Rolf’s Bar and Restaurant: Like Dining in a Christmas Tree

Are you partial to a little sparkle during the holiday season? Maybe you’re one of those people with a secret soft spot for Christmas decorations? Then boy, oh boy, do I have the place for you.

Every year, the folks at Rolf’s Bar and Restaurant adorn their space with a jaw-dropping array of baubles, fairy-lights and festive cheer. It’s basically like dining inside a Christmas tree. Be sure to pop on your best/worst Christmas sweater and head over to check out the spectacle.

Rolf’s serves hearty German plates and giant schooners of beer. The meals are considered to be on the pricey side, even for Manhattan. On the other hand, you get to experience festive cheer like nowhere else at such a unique place that is so beautifully decorated – definitely an “only in New York” experience to cross off your NYC bucket list.

Reservations are recommended. You could chance it by taking your place in the queue before opening time at noon but be warned that wait times can be up to an hour long. However if you can’t get a table during holiday season, know that the decorations stay up until April.

In fact, it reminds me a little of Panna, that crazy Indian restaurant in the East Village chock-a-block with multi-colored lights.

Progressive dinner anyone?


A Letter from the President – December 2017

AWNY President Belinda Jackson reflects on a year of “something for everyone”:

First Snow of the Season
The first snow for the winter fell yesterday as I started writing this post and I was reflecting on how much I cherish that first snowfall of the season. It seems as though a blanket of peace momentarily falls over the city. There is a quiet that is unlike any other and the beautiful fluffy white stuff seems to be even more brilliant on the first snowy day. It also makes me feel as though I have a good excuse to make a hot Milo to join some toasted crumpets and vegemite for afternoon tea. I always find the start of winter a joyous time in NYC as everyone is getting ready for ‘The Holidays’, decorations are up, Christmas lights are all over the city and The Rockettes are playing at Radio City Music Hall.

From an AWNY perspective, some of us are heading ‘down under’ and others will stay in NYC to enjoy the festive season. Others will venture further afield, whether it be to upstate New York or Europe to ensure they get a ‘White Christmas’, or to the Caribbean to work on their tan.

Connecting Women in NYC
Our mission at AWNY is:

To provide something for everyone in our community at some stage throughout the year

Our committee is working hard to achieve that goal. People engage with us in a variety of ways, either by attending our events, or online, including enjoying our newsletter, blogs and social media channels.

We aim to offer a broad range of events. Some are educational, like our recent Finances/Taxes in the USA event, and others are social, like The Met Rooftop drinks evening, where we had about 150 people come along. Others are just plain fun, like our Scanlan and Theodore Trunk Show.

Our online presence includes our blog, where you will find all sorts of interesting information ranging from tips for living in New York City to profiles of individual AWNY members. If you subscribe to our blog, you will receive the blog posts emailed to you directly for the most up-to-date information. We also have our Facebook page and two Facebook groups (Australian Mums and Dads in NYC and the AWNY group), along with Twitter and Instagram profiles.


AWNY President, Belinda Jackson. Photo Credit: Susie Lang

Supporting the AWNY Community
The AWNY community is comprised of women of all ages and life stages. We have members aged from 18-80, some who have moved here for their careers, others for love and/or adventure. More and more Aussies are attracted to the USA and especially the Big Apple, so we seem to be growing at a consistent rate. Our goal is to be a very supportive and inclusive group for Aussie women living in and moving to NYC.

To support this broad community, we have structured our AWNY Committee into five sub-committees: Communications, Events, New Members, Charity and Mums and Dads. There is an amazing breadth and diversity of talent and professional interests within the group of volunteer Committee members that enables us to fulfill our mission. Check out our Faces of AWNY posts to get a taste of the impressive talent pool amongst our volunteers.

The Meet and Greet Program
We recently launched our Meet and Greet program and have received a tremendous response to date. If you know anyone moving here who could benefit from being connected with a like-minded Australian women in New York, please feel free to refer them to this program.

Kicking Off 2018
We will be kicking off the New Year with a fun social event: Ice Skating at Bryant Park on January 6. Please join us to either skate or enjoy a hot chocolate or glass of mulled wine with some other Aussies.

Finally, I’d like to wish all our members and their friends and family a very Happy Chanukah /Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays wherever you are in the world and sending positive vibes for 2018.

If you have any queries or comments at all please feel free to reach out to our Committee via

AWNY Startup Stories: Leah Bannister from L.J. Bannister (Flower dealers)

Growing up surrounded by the natural beauty of Australia in her grandparents’ gardens, it was inevitable that Leah’s love of flowers would one day translate into her own business. L.J. Bannister (Flower dealers) brings the gift of beautiful, bespoke bouquets to clients all across Manhattan, featuring a unique Australian touch combined with locally-sourced seasonal blooms. Read on for the story of Leah’s success and an exclusive discount code for AWNY readers.

Tell us about your business and what inspired you to begin.
We make and deliver beautiful, bespoke bouquets throughout Manhattan, NYC —lush, considered combinations of color and texture that have a loose and natural Australian feel to them, even though we’re working with New York blooms. We also offer services including events, weddings and regular client accounts.
I’ve always had a love for flowers. Both sets of grandparents had verdant gardens, and I have fond memories of one nan digging around in flower beds, and the other tending to an enormous magnolia tree. I studied floristry in Australia, and have worked with flowers since 2011, in a number of Sydney-based florists, and later, consulting on my own. After moving here, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to start a New York-based business.

A bouquet from L.J. Bannister

What has been your ‘Ah Ha’/ ‘I’ve made it in the USA moment’?

It sounds like such a small thing, but the first repeat customer I received was exciting. The city holds so much opportunity—though, of course, it can be intimidating at times—so just launching the business felt like an achievement.

What have been the hardest lessons in starting a business?
Perseverance and sticking to your guns.
Where have you been most successful in marketing your business?

We’ve been quite discreet so far—we’re growing through social media and word of mouth. Flowers are such a personal thing so when someone receives something that speaks to them, they’re more likely to then order themselves.

Do you have any mentors, and how have people been with sharing information and their networks?
I’ve been lucky to spend time working with great florists in New York who I’ve learnt a lot from. I don’t have a mentor per se, but my husband is always a great sounding board—he’s a creative director with a good eye for detail, so I’ll often bounce ideas off him.

Leah arranging a bouquet for L.J. Bannister

What advice would you give someone thinking about starting a business? 

If you’re passionate enough, get started, stick with it and don’t give up. Surround yourself with other creative people who’ll be critical, honest and supportive.

Other than yourself, what piece of Australia have you put into your business? 

We are really spoilt in Sydney with the variety and quality of flowers available. That’s been a good building block to develop my aesthetic. I’ll hunt out one marvelous flower—it’s usually a field rose—and build around it with interesting textural elements. I’ll then add something that you’d not quite expect, like a too-tall, grape-colored anthurium, or I’ll tie a cluster of pomegranates to the outside. Then it’s always grey paper, and thick ribbon in a rich electric blue. They’re both signatures of the business.

What is next for your business?
More of the same. We’re happy growing our clientele and building relationships in New York. At the moment we send flowers all over Manhattan—I’d love to add another borough or two to the list.

An L.J. Bannister bouquet

Support & connect with L.J. Bannister

Visit and use code AWNY for 20% off all orders until 31 January 2018.

Love this AWNY Startup Story? Want more?

Register for our monthly newsletter to be in the loop for our upcoming Startup Stories event where you can hear more stories like this first hand and meet some Aussie women entrepreneurs.

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NYC Public Elementary School Choices

New York City offers a vast range of elementary school choices, which ultimately may be a good thing, but many Australian parents find this overwhelming.  In this post, we look at the choices available for elementary schools within the NYC public school system.

In a previous post, we covered the Kindergarten admissions process, which kicks off shortly after the school year begins in September.

The NYC Department of Education site provides a good summary of public school choices available, including options for new students who are enrolling at any point during the is school year. 

The Parents League of New York is an excellent resource to investigate Independent schools, outside of the public school system, from nursery through to high schools and boarding schools.

New York City’s roughly 700 public elementary (generally K-5) schools are divided into 31 districts (six of them in Manhattan). The schools within each district are strictly zoned.

The most popular public schools (like PS 234 in Tribeca, PS 6 on the Upper East Side and PS 41 in the West Village) have very strict zoning laws and large and involved parent groups.  There are lots of schools outside these zones that are also very good – some of which recently opened to deal with the overflow from the two downtown schools in particular.  Those also come with a new and vibrant parent community working to make their local school great.

There can be a disparity between the reputation and performance of schools that lie just blocks apart.  A lot of families rent or purchase their apartment to be within the borders of their school of choice, and that is smart.  Savvy real-estate brokers make it their business to know their school zones and you can search for a school in your area on the NYC Schoolsearch map.  If you’re just beginning to search for a family apartment, look for a map of boundaries, click through to this Mommypoppins tutorial for further information. 



Credit: Afonso Lima/

NYC Quality Reports
So how do you know which school zone to aim for?

New York’s public schools are given progress report cards called Quality Reports each year.

  • The School Quality Snapshot is designed specifically for families, and provides a concise summary of each school’s practices, environment, and performance.
  • The School Quality Report is a more detailed report with additional information, including multiple years of data to show the school’s progress over time.

The reports are by no means exhaustive but they’ll give you questions to keep in mind as you do your own research.  Schools’ websites provide links to their most recent report cards.

Attend school tours.  They’re generally offered in the fall and early winter.  The tours fill up, so call or check your target schools’ websites in September to find out when their tours are scheduled.  Notice who is touring with you, these may be your new family friends.  Observe the children in the school.  Do they look happy?  How is the teacher’s demeanor?  How is the classroom set up?  Is there a spacious gym?  Any outdoor area for the children?  Where do they play? 

One of the best resources for parents is Inside Schools, which goes into great detail on each school. They have photos, info and all the stats, ranging from how the kids do in tests to how much the parents and teachers recommend the head of the school.  Two years ago, Ella Colley of Inside Schools wrote us a post covering An Inside Guide to NYC School Applications, which also offers great tips on school choices.

Consider enlisting a school search consultant like Robin Aronow’s School Search NYC or Joyce Szuflita’s NYC School Help. Clara Hemphill’s book, New York’s Best Public Elementary Schools, offers reviews of some of the popular ones. She has also published reviews on middle and high schools.

Less official but just as beneficial is the advice from other parents. One AWNY member shares that, prior to her enrolling her child in Kindergarten, she struck up conversations with school parents in the nearby playground, to gather “kindergarten intel”.  It’s just an intelligent way to navigate a new situation.  Knowledge is power.

It’s always wise to check in with locals who know the neighborhoods.  New members to AWNY can join the Meet and Greet program in order to connect with other Australian women who have already been through the experience.  This is invaluable.  How can you know what you’re getting into without local knowledge?

Also, you should understand your own child’s learning style, if they are gifted, or challenged, will the school have resources to match what your child needs?  If your child needs to move, does the school have a good sports program?  What after school programs are there and what are the costs?  Is there after school care of some kind available at the school?


Credit: Rob Gonyea/

The Gifted & Talented Program
If you’re unhappy with your zoned school the gifted & talented program, commonly referred to as the G&T program, is an alternative.  In a previous post, we covered the G&T admissions process.

G&T follows the same curriculum as the general education classes but at a possibly accelerated or enriched pace.  It’s open to eligible children who might live outside the school’s zone.  Many New Yorkers rely on this as a backup option, so it’s competitive. Whether their parents were actively pursuing a G&T class or not, last year over 16,000 children took the test.

There are five city-wide G&T programs, which offer spots to children who score in the 97th percentile in the aptitude tests (realistically the cut-off has crept up to 99), with no admissions priority based on the student’s district or zone.  There are also around 33 district-wide G&T programs, which are open to kids who achieve a score in the 90th percentile and give admissions priority to students who live in the school district (but not necessarily in its zone).

The deadline to submit Request for Testing forms is around mid November.  However you feel about testing preschoolers, it’s worth at least familiarizing yourself with the deadlines or signing up for email alerts.

Charter Schools
Charter schools are independent public schools founded by not-for-profit Boards of Trustees.  Any student eligible for admission to a New York City public school is eligible for admission to a public charter school.  The NYC DOE site provides details on Charter School admissions procedures.

This post was originally written by Johanna Stromqvist in 2012, updated by Angela Tohl.

Ice Skating in Bryant Park

AWNY presents ice skating in the Bryant Park Winter Village.

Please arrive at 1.30pm to be fitted for skate hire.  We will be starting the merriment by the fountain near the 6th Ave entrance.

Feel free to dress in your most festive Christmas jumper and Santa hat (jingle bells are also strongly encouraged).

Fun for everyone; friends, children and partners welcome!

*Please note that there are no phones or photography allowed on the ice but AWNY volunteers will be around the rink to take snaps.

Event Details

Date: Saturday, January 6th, 2018
Time: 2:00pm – 3:30pm
Address: Bryant Park
RSVP: Facebook Event
Cost: Free entry for all but $20.00 for skate hire – if you have your own skates, feel free to bring them!
Free lockers but $10.00 for a lock
Bag check for $15.00
Children’s penguin skate aid or $22.00 per hour