The City’s Most Festive Christmas Display? Rolf’s Has Some Competition.

For years now, Kips Bay restaurant Rolf’s has maintained an iron grip on New York’s insane-Christmas-decorations market. The price is steep — reportedly $60,000 a year, an absurd 150,000 lights, and a few murderous-looking dolls — but it has paid off. The restaurant is famous enough that people in Oklahoma know it. The situation has only worsened because of social media, and the restaurant is slammed all winter, much to the delight of New Yorkers and the disappointment of their visiting relatives, who can’t get in. Naturally, other restaurants (like Papillon in Midtown) offer their own take on the Garish Christmas Experience, but now the most prominent threat to Rolf’s Christmas crown has emerged, and it’s in the Financial District.

Last year, the Dead Rabbit, the well-known three-floor Irish bar and cocktail destination, tested the waters, launching a “Jingle Jangle” pop-up in its taproom. This year, the owners have gone all in, Jingle Jangling the entire restaurant with Christmas-themed drinks like the Blintzen (whiskey, port, pear, maple, vanilla, soda water), Christmas decorations, and a holiday soundtrack. There are red Jingle Jangle cups, Jingle Jangle coasters, bartenders in red Jingle Jangle shirts, and the words Jingle Jangle plastered on the front door as well as a frozen-Irish-coffee machine. The group even produced a teaser trailer. (“Those Christmas lights lit up the street down where the sea and city meet,” Irish singer-songwriter Gavin James sings — we aren’t going to be pedantic about the differences between harbors and seas.) According to the bar’s beverage director, Aidan Bowie, they shut the bar down for a day, handed every employee a staple gun, and unpacked 50 U-Haul boxes worth of decorations. (It will all be taken down after January 1.) In contrast, Rolf’s reportedly employs six people who work overnight for six weeks to set up its own holiday display.

When I popped in around 1 p.m. the other day, one thing became immediately clear: my sister’s in-laws would love this place. In one room, I counted 326 ornaments before deciding I didn’t need to keep counting. (Though it should be noted that only one of those ornaments was a Guinness mug, which felt wrong.) It does not look like there are 150,000 lights, but there are definitely a lot, as well as a number of wreaths and the words “Naughty or Nice?” propped up over a window. Songs like “Last Christmas,” covered by Remi Wolf (not the original George Michael version — scandal!), and “Blame It on Christmas,” by Bebe Rexha, played.

Photo: Hugo Yu

The place was packed, though it was unclear how many people were there for the Christmas display. There were, no doubt, some people in bright-red sweaters. “We’ve been lucky for the last two weeks because a lot of people from the U.K. are coming into town, and a lot of them will come just to get Irish coffee,” Bowie says. “They don’t necessarily know the pop-up’s happening.”

A couple other customers were clearly impressed by the décor and asked the bartender when this all started. He gave a little backstory and said that it takes about eight hours to put everything up. “Wow, that’s a lot of work,” the visitor said.

As another couple sat down, they immediately took a selfie with the closest available decorations. I asked if they’d been here before, but they told me they were in town for a friend’s concert, and he told them to come get a drink here. They didn’t seem to want to talk more — so much for holiday spirit! A little bit later, one took a photo of a Guinness pouring out of the mug, framed against a wreath. Clearly, the Jingle Jangle was working.

The front room seemed to possess a livelier (drunker) crowd. There were some Irish locals with Irish tourists, explaining how it would be even colder out if they were in Chicago, and three mulleted guys having a great time. On their way out, one bumped into a chair, then shouted back to the bartender, “Have a good night!” It was 1:40 p.m.

Around this time, the bar started thinning out. A group was leaving temporarily so they could take a quick helicopter ride. “We are gonna come back — can we leave our cards?” one asked. Nearby, a couple — Chris and Jen — were discussing where to eat congee and when to go to Midtown to see the display at Saks Fifth Avenue. It was their first time back in New York since having their kids — did they come to the city to get Jingle Jangled? At this point, they were three rounds deep, loving their drinks. But it turns out they weren’t here for the Christmas decorations, either. “I love drinking — and this place is pretty well known,” Chris replied. “The decorations are a nice bonus.”


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