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Monday, June 17, 2024

An 8-year-old once told me, “A celebration is a celebration.” A 21st birthday is no exception to this statement. Turning 21 is a rite of passage in college and tasting that first legal sip of alcohol is a momentous occasion. There are multiple routes to take when planning a 21st birthday in Gainesville.


The first decision is whether to celebrate right at midnight or the next day when you are already officially 21. Bars used to be lenient about banding the birthday person a few hours before the clock hit 12 a.m., but the police have been stricter about checking IDs in bars and clubs more frequently. First, getting out at midnight is a late start to the evening. If you wait until the next day, you can go out earlier. You can also split your celebration into two nights, a dinner the first night and drinks the second.

Another factor is the night of the week. If your birthday party is going to be held on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday night, the best location to celebrate is midtown. Downtown is your venue for Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. Sunday Funday is the best option for a Sunday earlier event.


After choosing a day of the week, deciding which bar or club to attend is next. If you are choosing midtown, most places do not charge cover so it is easier to bar hop. The clubs downtown do charge cover so it can get pricy to make your guests move to a different place every 30 minutes.

Dinner and drinks

If you want to include dinner with your party or just better drinks, the best locations for your midtown birthday are Swamp, Cantina or Tatu.

If you want a more casual scene, choose Swamp. There is live music outdoors most Monday and Friday nights and allows guests to speak to one another. They have a good happy hour selection and on Monday nights buckets of beer are just $5 with super cheap wings.

Cantina offers the birthday person a free oversized drink, usually a margarita. They are also known for its fishbowls which come in handy for sharing among a large group of friends. If you have at least eight people in your party, they will send a limo to pick you up. This is a safe option for transportation. The limo will also take you to their other restaurant 101, which is downtown. This is optimal for a dinner before Techno Tuesdays. Cantina is also your destination for Sunday Funday with free tequila shots every hour.

Tatu provides the ultimate sake bombing experience. Nothing bonds together a group of people more than banging sake into a Kirin beer and chugging. Sake and a large Kirin is $10. They offer buy-one-get-one-free sake on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Just drinks

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If you are skipping dinner and only concerned with drinks, Balls and Salty Dog at midtown offer cheap well drinks. Gator City has ladies night on Wednesdays where girls drink free, and there are specials for the guys on beer and liquor.

Downtown has a mixture of bars and clubs. The piano bar is a bit of an older crowd, but the pianists are funny about incorporating people celebrating birthdays into their performance. 101 has a full martini bar and all types of drinks and shots. Since it is the same owner of Cantina a free drink is probably a guarantee. You can also utilize their limo service. Half Cork’d is a wine bar downtown which allows you to sample all types of wines and craft beers. For a laid back experience or the first stop on your night it provides a mellower vibe.

Just dinner

If you want to remember your 21st, there are restaurants that offer deals on food for birthdays. Yamatos, a hibachi restaurant, pays for the birthday person’s meal as long as you provide a license. Ghengis Grill gives you a free birthday bowl if you are a member of their Khans Klub. BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse offers a free mini-Pizookie dessert. Many chain restaurants like T.G.I. Friday’s or Chili’s will provide a free appetizer or dessert.

Just a get together

Regardless of where the party is held, remember it is all about the company you keep. As long as you are surrounded by friends the fun times will follow. Throwing an apartment or house party is an inexpensive way to celebrate. The best part of having it where you live is your bed is just a few feet away.

When all is said and done make sure to have Five Star saved in your phone for a late night delivery, water and Advil at your bedside waiting and a pillow already fluffed for optimal sleeping in conditions. Most importantly, have a happy 21st.

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