The bar birthday is one of the worst choices one could make for a birthday, slightly better than having it in a sewer drain, slightly worse than an Arby’s. When I attend a bar birthday, I look at the birthday boy/girl with maximum disdain. I think, I wish this person had never been born so I wouldn’t have to be at this bar right now, and I never forget that he/she subjected me to this indignity. Many of my good friends have had bar birthdays and will read this, thinking, surely not me, not my party, he enjoyed my party. But I didn’t. Many others will say, “Fine, then I won’t invite you to MY birthday.” To which, I say, GOOD.
The problems begin with the layout: a noisy, uncomfortable space, ostensibly communal but, in practice, divisive. The line of bar stools only allows for up to three people to have a conversation at one time unless someone is standing. And though most bars have booths and tables, these are inevitably already occupied by the dregs of humanity for all time. Then there’s the 21 and up limit on entrance, potentially dividing up the group even further and banishing any underage friends from the festivities while also apprising them of their lesser worth because, of course, if they had been truly appreciated, the birthday boy/girl would’ve insisted on an age limit free party location.
There’s also the bar’s auditory environment. As with all music intended for public space, bar music is terrible. Garbage. To change it, one must either beg the bartender for something, anything else or pop an inordinate amount of money into a jukebox like it’s the 1950’s and music still costs money. And what’s worse, the terrible music is too loud to have a conversation. If I can’t hear or be heard—and I must be heard or why even exist—what’s left for me to do but stare vacantly at Sporting Event, the only thing shown on bar TV screens and also the absolute least interesting thing possible to show. If I didn’t have a smartphone, I’d peel off my own face and eat the face meat. Happy birthday, great party, nom nom, Mason Verger, nom nom.
This is my nightmare. A dimly lit room, congested with strangers, forced to watch professional baseball.
On top of the mental toll, there’s the financial toll inflicted on hapless party guests; that is, the despotic markup of beverages. Like a movie theater or an airport, you’ll pay at least 400% more for beverages, except you also have to tip at least a dollar no matter the drink price (e.g., $1 on a $2 PBR). And what do we receive for this premium? A ten minute wait for some dead eyed monster to fill a glass with liquid, a space to socialize, and, most horribly, the opportunity to be surrounded by strangers, the worst kind of animal! What a deal! It’s only rigid social norms that compel us to ignore our common sense.
If someone said, “I’m going to immerse you in a crowd of drunk strangers unless you pay me 5 dollars,” I personally would pay the money.
And here is why the bar birthday is truly madness: apartments exist and we all have free immediate access to them. At a home, we have sovereignty over décor, music, and, most importantly, attendee selection. A house party’s host can offer snacks, or guests could order a pizza should they get hungry. If you want a drink, you can just get one yourself with no wait time or withering stares. There’s probably no pool or darts, sure, but who cares when you can play board games, card games, drinking games, videogames, etc.
Instead of backless stools or dirty booths, you have a cozy chaise longue or sectional couch so people’s spines are delicately cradled by soft fabrics. You can use the sparkling clean bathroom to poop without awkwardness or contagion exposure. The drinks are less expensive, with no cover or fascist credit card minimum, and because of this lower price, people can get drunker (self-medicated). Then once you’re intoxicated, you’re under no pressure to drive home or even leave; an apartment doesn’t close at 2AM. Instead, you have, assuming the host is accommodating, a couch, air mattress, or patch of carpet to deposit your unconscious body.
Of course, there are downsides, the major one being the burden it places on the host. The poor bastard has to clean before and after the party, possibly provide communal beverages and snacks, subject his home to possible damage—it’s a legitimate problem, this burden. By asking guests to BYOB and throw their empties in the trash or keeping the party small, the hosting responsibility can be alleviated somewhat (it helps if your friends are reasonable), but this may not be very practical. I can understand why you would seek out bars for casual hangouts and avoid any obligation to clean the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is your apartment.
But this isn’t a casual hangout. It’s a birthday party. A human being has been birthed and must be acknowledged for skillfully avoiding death for another year. I’ll admit there are some cool bars with good music and friendly bartenders, but alcohol is a widely available medicine. When your birthday rolls around, consider the location options, and don’t force your beloved friends into a cramped dungeon full of sad drunk divorcees.