Ask the Critic: The Best Bars for Birthday Parties

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[Illustration: Robyn Lee]

Editor's note: Here to answer your questions is senior managing editor, former SENY editor, and frequent author of our NYC restaurant reviews Carey Jones. We'll take a few of your questions each week and give you the New York restaurant advice you're looking for. Email [email protected] with the subject line Ask the Critic to submit your question!

Best Bars for Birthday Parties?

What are your favorite spots for birthday parties that have something to recommend them, besides just being large enough for groups? Those places often lack soul. Would love some ideas for fun birthday spots, preferably with snacks. No bowling or shuffleboard please!

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[Photograph: Niki Achitoff-Gray]

No bowling, and no shuffleboard. But how about Skee-Ball? How about arcade games or a life-sized Jenga? Bars with character (and childhood indulgences) abound, in Brooklyn in particular. Among the more fun birthday gatherings I've been to of late was a skee-ball party at Full Circle Bar in Williamsburg. In addition to the four skee-ball tracks, which you probably haven't seen since someone's 12th birthday party back home, Full Circle has cheap beer by the can, soft pretzels and other snacks, and a laid-back, someone's-old-rec-room feel about it; can't accuse this bar of lacking soul. Equally entertaining, if moderately less social, is Barcade, with 40+ arcade games and a superior beer-on-tap selection; there's more than enough space for a group of any size to settle in.

Slightly less theme-y, but equally playful, is Bushwick Country Club—neither in Bushwick, nor a country club—with a sizable backyard, frozen drinks from a slushie machine, a photobooth, and lots more. And hey, if it's your birthday, you'll drink for free all night. (Serious Eats editor Niki has an extensive primer on Brooklyn bars with games, listing all these and more; read up if you're so inclined.)


Outdoor seating at Fourth Avenue Pub. [Photograph: Chris Lehault]

Elsewhere in Brooklyn, Pacific Standard is a favorite, with tons of fabulous beers on tap, a comfortable, living-room-like back seating area, a generally fun crowd, and a distinct Northern California theme. It's on a Fourth Avenue strip that's great for bar-hopping, even with a group, between laid-back bars as distinct as they are crowd-pleasing. (A stop at Fourth Avenue Pub, with its free popcorn machine, is never a bad idea.)


Neverland Ranch at Evelyn Drinkery. [Photograph: Ben Fishner]

You might note that all these venues are in Brooklyn, as a good birthday party bar requires one thing above all: space. Hard to enjoy a party if you're worried about that friend squeezing into your table, or about the group next to you encroaching. But for a great midpoint between Manhattan cocktail bar and a Brooklyn chilled-out vibe, I'd go with Evelyn Drinkery on Avenue C. Two sizable connected rooms, serious cocktails that go for at least a couple bucks less than most East Village bars, lots of drinks offered by a small or large pour, and a menu that'll satisfy everyone from the teetotaler to the non-drinker to the true cocktail geek.

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