Where to celebrate with cocktails, shuffleboard, dancing, and more.
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 of close friends and drink extremely expensive cocktails, we’ve got plenty of birthday-worthy drinking ideas on this guide.
Want to make a great dinner plan for your big day too? Check out the best Chicago restaurants for birthdays here.
From Pacman to Mortal Kombat, there’s an arcade game at Emporium for everyone, including you when you’re trying to avoid your ex who you didn’t actually invite. And in case one of your goals for this brand new year of life is reducing your screen time, this Logan Square spot (which also has locations in Wicker Park and Fulton Market) also has pool, foosball, and air hockey. This place is always busy, but it’s spacious enough you won’t feel like you’re drinking in a CTA car during rush hour.
Since 1968, Lincoln Park’s Kingston Mines has been the go-to place for live blues and dancing your ass off until 5am. The space is constantly packed, full of everyone from couples who met here 30 years ago to DePaul students letting loose after finals. There’s a cover charge at the door, but if you come within three days of your actual birthday, you can get in for free.
Cindy’s in the Loop has one of the best views of the Chicago skyline. It’s located on the roof of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, and because this place is incredibly busy there can be an hour-long wait just for the elevator (a perfect amount of time to face the reality of turning another year older). But once you’re upstairs, an unbeatable view of the illuminated skyscrapers will make you forget about the wait and accompanying inner dialogue about HDL levels. Aside from its fantastic view, this airy, greenhouse-like bar also has good cocktails from classic Old Fashioneds to fruitier options like a drink with mezcal and passionfruit.
If you don’t want to wait in line at Cindy’s to see a bunch of skyscrapers, the Game Room (also in the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel) is a fantastic backup. As its name suggests, this bar has activities like pool tables, shuffleboard, bocce ball, and foosball. They also have a pretty good food menu with things like giant pretzels, smashburgers, and a Parson’s chicken sandwich. Its large mahogany-filled interior feels a little bit like an Ivy League clubhouse, but fortunately, you can hang out here without dealing with any creepy secret initiation rituals.
Royal Palms in Bucktown is a bright, airy bar with palm trees and shuffleboard courts. It kind of feels like a cruise ship (minus the seasickness), and the drinks here are great, from a frozen piña colada to their Shuffleboard Bob made with gin, coconut water, lime, and cucumber. Weekends can be super busy, but on weekdays it’s easy to walk in and get a game going. They also have rooftop courts, just make sure to warm up beforehand since they have a “winner stays on'' policy and legendary Shuffleboard Bob may make a surprise appearance.
This Logan Square bar is a bit like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag—it may look small, but it somehow has enough room for plenty of people to dance during their live DJ sets. The cocktail menu has a wide range of options, from fruit-forward drinks with lychee and grapefruit, to stronger ones with mezcal and absinthe. But if “sitting” ranks higher than “dancing” on your favorite activities list, just check their event calendar ahead of time for more relaxed jazz or solo guitar performances.
If this is the birthday you’re convinced you’ll finally be able to nail Mariah Carey’s whistle tone in Emotions, book a private karaoke room at Green Light in West Ridge. Rooms are booked by the hour for up to 20 people, and they have birthday-related deals on bottle service or rates when you spend a certain amount on food. The Korean food here is pretty good, with dishes like japchae, kimchi tater tots, and tteokbokki. After your time in the private room runs out, you can hang in the front dining area and be entertained by the fire-breathing bartenders.
Big Star in Wicker Park is the go-to spot when you just want to sit outside with a drink in hand. And while their tacos may not be the city’s best, they’re still pretty good, and highly effective alcohol absorbers. This spot’s giant outdoor patio is one of our favorites in the city and is a great place to share pitchers of margaritas and palomas instead of over-frosted slices of sheet cake from Jewel. Unfortunately, not everyone’s birthday happens during the part of the year when being outside is a thing, but thankfully margarita drinking is a year-long activity that can also be enjoyed indoors.
With over 60 draft beers, this relaxed Belgian-themed bar in Andersonville is an ideal place to take advantage of your friends’ generous “Drinks On Us” birthday policy. And because this place has great food (and because surely they'll also pay for dinner) you should also order a bratwurst burger or the cashew butter, fig, and cheese sandwich—an elevated version of a PB&J. This place is cavernous, with multiple dining rooms, a back patio, and an upstairs area with a smaller bar. Being here feels a bit like you’ve crashed someone’s house, one that's decorated with European posters that say things like “Brouwerij Verhaeghe”—which gets harder to pronounce the longer you’re here.
Since Maria’s Packaged Goods in Bridgeport is literally attached to Kimski and Pizza Fried Chicken Ice Cream, it’s a good birthday spot if the stress of planning a dinner and drinks itinerary makes your smart watch think you’re in the middle of a HIIT workout. You can bring in food from both restaurants, and there’s a decent amount of group seating in their dimly lit bar area. But we especially like coming here in the warmer months when they open up their spacious outdoor patio. Plus, Maria’s is a slashie (a bar-liquor store combo), so you can get some booze on your way out to keep the party going after you get home.
This Ukrainian Village spot is probably the most well-kept dive bar in the city, so you won’t be subjected to a lingering cigarette smell that’s survived 12 presidencies. Like any respectable Chicago dive, you can get Old Style and malort, but Ez Inn also has a great cocktail menu with options like a frozen mocha made with vodka. The large wooden interior is decorated in all sorts of Old Style memorabilia, and is like a cozy winter cabin, with plenty of leather bar stools, couches, and open space for friends to mingle. This space also doubles as a dance floor during occasional DJ sets, so keep an eye on their event calendar.
Appropriately named, Bunker is located in the basement of an apartment building in the West Loop. This well-lit underground bar has all sorts of activities like arcade games and shuffleboard, and plenty of room for all the people you invited. Plus, with tasty tacos and burritos and a creative cocktail menu, this Doomsday safe house is fully equipped to distract you after the inevitable apocalypse. But assuming the outside world is still okay, you can also hang out on their large dog-friendly patio.
If what you want most out of a birthday is a fancy cocktail experience, then there’s no better place than The Aviary. This upscale lounge in Fulton Market is from the same owners as Alinea, so you can expect $28 drinks, complex apparatuses that look like lab experiments, and cocktails served in a bottle with a glass pirate ship inside of it. Reservations are recommended for groups, but you can also try walking in—there might be a wait, but you can use that time to figure out how to rearrange your monthly budget after a night here.
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