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Lines on two sides of a red-brick building.
At noon on Friday, the place is already packed and long lines wait in the rain.
Robert Sietsema/Eater NY

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No Food, but 15,000 Ornaments, at One of Manhattan’s Last German Restaurants

I got Rolfed for Christmas

If you have a yen for German food there aren’t too many choices left that aren’t beer gardens. At one time in Manhattan and Queens, there were dozens — many dating from a time when German was one of the city’s predominant ethnic groups. Now, we have just a handful, including the Heidelberg on the Upper East Side, Zum Stammtisch in Glendale, and Rolf’s in Kip’s Bay, the latter founded in 1968 at the corner of Third Avenue and 22nd Street.

A giant cluster of silver and bronze round ornaments.
Just a few of the 15,000 ornaments.

The frankly expensive menu ($30.95 for wursts to $74 for steak) is a Bavarian mix of sausages, schnitzels, and potato pancakes, but for six months out of the year, the restaurant turns into a Christmas wonderland that the website terms “Victorian,” with 200,000 lights, 15,000 ornaments, and 800 dolls in a smallish space, with not a Santa in sight. A friend and I went in search of German food precisely at the noon opening last Friday and found a long line already trailing down the block, umbrellas raised in the rain. We waited an hour and were finally admitted to stand 10-deep at the bar, as silver ornaments swung dizzyingly around us.

We couldn’t get a beer, let alone a table, and food isn’t available at the bar, so after 20 minutes, we fled one of the worst restaurant experiences either of us had ever had, though it was perfect for social media aficionados, even without food or drink.


Ornaments and dolls fill most of the picture frame.
Dolls hang from the ceiling like tortured souls.
Two tables jammed amid ornaments.
Only a lucky few manage to score a table.
Two women get their pictures taken against a backdrop of Christmas ornaments.
Selfies are the order of the day against a backdrop of ornaments.
Tables packed together, crowded by silver ornaments.
Tables are tight in the dining room crowded by silver ornaments.
Four women and a baby sit around a tightly packed table.
For a lucky few, there are schnitzels and wursts as David Bowie looks on.
Tables packed tightly together on two sides, with Christmas ornaments overhead.
The fate of many customers is to stand cheek-by-jowl at the bar, with long waits for drinks.
People jammed together in a small space.
Okay — there was one Santa hat.

Rolf's

281 3rd Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10010 (212) 473-8718 Visit Website
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