Society generally has it that once you outgrow the children’s menu at restaurants, you become ineligible for free stuff on your birthday. And when you become part of the world of student loans, unemployment checks, and doing your taxes, those gratis clown-faced birthday sundaes from Friendly’s aren’t to be taken for granted. Now that you’re old enough to appreciate them, is it fair that you don’t get them anymore?
On March 13, I turned 23. And I awoke with the intention to not spend a dime all day. While, yes, accepting gifts from friends and loved ones, my primary aim was to find out how many businesses/strangers would be willing to oblige me.
People told me to hit up the chain restaurants, since many will send you codes for comped treats on your birthday. But I tried to keep my expedition to small businesses in Williamsburg or thereabouts, A) because I don’t want my inbox blown up with newsletters from Ruby Tuesdays, and B) I considered that my friendly, neighborhood staples would be more likely to offer genuine goodwill, and C) I just got laid off, so I’m hard-strapped for subway money. Their responses ranged from cheerful accommodation to moderate resistance to flat-out denial.
Just as a disclaimer, this is just an account of what worked for me subjectively. My successes will not necessarily indicate future results. So, without further ado, here’s how I made birthday freebies happen.
Be friendly and engage people!
However dark the global climatic implications of Tuesday’s gorgeous weather might have been, the preternatural spring seemed to put everyone in a good mood, and people were extra friendly. Lucky for me and my endeavors. While walking around, I fell into Malin Landaeus (157 N. 6th St. at Bedford), an impeccably curated little vintage store with an awesome shoe selection. The shop’s namesake and founder, Malin Landaeus was super-extra-friendly, as well as wearing a bad-ass, faded workwear suit fit for a left-bank painter. I spoke with her and a crowd of shop regulars for a while about this and that, and my birthday came up. Malin her employee sang “Happy Birthday” in Swedish for me, and offered me a slice of fudgey vegan chocolate cake. I left with one of those lovely, fuzzy feelings of having my faith in human kindness rejuvenated.
If you don’t succeed, try try again!
I got shot down at countless places. At Cupcakeland, the very nice counter girl offered to sing to me, but not feed me. Thus I was pleasantly surprised at Gimme Coffee (495 Lorimer St. btwn. Grand and Powers) where I talked a bit with the baristas, staging my odd request as a sort of social experiment (not entirely incorrectly), and they made me a free iced mocha. I took a similar approach at Momofuku Milk Bar (382 Metropolitan Ave. at Havemeyer) and got a mouthful of their balls of heaven (innuendo intended), the birthday cake truffles. Subsequently, however, I was told that this is not a normal occurrence, and God should strike me down if I portray it to be. Ultimately, it’s a numbers game, and you need to be bold, but friendly, and ultimately sort of sheepish as to indicate that you know how silly you sound. Also, things seem to be pretty subjective. Your success will depend largely on whom you engage with, and whether or not they’re willing to break the rules.
Hit up the already free places
Williamsburg’s Second Stop Coffee (524 Lorimer St. at Ainslie) is just as excited about your special day as you are. A sign on their counter depicts a cheesin’ Richard Simmons, next to a declaration that you get a free coffee and a cookie if it’s your birthday. Thankfully, this freebie didn’t even take an ounce of self-debasement or begging. I just said it was my birthday, the smiling barista wished me many happy returns, asked me what roast I wanted, and directed me to their selection of cookies — you get your choice of chocolate chip, chocolate chip walnut, and peanut butter. Talk about hospitality.
Second Chance Saloon (659 Grand St., btwn Leonard and Manhattan) is another good birthday freebie staple. Your birthday present there is free beer and well drinks all night. And unlike many other places that let you drink for free on your birthday, you don’t need to wrangle a crowd of bargoers. Just you, your ID, and your strong constitution. When your birthday is on a weekday, as mine was, this comes in handy. Obviously, show some love and make sure to tip, and if you’re caught handing your free drinks off to your friends, your arse gets booted. If you’re trying to work up the courage to solicit free shots elsewhere, this is a great place to start. Which leads me to one of the final, pivotal way to get free stuff on your birthday.
When all else fails, be drunk and entitled
Not drunk enough to be cut off, but just enough so that you don’t feel self-conscious advertising it to strangers and bartenders. I got lucky at The Drink (228 Manhattan Ave. at Union), a place that I can’t normally afford, and was able to free, generously-sized tequila shots for two friends as well as myself just by just asking what I could get for free on my birthday. The bartender gave me a dubious look, but my moxie paid off in fermented agave.
So what did I learn on my freebie crawl? It’s easy to forget when ordering from your intimidatingly hip barista or poker-faced bartender that everyone has a birthday. And everyone wants theirs to be special. Putting yourself out there may or may not get you a free tequila shot or slice of cake, but it’s a good way to engage with people in your ‘hood. That in itself is a pretty cool birthday present.
Follow Arielle on Twitter: @ArielleDachille