Let's set the scene: After braving the New York City cold to grab a bite to eat, a diner walks through the door of a seemingly unsuspecting restaurant. Once inside, the first thing that catches one's eye is the sheer warmth emanating from the room. The ceiling is glimmering and catching the light in ways that only hundreds of ornaments can, and is adorned with thousands of sparkling lights with evergreen garland in between.

Once seated, the entire room seems to swell with the holiday spirit, a mix of vintage and modern decor exuding joyous festivity. This is what it's like to walk into Rolf's in NYC, and why, year after year, this restaurant is winning the entire Christmas season.


Visiting Rolf's During Holiday Season

Guests interested in their own festive experience at Rolf's NYC can actually experience it during the entire first half of the year. One doesn't need to wait until Christmas - only until the Christmas decor has gone up. According to Rolf's website, the holiday theme is left up until May of the new year, meaning patrons have plenty of chances to witness the glory of this restaurant for themselves. All of that shimmering, sparkling atmosphere comes with its pros and cons, though.

What To Look Forward To At Rolf's

The scale on which Rolf's is decorated is truly unmatched by any other place in New York City, let alone in New York, as a whole. To be exact, each year visitors can expect to find these things adorned on the ceiling and walls:

  • Roughly 100,000 lights
  • 15,000 ornaments
  • 800 vintage and holiday-themed dolls

In addition to those, shimmering icicle lights hand down from the ceiling, multi-colored ornaments dangle just overhead, archways full of festive beading, fruits, and holly curve and sway with the contours of the ceiling. According to Culture Trip, the decorations alone usually cost somewhere around $65k annually. It can be overwhelming and is surely a sensory experience, but it's one that many people line up outside to wait hours for. This brings us to some things that patrons should know before indulging in this lurid dining experience...

Things Visitors Should Know Before Going To Rolf's

First and foremost, Rolf's remains, to this day, an iconic staple in New York City's holiday dining scene. While other restaurants, bars, and pubs sport similar decor, no one quite has the ambiance that Rolf's does. Because of this, it's no surprise that the line out the door can lead to an hour-long wait just to get a spot at the bar. Paired with the city's classic winter weather and wind sheer that's often made worse by its towering skyscrapers, visitors should come prepared and fully outfitted in winter gear.

The best time to plan a visit definitely is not on a weekend when the line often wraps down the block. The closer it gets to Christmas, the more one should expect to wait outside in a line - but that's not to say it's not worth it. Those who plan to sit at the bar should have their IDs ready, as well, since it's guaranteed that no one gets in without proof of their legal age.

Related: An Insider's Guide To Visiting The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The Food & Beverages At Rolf's

Believe it or not, Rolf's started out as a fairly simple German food restaurant back in 1968. Traditional dishes, such as schnitzel and bratwurst, along with the ever-popular German-style beer, were the most popular items on the menu. Robert Maisano, a former employee, was responsible for putting up the restaurant's festive decor following the passing of its owner. For most people, patrons are coming in for the drinks and leaving to get to other dinner reservations or plans. However, those who stay for the food will be treated to a fully authentic, traditional German menu.

While the prices are very reflective of New York City and its atmosphere, some would say it's entirely worth it for the Christmas persona this restaurant has during the holiday season. Dining inside is like being in the aura of Christmas itself - completely with totally Instagrammable-photo ops everywhere one looks. While traditional schnitzel is the most popular item on the menu, diners can also look forward to:

  • Long Island duck (local)
  • Sauerbraten
  • Burgandy beef stew
  • Charcuterie
  • Sausage platters

Rolf's also offers a full bar and a wine list, featuring several wines from other countries as well as local varietals from the U.S.

Those interested in learning even more about the restaurant's European roots can read this from its website:

"French * German.

French as in Alsace, and German as in Bavaria.

Alsace has been much disputed by Germany and France. Even located in France for most of its history, is more reminiscent of the Black Forest across the Rhine River. Alsatian cuisine by overwhelming presence of pork, goose fat, duck, choucroute with sauerkraut, sausages, chicken, trout gives a distinctive flavor. The romance between Alsatian and Bavarian Cuisine is indisputable."

Next: A New York City Guide To Holiday Shopping On Fifth Avenue