would usually do a smaller dinner before the party with my closest friends. At the time, it was the best of both worlds: intimate and informal.
Now that I’m older, when it comes to celebrating, I cut the big party out entirely. I would rather just have a dinner with my close friends and then see where the night takes us. The problem is that my small group of friends ain’t so small anymore. Everyone is part of a couple now so 7 units of people means 14 or 15 diners. It’s all of a sudden tough to pick a restaurant that’s good for groups. I’m not talking groups so large that it requires you to rent a room (you’re not hosting a rehearsal dinner, after all); I mean groups that are small enough to split checks but large enough that you can’t just show up or make a rezzy last minute. You might not have the problem of being older with lots of couple friends. You may be 24, single, and still easily have 10 girlfriends to invite to your bday dinner. In which case, bravo, you’re more popular than me.
But choosing a restaurant is a lot of pressure! You need to pick someplace that everyone will like so it’s best not to go too exotic. Price should also be a factor. I don’t know how many times I’ve wanted to bail on a close friend’s birthday because I knew it would drain my bank account. Now that I’m older, I’m willing to spend more, but I don’t need to drop three digits for someone else’s non-milestone birthday. You want people excited to be there, not excited-but-still-stressed about how much they’re about to spend. I’m also keeping in mind that you’ll probably be getting kind of loud, so you’ll want your own space away from all the other diners.
Here’s my list of favorites:
- Supper: This is probably the most well-known private dinner space. There’s no minimum, you simply have to reserve it in advance. The setting is gorgeous, with beautiful chandeliers and lovely wallpaper. Also key: there is a private bathroom and you can hook up your own iPod to create exactly the vibe you want. This truly feels like an event. They also serve the biggest burrata ever.
- The Writing Room: The Study area of this UES restaurant is beautiful and separate enough that you and your friends can let loose. They actually have some reasonably priced brunch/lunch/dinner prix fixe meals if you wanted to coordinate something fancier for your group. Furthermore, if you do it as a brunch birthday, you can order bottles of champagne with mixers. It doesn’t mean you have to pay the whole tab, but everybody eating/drinking the same thing makes for very easy check splitting at the end of the meal.
- Swift: This is actually a bar where I held more than one of those bar night bdays. All or just part of the back area can be reserved [for no fee], which means you can take over those long tables with benches. They serve food there as well so this can satisfy both the dinner and drink portions of the evening. This is probably the most casual place on the list, but who says bdays need to be stuffy?
- Amazing 66: Chinese is the perfect family style cuisine so it’s great for groups. It’s also inexpensive…so it’s great for groups. It may not be the typical, fancy New York party scene, but Chinatown always seems to put people in a festive mood. If you really want it to be a celebration, pre-order the crispy chicken.
- Birds and Bubbles: Champagne is in the name of this restaurant, which means it’s great for celebrations. It’s also great to order the whole chicken, which comes with four sides and a bread basket – perfect for going splitzkies.
- Otto: Pizza is a great food for sharing. Order several and let people go to town. The most expensive pizza is $16; same goes for pasta. The red booths, marble high tops, and large checkered floors make for a fun, eye-popping setting. And then you’re in a great West Village location if you want to hit up some bars.
- If you’re like the idea of pizza (without being in a overly casual pizza parlor), another good option is Marta. It’s more upscale, but the pizzas average at $19. The drinks, however, are not so cheap. It’s also not in as good of a location but hey, you gotta have options!