The New York State drinking age was raised from 19 to 21, effective December 1, 1985. The legal drinking age in New York City and all of New York State became 21 years of age at that time. Those under 21 are now prohibited from purchasing or possessing alcohol with the intent to consume, from consuming alcohol in public, and from having a blood alcohol level of 0.02% while driving.
In 1982, the drinking age had risen from 18, which was the legal drinking age for many years, to 19.
In the privacy of their own homes, with the consent of a legal guardian (aka "parents"), those under 21 may consume alcohol.
Why Did the Legal Drinking Age Rise in New York?
The New York Legislature raised the drinking age in response to the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which reduced by up to 10 percent the federal highway funding of any state which did not have a minimum purchasing age of 21.
New York alcohol laws are among the most lenient in the Northeast but are more restrictive than just six other states: Louisiana, Missouri, Nevada, Illinois, New Mexico, and Arizona.
What if I'm With Someone Under 21?
Those under 21 are not allowed to consume or buy alcohol in public in New York, whether you are with a spouse or a legal guardian or not. Though someone under 21 years of age can't order or consume alcohol in public, children are allowed to enter a bar at any time as long as that particular bar or pub serves food.
You can, however, be 18 and serve alcohol. According to the State Liquor Authority, "a bartender, waiter, or any other employee who is selling, taking orders for, dispensing, or handling alcoholic beverages must be at least 18 years of age. Employees such as busboys, dishwashers and others who handle containers that hold alcoholic beverages can be under the age of 18, but they must be under the direct supervision of someone is at least 21 years old."
The New York State Liquor Authority and its agency arm, the Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control, were established under New York State Law in 1762 to "regulate and control the manufacture and distribution within the state of alcoholic beverages for the purpose of fostering and promoting temperance in their consumption and respect for and obedience to law."
More information is available from:
New York State Liquor Authority
80 S. Swan Street Suite 900
Albany New York 12210