Gray’s Papaya: One is the Onliest Number


And then there was one. Yesterday, the city shed a meaty tear as the Greenwich Village location of Gray’s Papaya (402 Sixth Avenue) went down for the count. With a sole operation (on Broadway at 72nd) remaining to carry the torch, the closure marks a devastating blow to Big Apple dining culture.

Reached at his residence, owner Nicholas Gray confirms reports of a rent hike as the culprit for shutting down after 28 years of business. “They wanted to raise my rent to $50,000 from $30,000,” he stated, adding that he plans to relocate as soon as he finds a suitable space. “We’re always looking for corners, but they’re hard to find.” Of course they’re hard to find — look at that rent increase!

Gray’s was the baby of ex-Papaya King partner Gray, who opened the original location on the corner of Broadway and West 72nd Street in 1973, when two hot dogs and a drink cost approximately a dollar. Even though the hot dog has fallen out of fashion somewhat as a processed meat, every Gray’s location I’ve ever visited has had characters hunched over its counters, ignoring the world around them as they munched away at all times of day and night.

Papaya King may have been the original, but as it expanded to Clifton, New Jersey, and Hollywood (sister cities, or so I hear), Gray’s felt like the more authentic of the two, a scrappy local underdog (pun intended) to Papaya King’s more imperialist tendencies. This is not to discredit Papaya King, whose original location is a must for any lover of food who finds himself in this city — if only to compare it to Gray’s across town.

Gray’s has had a lasting significance for me; its existence was brought to my attention as a story told to me by my father, in which an acquaintance of my parents once ate eight hot dogs in a single sitting. This was before the days of competitive eating, and to my young, malleable mind, it seemed an unattainable number. Later in life, I used the (now-shuttered) 37th Street branch of Gray’s as a kind of “foodie” test to see if my better half was up to the task of dealing with whatever kind of horror entails dating me.

Next to pizza, a hot dog may well be the most “New York” food we have on offer, and nearly every carnivorous New Yorker has experienced the pleasures of a snappy frank downed with a frothy fruit drink. Now even our beloved steamed meat purée is threatened by the onslaught of this city’s obscene real estate market. If you come across any affordable, good-looking corners, holla in the comments section.

The city’s hot dog-hungry hungry masses will thank you.