At last, I will be able to drink in America.
July 2, 2009 4:43 PM   Subscribe

How can I throw an epic 21st birthday party?

I'm turning 21 soon. I just recently moved into a house with a bunch of my friends on our campus and I'd like to throw a party. What can I do to show the people a good time? A great punch recipe? Crazy decorations? A weird theme? My housemates have pretty mainstream taste (in terms of pop music, college frat parties, etc) but I'd also be inviting another group of friends who have more offbeat taste (obscure music, artsy films and stuff) - I'd definitely want my party to be more "offbeat"!

I think I could probably get around 20-30 people I know (friends, neighbors, acquaintances) to show up for sure (most likely not all at the same time) but there would probably be more if people bring friends and friends-of-friends and such. I'm willing to spend about $100-$200 max myself on booze and miscellaneous party items, but I'd rather have it go pretty far rather than, say, renting a huge foam machine or getting a DJ or something. Cheap beer will most likely be bought for college-style drinking games, and some nicer beer or champagne for close friends. I'm just not sure what else to do! Is there anything anyone's had/done at a birthday (or other!) party that made you say "wow, sweet!"? What can I do to make my party awesome (with a touch of strange)?
posted by sarahj to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I've always been jealous of whoever got to attend this Communist Party. YMMV based on how tolerant your friends are of puns.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:13 PM on July 2, 2009

Invite everybody you know and tell them to byob, then buy all the booze you can afford.
posted by box at 5:16 PM on July 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

For my housemate's 19th (we're in Canada), we rented a karaoke machine, pretty cheap. Combined with a significant amount of liquor (and a blender! - kahlua, bailey's, vanilla ice cream, and a dash of either amaretto or frangelica), a great night was had by all1.

1. One needs to be friends with one's downstairs neighbours for this to work
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:41 PM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Okay, this is a top secret guaranteed fun time, so use it carefully. It's called You Must Obey the Game. Everybody loves it-- art kids, frat boys, nerds, whatever. Here's what you do:

1. Get a big piece of cardboard and some markers.
2. Draw a Candyland-style path with individual squares.
3. Fill in the squares with whatever you want. Truth or Dare? Sure. Sexy Photo Shoot? A classic. 5-minute game of beer pong? Sounds good. Everybody drink? Necessary. Make up your own rules. Having some squares with drinking-game-style requirements is good for loosening your guests up, but do whatever you're comfortable with.
4. Find a die or one of those spinner things and a bunch of game pieces (different coins, Monopoly pieces, buttons, whatever).
5. Depending on how many of you there are, break up into groups or play as teams of one.

Instant successful party.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:44 PM on July 2, 2009 [11 favorites]

I second a "Communist Party." Have everyone wear red and black...ebay some Mao posters, Che Shirts, Leninist propaganda. Put red sheets over lights...get some che berrets. The red beer cups will look the part. Put the movie Red Dawn on the TV in the background. A friend of mine threw one in college and I still remember it. Hiphop group Binary Star has a song called KGB that puts beats and rhymes over an old Russian Military Hymn - would be perfect to rock.
posted by jnnla at 5:48 PM on July 2, 2009

Themes are a must. Similar to oinopaponton's idea, the best theme (depending on how wild you want the party to get) is one that gives everyone an excuse to do the things they want to do anyway but might be too embarassed/sober, but, hey, look, the theme/game says they have to!

Our version was the Dirty Money Party (this was my 21st birthday). We went to Kinkos and photocopied money (I know, bad us, but we did it on neon paper) and everyone upon entry gets a set amount of money. (Lots of bills are better for your purposes.) The goal of the night is to end up with the most money so you can be the Winner! (Winner of what? Whatever, for us it was a Burger King crown and cheapo tiara and 6 pack each for the respective guy and girl winners. By the end everyone is so wasted they don't even know what's happening.) We had a big sign up with suggested amounts to pay people for things like:
Pirate shot (3 shot shot class) of Popov vodka - 20 "dollars"
Go in the closet and switch outfits with someone of opposite sex - 10 dollars
Kiss someone you've never met before - 50 dollars
etc. etc. etc. and people make up their own.

It was a fabulously fun party and I know of at least 2 couples that resulted from the kissing someone you've never met before, as well as many more that just made a friend for the night.

If you want just fun wacky themes, I can think of: Euro-trash dance party; religion party (come as your favorite god or religious figure! I was Madonna in her Kaballa phase and handed out red string bracelets to everyone); alter-ego party (everyone come as whoever your alter-ego would be); barbie and ken party (Dress up as ____ Barbie or _____ Ken).
posted by wuzandfuzz at 6:10 PM on July 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Oh hey, it's summer. That means your theme could be "bathing suits and bowties" - friends of mine have thrown them to resounding success.
posted by Lemurrhea at 6:12 PM on July 2, 2009

Best answer: How can I throw an epic 21st birthday party?

If you want it to be better than most people's 21sts, then here's what you do:

1. Make sure everyone who's trashed gets home safe (no leaving alone, no leaving with someone they dont' know).

2. Stay sober enough to be able to handle a crisis if it occurs.
posted by hermitosis at 6:32 PM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

My 21st was also my most successful theme party: The Alter Ego Party, as mentioned above. Which is essentially just a costume party, with wide enough parameters for everyone to do what they feel comfortable. It mixed off-beat and frat types well. Frankly, I can't remember many of the costumes, except a Zack Morris complete with giant cell phone, and lots of assorted dominatrix type looks. Mine was Mrs. Robinson, black lingerie, martini glass, and lots of "Do you want me to seduce you, Benjamin?".

A couple tips: don't make your own mixed drinks after you're already drunk, and don't ask the cops if they want you to seduce them once they show up. And since you have a house, encourage the drunks to pass out there (all the better for safety, and getting lucky). But honestly, best party ever.
posted by LolaCola at 6:49 PM on July 2, 2009

JELLO SHOTS. They are fun, they are tasty, they are cheap, and they can be pretty strong if made properly. Make them in a variety of different colors/flavors, and make hundreds. The best college party I threw involved a refrigerator full of them. You can use dixie cups, but we used the little salsa cups from Taco Cabana, which made them easy to stack. And of course, they can be easily incorporated into the themes & games mentioned above.
posted by bahama mama at 7:25 PM on July 2, 2009

The "clothes you never wear" theme has always worked for me.

Failing that, and seeing you're so darned young, there's always the "liquid LSD and endless amounts of nitrous oxide" theme. Just make sure everything's padded.
posted by philip-random at 8:04 PM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dang, wish i had though of My Alter Ego Party when I turned twenty one.

Sounds fabulous: all Freudian, inhibition-shredding, louche, eccentric, kinky, weird, surprising ("I never thought she had it in her"), and certainly memorable.

Ditto on the no driving home drunk, et cetera.

What I remember of mine was my girlfriend playing Frank Sinatra's "It Was A Very Good Year" over and over and over again...
posted by holdenjordahl at 9:45 PM on July 2, 2009

Its summer and you are on campus so I suggest you search the archives for people putting on Slip 'n Slide parties. Also if you want to do something different/memorable, have a live band perform.
posted by mmascolino at 10:17 PM on July 2, 2009

All my friends are offbeat. Every party we have generally has a DJ, because, well, I know a lot of DJs. Here are some themed parties I've been to:

Gender Bender Party

3D Party (3D glasses are cheap in bulk online)

Cavebot Party (Cavemen and robots)

Grilled Cheese Party (thread here)

Sock Puppet Party (again, thread)

Some Ideas I've Wanted To Pull Off:

Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Frat Party (chocolate fountain is pretty much required as well as you dressing up like Mr. Wonka)

Crazy Headdress Party (mostly because me and all the Fashion Design majors who made insane creations at the Sock Puppet Party are currently obsessed with Karen O's costume at Glastonbury)

Batcave Rave (Batman themed dance party)

Couch Fort Party (whole house wrapped in blankets, smores toasted over candles, it helps there's a local band named Couch Forts)

Christmas in July

Happy Deathday (kind of twisted super-fun fake funeral, lots of Dia de los Muertos type decor, papel picado, flowers, black clothing and veils, coffin made out of a fridge box)

General Tips:

Do not assume anyone is going to put any more than a modicum of effort into conforming to your theme. A lot of scene kids are too cool and aloof to put effort into anything. I like to make it so that people can just show up to my parties and participate. At the Grilled Cheese Party I had all the ingredients on hand, at the Sock Puppet Party I had all the supplies ready to go, at the 3D Party all you had to do was show up and be handed a pair of glasses.

If you do have a costume theme, try to make it pretty simple. Dress in all one color, or something you never wear? Easy. Dress like a 1920s speakeasy patron? I have a pretty huge wardrobe and even I'd struggle with this one. A lot of my friends always dictate weird dress (sequins! sundresses! hats!) and I'm stuck between not wanting to disappoint and not wanting to fight the rest of the hipsters over the last sequinned dress at the thrift store.

In high school we used to rock better drinks now than we're all college age, honestly. I usually put "BYOB" on flyers even I'm planning to have plenty of beer; that way if someone bitches that all I have is a fridge full of Peebers I can drunkenly tell them that they could have bought something better and brought it. A lot of PBR is pretty standard, though I did go to a party recently where they had a keg and a duty-free 3 litre bottle of Crown Royal that was pretty class.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:46 AM on July 3, 2009

My college housemates and I always threw great parties at our place. You already have a lot of good suggestions, but here's one I haven't read yet: Hide, cover, and put away anything you don't want damaged, stolen, or puked on.

Jungle juice is always a good bet. Everclear is cheap (if my memory serves). Mix with all kinds of other booze and juice until you think you have something drinkable. Throw some fruit in there sangria-style. I'm not talking about a pitcher, think 5-gallon bucket. I never drank the crap by my roommates (and our party-goers) appreciated it.

OR, if you don't want people passing out upside-down on your stairs (Hank), spend your $1-200 on kegs and cups. I was never ashamed (even at my birthday parties) to charge a "cup fee" to not have to swallow ALL the cost.

And if you do end up getting multiple kegs, only tap one at a time. This way, there is only one tap (so nobody will be compelled to steal one), and if you don't tap a keg a lot of places will let you bring it back (provided you kept it cold).

Also: have fun, and happy birthday!
posted by pkphy39 at 8:40 AM on July 3, 2009

Piggybacking on pkphy39's suggestion, may I suggest gin bucket instead? [1 part gin, 2 parts clear soda (Sprite or Fresca), some sliced-up limes and lemons, lots of ice, though there are lots of variations upon Googling]

For one reason only: jungle juice, when vomited, leaves bright pink stains EVERYWHERE.
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:58 AM on July 3, 2009

Piggybacking on pkphy39 and rachaelfaith's suggestions, I've made a good large quantity faux-mojito (clear, no staining, yay!) with big bundles of mint, sprite, sliced up limes, and rum. Mix to taste in large container of choosing (ours was a clean ice chest cooler thingie).
posted by wuzandfuzz at 2:54 PM on July 3, 2009

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