So, I would like to go to New York City next summer and for me the best time to do it is shortly before I turn 21, so I will still be 20.

Will I be able to enter bars without drinking alcohol? I just want to go somewhere once or twice to see how nightlife is like in NYC, I don't care about actually drinking anything.

By the way I look older than I am.

  • 2
    @CGCampbell are you pretty sure that's correct - specifically in NYC? "if you are with other people who are drinking" ... it's completely commonplace to have families (or whatever) where there are children, young adults under 21 such as Eurogirl, and old people.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 11:17
  • 1
    Certainly, anyone from Europe needs to be incredibly careful when dealing with US' extreme alcohol laws, however, I am almost certain that in NY you cannot face jail time (or in fact even be arrested) if you are <21 and drink alcohol. I believe it's a $50 fine, officially on the face of it. (By all means, the establishment can get in trouble if they serve someone <21, but that won't happen, they card everyone.)
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 11:22
  • 1
    "By the way I look older than I am" - unless you look about 98, you'll still get asked for ID :)
    – Berwyn
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 11:38

4 Answers 4


Technically they won't allow you in, but many bars don't card at the door. If they're popular enough (but not popular enough to have a door guy), you'll be able to get in without anyone checking or noticing. In these cases, they'll just card you at the bar when you order a drink. I don't drink much but hang out with friends at bars somewhat frequently, I'd say I get carded at the door 50% of the time. We like quieter, more beer-bar oriented places though. There's no way to say "this place you'll be able to get in, this place you won't", you just have to walk around and try, it depends on the night.

Note that you'll definitely be able to get into many concert venues, DIY spaces, etc., which almost universally do check ID, but frequently admit all-ages. They just won't give you the wristband or stamp that totally securely authenticates you as 100% ≥21, no way to fake that. Silent Barn is an example.

  • 1
    dude everything you say is true, but it's not the case that "Technically they won't allow you in". they can freely allow you in, but many (perhaps most) simply don't allow under 21s, because (as you explain) it's far too much trouble to then card every single person at the bar on every drink.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 1:37

Euro, I'm fairly certain the actual legal answer to your question is

yes, as a matter of law it's completely OK, legal in NY State to go in to a place which sells alcoholic drinks, if you are under 21 and you don't actually drink alcohol.

Note that - of course - some/many establishments have a sign "21 and up only" or "25 and up only" or "tall redheaded 40 year old people only" or whatever, that has no connection at all to alcohol laws. To be clear it's perfectly legal for bars in NY to discriminate (so to speak) against under 21s.

Note however, putting aside the law, we need a current New Yorker on here to tell us how common it is that bars/nightclubs simply do not allow under 21s.

Note that if you're thinking "cool nightclubs" (aside - why go to NY? you're 70 years old?! :) it's not the 60s anymore) they do (although this can change rapidly) often allow only over-some-high-age because it's just too inconvenient for the bar staff to check everyone. (Indeed, conversely back the 90s a "trendy" thing was actually all-night nightclubs catering specifically to youngsters, like 13 etc, obviously with no alcohol at all sold.)

BTW not specifically an answer to your legal question but you can easily google up articles such as



A recent article from the local TV station


  • When I was a minor in New York city in the 1980s there was a bar/restaurant at the corner where I was required to remain on the other side of a partition from the bar. I have no idea whether that rule is still in place, but I don't find it hard to imagine that there is a class of establishments serving no food that might be required by law to keep minors off the premises altogether.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 23:34
  • Hey, that was just one bar; it was not common and not a rule. "required by law to keep minors off the premises altogether" I'm 85% certain there is NO LAW that means minors have to be kept off certain premises. Very simply, many bars just decide to have nobody under 21, since, it's then tremendously easier to not have to card everyone for every drink at the bar.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 19, 2017 at 23:40
  • 1
    It was just one bar that explained to me and my family that their policy was dictated by the law. So are you saying that they lied to us? That's pretty farfetched.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 0:28
  • I think it's highly likely that the law has changed since the 1980s. It may also have to do with availability of food, etc. I found jazz clubs as such with 18+ using Google. Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 1:03
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    This NY Post article from 2006 implies there was an age limit of 16 years, in reporting discussions to raise it to 18 or 21. I don't see any evidence that it was raised, but it's certainly unlikely that it was repealed. @AndrewLazarus I agree the law has likely changed since the 1980s. Older restaurants still have those partitions, but newer ones generally don't.
    – phoog
    Commented Jun 20, 2017 at 1:18

None of the other answers are correct. In NYC no bar will let you in without ID and under 21.

Not drinking? Doesn’t matter. Not welcome. The other answers are talking about restaurants that serve alcohol, and even they have limits. NO BAR will allow under 21 by law. Just don’t. Take your underage people to restaurants and leave the bars out of it. The things we as bartenders have to put up with, having to explain LAW is just not worth it. Stay home.

  • -1. I live in NYC and go to bars frequently. Tons of bars don't card people at the door.
    – JonathanReez
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 1:12

It's astounding nobody has any actual legal info on the simple question, can you enter a bar if you're under 21/18/whatever in New York State.

Here's the closest I've found:


"The age at which a person not yet of legal drinking age may enter a bar is up to the owner of the bar."

"While it is illegal to enter a bar if you are under 18.."

There you have it - facts from, um, someone who looks like they might possibly be in the legal profession.

I'm actually very surprised there's actually a law that you cannot go in a bar under 18. I think that may be incorrect.

Conversely I've seen other references that (by the actual law) you can't go to a bar in NYS if you are under 16, but you can if accompanied by an adult.

Fascinatingly, if you google there are many many people asking the identical question asked here. The closest I've found to an actual legal opinion is the one I quote above. But all the answers are just guesses, as on this page.

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