Yesterday was the last day, after 52 years, for Ray's Pizza on Prince Street. Throughout the day they offered nothing but plain cheese slices--on the cheap. "Enjoy your last slice of the original Ray's Pizza," said a sign in the window, "for only $1.50."
This truly original Ray's was opened in 1959 by a man named Ralph Cuomo. He didn't call the place Ralph's because, as he explained to the Times in 1991, "Ralph's might have sounded, I don't know, maybe too feminine. Besides, nobody ever called me Ralph. My family took the Italian word for Ralph--Raffaele--and shortened it to Rayfie or just Ray. All my life I was addressed that way."
I went in a couple of times over the weekend for a last slice--or two. The place was busy, but not overcrowded. In steady streams, people lined up for pizza. Some stayed to snap photos and say, "This makes me sad," but most just folded their slices in hand and walked back out the door.
Ray's slices came fast and hot. At a marble-topped counter, a guy in a sauce-stained apron massaged fat disks of sweaty dough into pizza-appropriate shapes, dressed them in sauce and cheese, then slipped them into the oven, one after another. At the front counter, another guy took the cooked pies and cut them into slices with a greasy circular blade. That was it. No screwing around.
This is not how it is at the new artisanal pizza joints springing up all over town, where one pie is made at a time to ensure absolute, up to the nanosecond freshness.
I tried one of these places over the summer. I asked for a slice and had to wait 20 minutes for the pizza to be assembled and cooked. The "artisan" took his sweet time, ladeling out the sauce, carefully placing each leaf of basil just so. While I waited, a young woman burbled on about how "it's worth the wait" because "it's just so amazingly good." It was good. It also took an eternity and cost too much. But people fall for this kind of medicine show every day.
At Ray's, along with no waiting, there was no performance art, and the slices had the usual price tag (except on the last day, when they went down to a buck and a half). The cashier managed to call everyone "Hon," even as she kept us briskly moving it along. And, yes, the pizza was good.
But as the Times recently said, "the 2011 version of Little Italy with its five-figure commercial rents is not designed in the interests of mom-and-pop pizza parlors."
On one side of Ray's there's a Ralph Lauren store, on the other side there's a Gant. Across the street is a cupcake shop where people obediently go for sweets, exiting with heads bowed, eyes glued to iPhones, thumbing reviews to Yelp that go: "oooh maahhh gaawwd, the dreaming princess cupcake was SOOOOOO GOOD! That was like one of the best cupcake flavors i've ever had!"
And there's nothing we can do about it.
Remains of my last slice