Updated: Feb 27, 2020
The wait is almost over. You’ve spent your college years thus far envying the upperclassmen who can go to happy hour after class and get into 21+ concert venues. You’ve been waiting for this day for so long, but what do you actually want to do to celebrate? New York City’s choices of nightlife are endless, and it can seem overwhelming to pick where and how you want to spend your birthday. Whether you live in the city year-round, or are making a special celebratory trip, this is your checklist to plan the perfect 21st in the greatest city in the world.
1. Rooftop bar
You probably won’t have another excuse to spend $20 on a cocktail again in your undergraduate career. But on your 21st, you’ve earned it. I chose to buy my first legal drink at the highest elevated bar in the city—Bar SixtyFive at the Rainbow Room. I had a delightful champagne cocktail on the 65th floor of Rockefeller Center. The service was great and the bar snacks, though pricey, were delicious. My only caveat is to make a reservation a few weeks ahead of time. The line for walk-ins was long, but with a reservation my party of three was immediately let into the elevators. Some other rooftop/terrace bars I recommend to enjoy your newly legal status with an epic skyline view are: 230 Fifth, Refinery Rooftop, Westlight, Skylark, The Crown, and Mr. Purple.
2. Broadway show (or comedy show, or whatever fits your style)
This is another NYC classic that is hard to justify spending money on when it isn’t a special occasion. I decided that my 21st was worth a splurge on a Broadway show. I saw Dear Evan Hansen and ordered a glass of Prosecco at intermission to recover from that glorious Act One finale. For less of a splurge, consider the variety of shows and incredible talent Off-Broadway as well. You won’t find better theater in any other city, but if show tunes and monologues aren’t your thing, New York has live entertainment for every type of person. If you’re into comedy, check out Carolines on Broadway, Comedy Cellar, or the Greenwich Village Comedy Club. It’s also worth looking into which musicians are performing on or near your birthday. New York has an incredible lineup of concerts each weekend at its numerous high profile venues. NYC.com, Seat Geek, and TimeOut are great resources to see who’s performing in the city and where. No matter what type of live entertainment you choose, you’ll get to enjoy it with a legally purchased drink in hand. It’s a real win-win for your 21st.
3. Nightclub, or another rooftop bar…or both!
After Dear Evan Hansen, I trekked across town in my stilettos for a drink at Upstairs at the Kimberly Hotel in Midtown East. It wasn’t until the following evening that I got my first legal taste of New York’s nightclub scene. The drinks are expensive, but finding a place you can dance and you actually like the music is a real treasure. It might take some trial and error, but I believe everyone can find a place to dance in NYC. Some dance spots to try are Le Bain at the Standard, The Jane Hotel, House of Yes, and Marquee. For a late night cocktail, I recommend The Blue Light on top of The Lately, the Dead Rabbit, Ophelia, and the Up & Up. Whether you’re looking for a relaxed drink or a night of dancing, the celebrations shouldn’t end at midnight.
4. Bottomless brunch
Make sure to save some energy from your night out (or give yourself a day to recover), because brunch in NYC is a lifestyle in which every newly legal person should partake. Get your squad together for day drinking with killer eggs Benedict or French toast. I took a group to Frank Restaurant in the East Village, which has a 3 Bellinis for $15 deal. I also recommend Hotel Chantelle, Essex, Pardon My French, San Marzano, and Horchata. Get a reservation ahead of time if you can!
After my bottomless brunch, I brought home the Instagram-worthy birthday cake from Momofuku Milk Bar. Chef Christina Tosi’s creation is a bit of a splurge at $50, but it was a hit with all my guests (definitely invite some friends to eat it with you). The city has an incredible array of creative dessert creations to try. I love the NYC favorite Magnolia Bakery for a classic cake. Lady M Cake Boutique is another great spot for beautiful cakes. After a weekend full of celebrating, you deserve a sweet treat—think of it as the “cherry on top” of a perfect city birthday.