Mixing philanthropy with publicity, Le Parker Meridien has found its way onto the New York holiday circuit with an annual gingerbread village that brings diners into its restaurants, promotes the hotel and contributes upward of $8,000 to a local food bank each year.
This year, the display of "Quintessential New York" in the hotel's lobby features iconic city scenes baked by the likes of Cupcake Café, David Burke Kitchen and Rolling Pin Productions.
Featured landmarks include the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building, Coney Island and Gracie Mansion (soon to be the mayor's residence for the first time in 12 years).
But it's not all marzipan and gumdrops in the hotel's sugar-coated New York. There is litter on the street, a beggar and even rats. Then again, even the rodents are on message: They're snug in T-shirts adorned with the state's tourism motto: I (heart) NY.
Other hotels are feasting on the gingerbread theme. The gingerbread installation at the Sheraton in Seattle also has a charity component. Florida's Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, is home to a 17-foot gingerbread pirate ship. San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel features a two-story gingerbread house.
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Le Parker Meridien New York launched the gingerbread bake-off five years ago with the goal of earning a place on the annual holiday decoration circuit made by tourists and locals alike, said Marisa Zafran, the hotel's director of marketing.
Anyone can walk in and see the gingerbread creations through Jan. 6. People can also buy a vote, $1 each, to help determine the winner. All proceeds go directly to City Harvest, a food rescue organization.
In recent years, the event has raised $8,000 to $16,000 annually, Zafran said. This year, voting is also available online.
"It's incredible to see the intricacy of it," Michele Marsh of Long Beach Island, N.J., said last week while examining the gingerbread architecture. Earlier in the day, she had seen the Rockettes, and the Rockefeller Center tree and ice rink, and had window-shopped on Fifth Avenue.
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The holiday theme extends to the hotel's partners and restaurants, including the downtown offshoot of its Burger Joint, where a gingerbread milkshake is on offer. The Burger Joint also has a new location in Korea, and restaurants in the works in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Zafrans said. (Despite Web rumors, she said, D.C. and Cambridge, Mass., are not currently being planned.)