I have an etiquette question [moved from Manhattan]
So I want to throw a surprise birthday party for my girlfriend at a bar/restaurant somewhere in Manhattan. I've never done anything like this before. Is it common to pick up the entire check? Or can I get away with maybe just paying for the food? I'm not a rich man. I'm not a poor man, but I'm not a rich man. (The party is going to be pretty small, like 15 ppl tops) How does this work? And if anyone has any recommendations for venues.
Well, it's not uncommon for events to lack an 'open bar'... Is that what you mean by paying for a party but not the drinks?
If you're "throwing a surprise birthday party", you should pay for the entire party. Only exception if you've spoken with all of your guests and everyone's agreed to pay their own way. Then you're not "throwing" a party, you're "arranging" a party. Maybe if cost is an issue, you should "throw" a smaller party to be within your financial comfort zone.
It would help to know how you envisage this party... Is it going to be a sit-down dinner, at table? In that case, paying for everyone's dinner but not their drinks seems rather awkward. It might be better to 'arrange' a party, as Ellenost put it, and have everyone pay for themselves. Or, as she suggests, host a more intimate affair.
One solution is to host the dinner at a restaurant that doesn't have a liquor license yet so your guests can bring their own drinks.
Here's a BYOB list (fyi, I haven't been to most of these places). La Sirene is good but I'm not sure whether they can accommodate a party of 15.
As others have said, if you are throwing the party and inviting guests, you should plan to pay for everything. One option to help limit your "exposure" is to arrange it at a restaurant with a private room and only provide wines in the room. You can usually limit cost that way, as compared to doing an open bar with liquor. Also, as a hint, people usually drink less on, say, a Sunday afternoon than they do on a Friday or Saturdday night. So you can also reduce the cost of the bar tab based on when you choose to have the party. Also, another way to limit your cost is to specify the time period of the party (for example, on Sunday from 5PM-7:30PM, or something like that). That way, guests don't feel they have an open invitation to drink all night at your expense. And all of these options/suggestions would be considered perfectly acceptable and "proper" in terms of hospitality and etiquette.