if you’re not buying alcohol, can under 21s still go in bars/get served?

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if you’re not buying alcohol, can under 21s still go in bars/get served?



I’ve read the past 2 years of messages, and used the search function to try and find the answer to this, so sorry for bringing up a common issue, but I couldn’t find answers specific to my question.

My friend and I are travelling in the USA for 3 weeks in Aug/Sept this year after doing 2 months on a Camp America placement. The majority of our time will be spent in New York and various places in California. I’m 19, and she is 20. Obviously, we know this means we’re not legal to drink alcohol in America, so I was wondering what the policy was for minors in bars drinking soft beverages, and the experiences other travellers have had. We’re not going to bother trying to get served alcohol, its not really worth the hassle, but we’d like to be able to sit in bars if its at all possible, in the same way that children are allowed in pubs in the UK. We don’t really want to be stuck in Mcdonalds with the 13 year olds! But at the same time we’re cool to go without clubs, as we can do that all the time at home anyway.

Some of the posts have mentioned being given a wrist band on the door to show that you’re underage, does this mean we won’t get served at the bar even if its just for a lemonade? Or is that just for alcohol? When my friends and I were turning 18, we were fine sitting in family areas of pubs in Nottingham (very very strict on the ID front) and the ones who were still 17 could get served for food and soft drinks, is this the case in the USA? Or will we be refused entry completely as neither of us are 21?

I understand the rules vary from state to state, so if anyone has any information directly relating to California and New York it’d be great, but general advice/hints about being under 21 in the USA is just as needed! Its suddenly dawned on me how annoying it is to be legal here but not in America, as even though we’re not big drinkers it’d still be cool to be able to sit in a bar even if we’re only drinking coke!

Thanks in advance x

Avatar for Broke

Total Posts: 6023

Joined 2007-04-07


depends how old u look just walk in the bar order ure drinks sit down unless you look like ure kids chances are ure be serrved whatever u want.  if the ppl in the bar ask u for id. then worst they can do. tell u to leave just go to another bar.  chances are ull get served in the next one and if u only buying soft drinks and food wheres the harm in that ?.  :D


Avatar for flashpacker

Total Posts: 5495

Joined 2006-04-29

:o In the land of Coke and Pepsi, why bother for alcohol?
Remember, all Hollywood - Bollywood stars drink mineral water in public. Stick to Perrier !! One in hotel room, drink what you like. Buy them in Supermarket .


some bars will let in over 18’s/under 21’s but they will stamp your hand or put a wristband on you so you can’t get served alcohol. You should be fine if you just want to have something to eat and drink soft drinks. You will find that there are better things to do in N.Y.C than sit in bars drinking pop anyway..lol.

Avatar for ertyland

Total Posts: 126

Joined 2006-07-14

:o In the land of Coke and Pepsi, why bother for alcohol?
Remember, all Hollywood - Bollywood stars drink mineral water in public. Stick to Perrier !! One in hotel room, drink what you like. Buy them in Supermarket .

Wot the fook?

I think u should teach a course on randomness-i would defo sign up :D


Thanks for the replies…

Seems like we should be ok then, neither of us look particularly young and even before I was 18 I’ve rarely been ID’ed in the UK even though most places have the U21 = ID policy, so hopefully we’ll be fine. I don’t mind wearing a wrist band or whatever, as the law is the law, but I’d hate not to be able to go in anywhere esspecially as we’re so used to going places at home.

And um, with regards to the sit in your hotel room comment- I’d rather be out in the cities, I’m not spending loads of money to go and sit in a hotel room!!

Thanks! x

Avatar for kenny0_3

Total Posts: 1550

Joined 2006-07-14

New York and California are amongst the strictest as well as the major vegas casinos who risk losing there license, when we were going round New York over Xmas/New Year 5 of us were over 21 and one was under. some places only id’d the person at the bar but some ask for id off everyone in the group and then either say its ok for you to stay in or not.

That wristband thing is somewhat of a myth and only seems to be in place at a few bars and some clubs in areas of a young populace IE near a Uni as lets be honest a busy place can make more cash off people drinking the boozer

Avatar for Jennie063

Total Posts: 216

Joined 2007-03-12


The yanks are VERY strict when it comes to underage boozers be warned! I was 21 when I was over there and had to carry my passport everywhere and every place checked it thoroughly. Couldn’t even get through the door of the off licence without it.

When in bars with my 19year old friend some served me alcohol and her a soft drink but we were not allowed to sit at the bar, dont really know what they thought she was gona do! We actually sat in the corner and she ended up drinking half of my drink!

Never heard about the wristband thing, there are clubs for under 21’s though, aparently they’re alright but I couldn’t get in as I was too old!

You should be ok in the daytime to sit with a soft drink, just check with the barstaff as you go in, but dont think you’ll have any chance of getting in a normal bar in the evening.


Avatar for Turtleflash2

Total Posts: 11

Joined 2007-04-24

Well, I’m from North Carolina, so I’m not an expert on NY and CA, but here’s my general US bar/being underage knowledge:

The whole wristband thing mainly applies to clubs, not really bars. What they do is either give you a wristband or stamp/mark your hand to show that you’re under/over 21. (So that the workers don’t have to card everyone and can easily pick out underage drinkers.)

-With bars, it totally depends on the place. Some limit entries to over 21s, but many have a rule such as any age before 10pm and only 21+ after 10pm. (If you’re already in, you should be okay to stay.)
-If you can get in, you can definitely order food/non-alcoholic beverages. At most places, you can sit at the bar too (unless it’s busy).
-Basically, as long as you’re not trying to buy alcohol or acting suspicious, you should be fine. Each bar has its own policy, though, so just ask.

If you’re with some friends who are 21+ and they want to drink/buy alcohol:
-You probably won’t be able to hang out with them at the physical bar.
-If you’re at a restaurant and they want a drink with their meal, the waiters will only card that person ordering.
-If they’re buying at a grocery/alcohol store, stay away while they’re purchasing. Even if they’re just buying you a candy bar, if you’re in line iwth them or you’ve been seen with them near the alcohol, the store won’t sell. Stores now have to card everyone in a group (to try and keep people from buying for minors).

With all that said, sure the US can be pretty strict about underage drinking and they do all they can to try and prevent it, but if you’re not trying to buy anything, you should be fine. If you guys do change your mind and decide to drink, you shouldn’t really get in trouble. Bars/clubs will typically just ask you to leave. They don’t care about you drinking, just about keeping their license. Cops also tend to leave you alone, as long as you’re not really loud or acting stupid. This is especially true near universities (also where most bars let underage people in with no problems).

Oh and the bigger the city, the more 18-21 clubs.

And I have heard of places that do card being wary of accepting passports, so that is a problem you may run into.

Okay, I think that just about covers everything (and more lol)! Enjoy the States!