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8 NYC Places Made Famous by Holiday Movies

Category General

|by Mike Dunphy |

From Will Ferrell twirling on ice in Rockefeller Center in 'Elf' to Macaulay Culkin scampering through the Plaza in 'Home Alone 2,' NYC is the snow-dusted setting of numerous holiday flicks

The lights of the New York skyline burn especially bright and sharp as winter clarifies and crispens the air. No doubt some of the increased glow also comes from the uptick of holiday spirit -- through a festive pair of eyes, the skyscrapers of Manhattan turn into a forest of exuberant Christmas trees. The cinematic effect appeals to Hollywood as well, who have set innumerable holiday films, from the iconic Miracle on 34th Street to rom-com When Harry Met Sally, against the Big Apple backdrop. The most memorable films add yet more magic to already steeped locations or make them famous in their own right, as these favorite flicks prove.

Macaulay Culkin lives it up at The Plaza in ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’ (Photo: 21st Century Fox)

Macaulay Culkin lives it up at The Plaza in ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’ (Photo: 21st Century Fox)

Macy’s Department Store: Miracle on 34th Street
The Santa seat at Macy’s on 34th Street ironically becomes ground zero in the fight against commercialized Christmas, as Kris Kringle begins directing parents to other department stores with better deals and products. “The only important thing is to make the children happy,” he explains to one perplexed mother, “Whether Macy or somebody else sells the toy, it doesn’t make any difference.” Amazingly, the sentiment generated so much good PR for the store, that it adopted the policy formally -- if Macy’s doesn’t have a product in-store, they’ll tell you where you can find it elsewhere. Kringle’s impact is perhaps greatest on the young Susan Walker (Natalie Wood), who has been raised by her dour mother (Maureen O'Hara) not to believe in ridiculous fables like Santa Claus. In real life, R.H. Macy (played by Harry Antrim in the film) was also dubious about the film and demanded to see it before release. Fortunately, the spirit warmed his heart and the film received official approval. These days, kids can still enjoy the miracle of Christmas, at the seasonal Santaland on the eighth floor, with a colorful toy arcade.

Rockefeller Plaza and Ice Skating Rink: Elf
Should the urge for a spin in the revolving door at 10 West 33rd Street overcome you, the trick is to not get your arms caught in the door or close your eyes, at least so says Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) to Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) on their first date. But it’s on the skating rink of Rockefeller Center where hearts begin to turn, as the two share their first kiss (and one miss) under the glowing Christmas Tree. Today, visitors continue to share smooches on the ice -- and more. Hundreds of couples get engaged -- there are sometimes up to 6 proposals a day -- during the rink’s season of October to April. Afterwards, many top off the romantic day at Top of the Rock, cuddling together while enjoying views of the glowing skyline.

Serendipity 3: Serendipity
Christmas crowds bustle and tussle through Bloomingdales as a pair of gloves squeezes its way from the back room to the sales floor. Is it fate or serendipity that causes Jonathan Trager (John Cusack) and Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale) to reach for them at the same moment? For the latter, there’s no question, which she explains over a frozen hot chocolate in the Upper East Side’s Serendipity 3 café. (“It’s just such a nice sound for what it means: a fortunate accident.”) The film certainly turned the wheel of fortune again in favor of the café, whose clientele over the past 60 years has included Andy Warhol, Tom Cruise, Marilyn Monroe, and Jackie Kennedy (whom owner Stephen Bruce refused to give the hot chocolate recipe to). The famous table from the film is now memorialized as the “Star Table.” As you might imagine, there’s no shortage of Serendipity-inspired celebrations, as many a diamond engagement ring find its way into desserts.

Plaza Hotel: Home Alone 2
“I’ll be fine,” Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) gasps at JFK Airport when he realizes New York is outside the window, not Miami. Of course, it’s hard not to be fine, if checking into the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue, as he does using his mischievous ingenuity (and father’s credit card). The famed French Renaissance château looks every bit the fairytale palace he imagines, and his “suite life” tallies up to a $967 room service bill, including two chocolate cakes, six custard flans, and 36 chocolate-covered strawberries. Closed in 2005 for a three-year, $400 million renovation, the Plaza has changed much since the film (and earned the enmity of historians). The carpets are gone, and the lobby and reception depicted in the movie is now only to residents, not hotel guests. Furthermore, the hotel’s current owner, Subrata Roy, remains in jail for investor fraud.

Seagrams Building: Scrooged
The black monolithic 38-story highrise built in 1958 by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe looks like fitting headquarters for heartless television executive Frank Cross (Bill Murray), who relishes in all things un-Christmassy, including giving monogramed towels in lieu of bonuses, firing employee Eliot Loudermilk (Bobcat Goldthwait) on Christmas Eve, and adding nipples to a live broadcast of Scrooge (“I'm sure Charles Dickens would have wanted to see her nipples”). It takes the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future to set him straight, which they do with comedic aplomb. Today, the building remains an office building and is especially popular for its Four Seasons Restaurant, which is often seated with corporate executives sharing power lunches.

Sheep Meadow: Mr. Popper’s Peguins
“True worth” is what matters most to Tavern on the Green owner Selma Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury), who is considering selling the beloved Central Park establishment. Unfortunately, divorced real estate salesman Thomas “Tom” Popper (Jim Carrey) demonstrates little of it, as he unsuccessfully tries to woo it from her on behalf of his firm (“Picture yourself on a boat on a river with tangerine trees and kind of a marmalade sky”). Deliverance comes in the form of a penguin -- well, six penguins -- who begin to unearth his true worth with a game of soccer in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow, just in time for the Christmas season. Although no penguins (or sheep) now crisscross the 15-acre lawn, New Yorkers make good use of it mid-April to mid-November for sunbathing, picnicking, and flying kites. In winter, however, it’s closed -- except for the occasional pigeon fluttering through.

The Grand Ballroom at the Puck Building: When Harry Met Sally
Few New Year’s kisses have dampened more eyes than the one between Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) in the Puck Building Grand Ballroom in Nolita. In true Hollywood fashion -- complete with sprinting and heartfelt speech -- Harry declares his love to the strains of Auld Lang Syne (“I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts”), smashing through all resistance. Should you want to plan your own romantic tribute (or a wedding), the Grand Ballroom of the 130-year-old Romanesque Revival building is still available for rent, hosting up to 1,000 guests among its white walls, columns, chandeliers, and massive arched windows. The building’s other event space, the Skylight Ballroom, also makes an appearance in the movie, in the wedding scene of Jess and Marie, the other couple in the film.

Statue of LibertyGhostbusters II
Lady Liberty expands her resume from beacon of freedom to paranormal warrior in the sequel to Ghostbusters, which is set during the holiday season in New York. Miss Liberty whips up positive New York spirit against 16th Century tyrant and sorcerer Vigo the Carpathian, who’s locked in a portrait inside the “Manhattan Museum of Art” (really the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House). Seeking to free himself by possessing the child of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) and releasing a river of “negatively charged” slime, Vigo fails to consider the hearts of New Yorkers (“Only a Carpathian would come back to life now and choose New York! Tasty pick, bonehead!”). Vigo gets slammed by an animated Statue of Liberty, who marches up the streets of Manhattan to the tune of Higher and Higher. However, it’s during the New Year’s Eve culmination of the film, amid a rousing chorus of New Yorkers singing Auld Lang Syne, that the negative slime finally melts away and Vigo is driven into oblivion.

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