It’s the holiday season and time to review one of my favorite holiday spots in New York City! You’ve all seen it – Rolf’s German Restaurant on the East Side (22nd and 3rd). This is the famously booked restaurant that is decked out to the MAX in Christmas lights, baubles, dolls, and Santas. Seemingly forgotten until the Christmas rush, Rolf’s offers authentic Alsatian food that is good year-round. However, it is best at Christmas, despite how difficult it may be to score a reservation. Well, this will be my 3rd year going and I’m to give you all the required information to secure that coveted reservation and enjoy a holiday meal (albeit next year)!
First off, if you are looking for a reservation during holiday season, you cannot book too early. I always make reservations in September or early October via telephone (there is NO internet booking capability) early in the day. Rolf’s takes down handwritten reservations and stops answering its phone once November hits (and often sooner if booked up). If you miss the reservation call period and you are in NYC, stop by and try to make a reservation in person. Weekday lunches are your best bet for last minute reservations during the holiday season.
You should also know that Rolf’s has some interesting rules regarding meals during the holiday season. As of this year (2019), Rolf’s only takes reservations of parties of up to 4 people and each reservation is limited to 1 hour and 15 minutes (they will ask you to leave)! Seating is tight and service is quick, but its worth the effort, even for a meager 75 minutes! Also, since the restaurant is so tiny, this is not the place to come with loads of Christmas shopping – there’s simply nowhere to store it!
If you are unable to score a reservation during the holidays, you can wait in line for the bar area (for cocktails only, no food is served in the bar during the holiday season). To do this arrive, as early as possible and join the long queue on 22nd Street. You will probably wait hours for an overpriced cocktail, but this is an option to get that Instagram shot. Bucket list: check. That being said, if you’re local, decorations go up in early October and stay up well into the new year, so you can go and get that shot early or late. We actually took Dan’s cousins in October of this year just to see it! It was not crowded at all and we could stay as long as we wanted!
In any case, if you have a reservation, review the menu prior to arriving at Rolf’s. You do not want to waste your 1.25 hours looking at the menu. You want to waste it taking Instagram pics! Rolf’s makes choosing your food pretty easy – their menu is online and they don’t do specials during the holidays.
The one wild card is the drink menu, which is usually pretty fantastic! Rolf’s always offers fun holiday cocktails, as well as a long schnapps list and beer by the stein. Be ready to make a quick decision. Due to the time crunch, we generally order drinks as soon as the waiter comes by. Usually a Gluhwein, but sometimes we go rogue!
As you will see from reviewing the menu, the menu at Rolf’s is fairly small and is solely compromised of traditional Alsatian dishes. Think pork and veal schnitzels, potato and cabbage based sides, and even rabbit. For the most part, main dishes cost around $35 USD and come with two sides. While a bit pricey, it is New York and Rolf’s dishes are HUGE!
My go-to meal is generally the above-pictured veal schnitzel, which is served with spatzel (German pasta), a lemon, and green beans. The schnitzel is pounded very thin and is always tasty. The spatzel is my favorite side dish, and I barely touched the green beans (I had better things to eat). I usually also order a side of German potato salad to split amongst the table, which was absolutely large enough to split between 4 people.
Other popular dishes are the meatloaf, which is even larger than the schnitzel and is served with purple cabbage and mashed potatoes, and the Jaegar Schnitzel, a non-breaded piece of meat served in a mushroom cream sauce, that is served with green beans and spatzel!
Despite the dishes being huge, I always order dessert, which are really good! Recently, I’ve split the Black Forest Cake and the Apple Strudel, which is served warm(!), with my fellow dinners. Both are terribly delicious and huge.
All in all, I think Rolf’s is a super fun NYC Christmas experience. Its worth the annoyances, but only if you book early or go at an off time. I don’t think waiting in line for just drinks is worth it, but that’s up to you. If you go that route, arrive early and be prepared to wait a long time and be super crowded inside the standing-room only bar.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Rolf’s German Restaurant:281 Third Ave, New York, NY 10010. T: 212-477-4750 and 212-473-8718. IG: rolfsnyc. Open 12h – 20h, closed on Monday through Labor Day. Christmas decor up October – May.
ON A BUDGET
Rolf’s at Christmas is definitely a worthy splurge! If you are on a super tight budget, you can wait in line for access to the bar – but drinks are still $18 – or find another fun bar decorated to the nines for Christmas! There are a lot in NYC!