Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dogs & Papaya

Last week, the Observer published an Op-Ed entitled "The Tyranny of Nostalgia." In the article, Anthony L. Fisher essentially named me as Nostalgia Tyrant #1. (If only!) There's so much to argue against in the piece, but I've said it all before, in depth, a million times. So I'm taking the Bartleby route on this one.

That said, one line has stuck with me: "Not too many people eat hot dogs anymore." This is the real reason, says Fisher, that Gray's Papaya was booted from 8th Street and replaced with a Liquiteria. We've been hearing this argument lately. It goes: Tastes have changed, "people" aren't going to "those places" anymore, and that's why they vanish. But there is one reason why Gray's Papaya closed--the landlord nearly doubled the rent. Rent hike or denial of lease renewal is almost always the reason our favorite old places close.

New Yorkers eat hot dogs. Unfortunately, low-priced everyday franks--without the artisanal bells and whistles--can't pay the new exorbitant rents. So we're left with fewer and fewer hot dog stands.

From my count (am I missing any?), Manhattan now has just eight spots to grab a couple of hot dogs and a papaya drink, way down from a once plentiful number. I went to all of them* and ordered the same meal: Two dogs (with mustard and relish) and a 16-ounce papaya drink. The ever-present "recession special," which goes for about 5 bucks.

Papaya King, 179 East 86th Street

The grandaddy of them all, Papaya King opened on this corner in 1932. It was founded by Greek immigrant Gus Poulos. They have the best neon sign. Check out this video (mark 6:16) in which Jerry Rio interviews Peter Poulos on the history and importance of Papaya King.

Back in 1991, the New York Times wrote: "What would be a non sequitur in cities like Omaha and Wichita -- or even Washington and Boston -- is now as unshakable a pairing in New York as as corned beef and cabbage or pastrami and rye. These days it is hard to find a hot dog shop in some parts of the city that does not promote papaya and other tropical fruit drinks with its hot dogs. Almost anywhere one looks there is Papaya King, Papaya Heaven, Papaya Paradise, Papaya Place, Papaya Circle, Papaya World, Original Papaya, Gray's Papaya, Mike's Papaya or Papaya Jack. No doubt there are more."

And the King started it.

This spot's location on the Upper East Side means that men drive up in luxury cars, jump out, get their dogs, and go. In between, its everyday Joes--construction workers, taxi drivers, panhandlers. Women eat hot dogs, too, but I saw far more men in these places.

Papaya King, 3 St. Mark's Place

This outpost of the King opened quite recently, in the spring of 2013. There were others, including one in Times Square that closed sometime in the early 2000s, but now there are just two. Plus a roving food truck. This one always seems kind of quiet. Maybe people don't eat hot dogs on St. Mark's Place.

Gray's Papaya, 2090 Broadway at 72nd St.

Gray's opened on the Upper West Side in 1973. It was founded by Paul Gray, a former partner in Papaya King, who broke away to do his own thing.

There once were more Gray's Papayas, including the still-missed location at 6th Avenue and 8th Street. As previously mentioned, it closed in 2014 thanks to a rent hike, and has been replaced by a Liquiteria.

This dearly beloved spot is busy, even in bad weather. Standing room only, there's no room left at the counters. Here, a homeless man loiters, panhandling for change. As long as he's not getting aggressive, he's tolerated and given a few coins, which he spends on hot dogs.

Papaya Dog, 14th St. and 1st Ave.

With four New York locations (there's a fifth in Hoboken--am I missing any?), there are more Papaya Dogs today than there are Papaya Kings and Gray's Papayas. Still, Papaya Dog goes uncelebrated, treated like the poor stepchild of the elder two (both of which have Wikipedia pages, while Papaya Dog does not).

The Papaya Dogs are a bit rougher around the edges. But this one on 14th and 1st breaks with the standing-only tradition and offers a couple of booths for sit-down dining.

Customer traffic is constant at the Papaya Dogs. School kids flock to them. Workers stop in during their lunch breaks. Laborers pull up their rumbling dump trucks and garbage trucks and plumbing repair vans, and hop out in smudgy coveralls for "two to go with ketchup and onions" or "gimme two with mustard and sauerkraut," a cup of papaya or coconut champagne to wash them down.

At all the hot dog stands, the crowd is racially and socioeconomically diverse. Many people of color are eating hot dogs. Immigrants are eating hot dogs. Tourists and students are eating hot dogs. This is not a food of so-called nostalgia. It is a democratic food of affordability and accessibility. 

Papaya Dog, 6th Ave. and Cornelia St.

This particular Papaya Dog won't last much longer. It's in a building bought in 2013 by a luxury developer. They've got plans to kick out all the funky, long-time little tenants and replace them with national chain stores.

Dog-and-papaya places are especially vulnerable because they tend to be located on corners. That's prime real estate for banks and other national chains. Landlords know this and hike the rent, or simply kick them out.

Papaya Dog, 5th Ave. and 33rd St.

This one's the smallest of all the dog-and-papaya joints, with barely a sliver of counter space for dining behind a trash can. They've got a deal with the pizzeria next door, though, and you can bring your meal over there. At lunchtime, the tables are bustling.

Papaya Dog, 9th Ave. and 42nd St.

This corner spot was also rumored to be vanishing. It's in the old Elk Hotel (go inside the hotel here), which was emptied and put on the market awhile back. But, somehow, the Papaya Dog is still standing. This one also has tables and chairs.

Among the young tourists and families, an elderly woman sits at a table and applies her fire-engine red lipstick. Cops and taxi drivers hustle in and out.

Chelsea Papaya, 23rd St. and 7th Ave.

After the three big guys, a few scrappy papaya-and-dog joints have spawned and survived. Well, not really survived. And not really a few. The 21st century has been cruel. Hot dog stands started vanishing fast when everything else did. Rents went up and up. Yorkville's Green Papaya vanished around 2009. East Harlem's Frank's Papaya went sometime after 2008. Three Mike's Papayas died in the past few years. Many others folded around town.

But Chelsea Papaya remains, an oddball in the dog-and-papaya world, right down the block from the Chelsea Hotel. The window ledge gives you the perfect place to perch and watch the drama of the street unfold. Again the place is intermittently packed, with lines of customers jamming into the small space, coming and going quickly.

Mike's Papaya, 132 E. 23rd St. at Lexington

In my quest to dine at every dog-and-papaya place, I regrettably arrived at the last Mike's Papaya about two days too late. It's gone, closed "due to an unforeseen circumstance," according to the sign in the window.

There used to be a few Mike's Papayas (the Reade Street location vanished in 2012, and another at Broadway and 110th went in 2002). Then there was just this one by Gramercy Park.

We don't know what Mike's "unforeseen circumstance" was, but we can be sure that when the rent on all the dog-and-papaya places is doubled and tripled, it won't matter that they were busy and beloved. We'll hear journalists say that "Tastes have changed" and "People don't eat hot dogs anymore." Eventually, that statement will be true, but only because there will be nowhere left to find such a rare and affordable delicacy.

*I was already nearly finished with this post when the Observer op-ed came out. It took weeks to complete. I did not eat 16 hot dogs in one weekend.


Anonymous said...

Sad to say that Mike's Papaya was likely displaced because the United Cerebral Palsy building around the corner was sold to a developer for $135 million dollars http://www.nynp.biz/index.php/this-months-feature/20305-united-cerebral-palsy-sells-23rd-street-building-for-135-million. I wondered how long it was going to take until the very upscale and luxurious new people in the neighborhood got tired of seeing handicapped people nearby. The Xavier Society s also gone, and it won't be long until the thrift shops, the VA Hospital and the school for the deaf goes too. Of course, most of the methadone clinics have also been upscaled out. Can't have anything but the perfect, the privileged and the planned in New York anymore. The cruelty of what is going on breaks my heart.

Giovanni Balistreri said...

"Not too many people eat hot dogs anymore."
Incredibly naive and ignorant to say something like that.
And that right there illustrates the difference between people that THINK they know NYC and those who ARE NYC.

Forest Hills Harry said...

I always thought Papaya Dog (9th Ave. and 42nd St.) was in a bad location. Walk two blocks north and you can get all the hot dogs you want for free at Rudy's!

"Not too many people eat hot dogs anymore."
So why are there so many hot dog carts still around?

Anonymous said...

There also seems to be very few hotdogs carts available on the streets. Anybody know why?

Caleo said...

No need to argue with Fisher's incredibly shallow, uninformed opinion. Even he can't be that detached from the on-the-ground reality of hyper gentrification in NYC.
Most of the comments ripped him a new one anyway, so he's preaching to whatever small choir he socializes with.
Fisher is only fooling himself if he thinks any of us believe the transition from Gray's to Liquiteria was some natural progression. It was a small example of the continuous trend of aggressively pushing out small,locally relevant businesses and replacing them with well funded chains that appeal to the newest social classes that have taken root in our town, namely students, tourists and SWPL's making a minimum of 100,000 a year.

James said...

Papaya and frankfurter (my preferred term for NYC dogs) stands date back at least to the Great Depression, during which time "value" became everything. Fruit drinks were also considered to be healthful over, say, coffee, Coca-Cola, and whisky.

I recall that Gray's on 72nd featured 65¢ franks as recently as the early 90's. Then came the shift - our long-awaited economic development - eagerly encouraged by Koch-onto-present. Suddenly, the ramshackle Manhattan of cheap eats and drinks seemed so gouache, hence stupid sweeping comments about what New Yorkers no longer like (or are supposed to no longer like). Now $4.50 or $5 is the new $1.50.

Perhaps there's an uncomfortable marketing paradigm being insulted by the concept that Liquiterias and Prêt-a-Mangers may still yet be too expensive for some and may not be all anyone would need. How dare the humble hotdoggery persist when free-trade blintzes and boysenberry shakes are so readily available at designer prices.

The other facet of this is merely self-denial and conformity. Some simply can't acknowledge that the simpler, cheaper, more down-to-Earth city which attracted so many over so many years is being quietly ushered out. It is our job to make this anything but quiet.

11:54 a.m. said...

I lived on Papaya Hotdogs when I was in college. I rememebr that's all I'd have at times feed on Papaya hotdogs when I only had $10 left and had to wait for two weeks to get that Work-Study check.

There was also a Mano's Papaya on 30th avenue and Broadway in Astoria., which is now a Bank of America ATM.

Papaya Hotdogs do not give someone the self-illusion of selectivity (#SIoS) that one gets from getting on line at Crif Dogs. or AsiaDog, or Dogmatis, or to get Fat-Top dogs at Shake Shack...

NYC is being LA-fied. And the mayor of L.A. dissed the Papaya 'dogs. So, his attitude towards the Papaya hotdogs represents those of the transplants that came to NYC to live the FABULOUS life.

And apropos of nothing, Anthony Bourdain featured Gray's Papaya in his No reservations.

You never put cheddar cheese on a Papaya Hotdog, but then again, if that were done today, it'd probably be trendy and cost $10.

Mike's Papaya used to be Papaya Paradise; there was a Papaya World by Bryant Park, which is now a Sephora. A comparison here's a comparison of the Papaya Hotdogs in 1991.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Gray's Papaya on 6th always had a steady line of customers. I was often one of them. To argue that people don't eat hot dogs any more is ridiculous.
I think most of us get that change is an inevitable process, but the change that drives out lower and middle class New Yorkers from their city? The change that displaces not just businesses that have perhaps outlived their best days but thriving family concerns? The change that fills New York with empty, investor apartments? What kind of future does that bring? Some nerve to imply that "nostalgists" are somehow the ones ruining the city, by caring about it too much.

Questinia said...

I'd pass the Gray's Papaya on 8th and 6th and there were always people in there. I'd eat there twice a year or so. Or whenever I wanted to lavish myself with a dog.

Anonymous said...

Is this Anthony Fisher related to the Fisher Bros. RE Group?

Miss Grays Papaya, 6th/8th. Pictures made me hungry

Who does keep hot dog carts in business?

Anonymous said...

It is also ridiculous for Fisher to argue the concept that tastes have changed etc, because clearly there is huge and rapid turnover in the "new taste" places that replace the longtime businesses that are forced out. Like the tsunami of frozen yougurt stores that appeared - and then disappeared. Or chains like Crumbs, now gone. The turnover in "new taste" "cool" food places in the East Village, for example, is pehomenal.

Anonymous said...

The closing of the Greenwich Village Gray's is of the saddest of all the latter-day NYC closings. Not that I ate a bunch of hot dogs all the time; it was just one of the cornerstones of my personal NYC I guess. RIP a longstanding and cool NYC tradition. Soon to be joined by whatever few other NYC-specific traditions remain. Guess I'll go stand in line for my Montreal bagel now.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 11:54 a.m:

Wasn't the Manos Papaya on 30th Avenue and Steinway Street (30-01 Steinway)? It was in a triangular-shaped store on the southeast corner of that intersection. Previous to that it was a Dunkin' Donuts for a long time. I believe it is now Bank of America ATM machines.

I also believe that Manos Papaya then moved to 30th Ave. and 30th Street in Astoria (http://astorianyc.blogspot.com/2008/04/manos-papaya-coming-back.html), but Yelp reports that location closed (http://www.yelp.com/biz/manos-papaya-astoria-2).

Montreal Meany said...

Among other former places I don't think I saw mentioned here were Empire Papaya and Papaya Prince.

HippieChick said...

Excellent and saddening piece. But nowhere is the comparative TASTE of the hot dogs and papaya drinks discussed.

Jeremiah Moss said...

True. I don't have a very discerning palate. They all taste pretty much the same to me. Also, I tend to pay more attention to a place than to its food. That said, the papaya "juice" at Gray's and the King are superior to the Dog's.

3:13 p.m. said...

@Anonymous 2:23PM

You're right. The Mano's Papaya was on 30th ave and Steinway (meant Steinway, but wrote Broadway). And yes they tried to open again and move to 30th ave and 30th st but now also closed.

On the other hand, there are now craft beer and brunch places in Astoria, and a New York Dog House where one can get a NY street-style hotdog for $5+! Who would've thunk it.

Walter said...

Does anybody actually read the NY Observer? How many readers do they have. 27 or something ?

Anonymous said...

If no one eats hotdogs that much anymore, maybe he can explain the lines at Shake Shack.

No surprise that the Observer is owned by Jared Kushner

Walter said...

Best Hot Dogs I ever ate were at Zum Zum.

JAZ said...

Isn't there a Papaya Dog in Penn Station? Is that one gone now too?

Anonymous said...

The Observer piece is SO poorly written (I love how he self-satisfyingly "exposes" Jeremiah's name as a pseudonym. A regular Bob Woodward, huh?). Fisher makes almost no point at all regarding the alleged positives of gentrification/progress, merely touting that "DIY music initiative thrives" and that new businesses are popping up weekly with NOTHING to back up either claim.

PS. I love this blog. I left NYC two years ago, but I still love keeping track of how depressing it's become because, well, I'm a masochist.

Anyway, keep up the great work. It's brilliant.

John K said...

If you look at Anthony L. Fisher's byline at the bottom of his article, you see that he is a "producer/writer for Reason", a libertarian outfit, and his arguments in the article fit into this worldview.

There's no place for government (except probably for minimal national defense), the market (which of course isn't free, economically, politically or ideologically) should decide everything, and if the rich happen to be the ones buying up everything, that's just how it is.

Economic libertarianism is terrifying ideology, but it seems to have adherents in positions of power, even when they will not openly admit such beliefs, though their actions tell a different story. Strict economic libertarians can't win a statewide or national elections, but they always do seem to be willing to speak out in defense of the superrich status quo.

Anonymous said...

I miss the Gray's on 6th Ave & 8th Street- used to visit it when I lived in the village. I walk by the Papaya Dog on 42nd St & 9th Ave everyday. It's one of the few places left in NYC that visually takes me back to "Taxi Driver" New York. I've been to the one on 33rd St across from the Empire State Bldg & the Chelsea Papaya too. Please, please, please let them stick around forever - they ARE New York!

Andrew Porter said...

Nedick's, Prexy's (the hamburger with a college education), Hamburger Heaven, Schrafft's, The Automats, Orange Julius... all priced out of existence by rising rents, buildings being torn down for ever higher rises...

Space Pope said...

Moss, you nostalgia tyrant! How long have you slunk among us, lifting your head occasionally to cry out "Save the Small Businesses"? You unwashed cumberbund! You sower of discrod among people that wouldn't know the world is falling down around their ears unless Taylor Swift (grrrr) alerted them to it. You Cumberbatch!

Anonymous said...

This Fisher fellow calls himself a libertarian ??? Of all the impudence ...

Yes, we libertarians believe in a free market BUT what we have here is NOT a free market. How can these luxury developers get billions in tax breaks while the rest of us pay ever-increasing property taxes ? Here's one article:


Really - does that sound "free market" to anyone ? Our former mayor made it his mission to make this city into a rich man's playground. What better way to do that than to make sure that the average joe can't afford to live here anymore thus pushing them out. If the city raises the property taxes for a landlord, they will pass on that increase to the tenants. Here's another article that illustrates the problem:


A free market means a level playing field. It does not mean preferential treatment for your cronies in your exclusive old-boys-club while rigging the system so that everyone else fails.

One idea that can help in fixing this mess is to implement a low flat tax rate as long as the landlord doesn't create blight. If the landlord evicts a small business and keeps the storefront empty for more than 6 months, they'll get hit with a penalty that increases exponentially each MONTH the place stays empty .. with NO upper limit to the penalty. Simplify the tax code for everyone - get rid of all tax write-offs, loopholes, and deductions so that the penalty can't be written off as a "business expense" on their taxes.

As for Mr. Fisher's comment as to how "Not too many people eat hot dogs anymore" ... exactly what kind of cheap crack has he been smoking ??? Or did he put his reputation as a journalist up for sale and someone PAID him to write that ??? Libertarians like to think for ourselves. So if we write an op-ed about someone's blog (ie. Jeremiah's), we would at least make an effort to READ it first and get a sense as to what it's about before even typing the first word of the op-ed piece. This blog isn't about nostalgia. It is a documentary about the perversion of a great city.

W. Conti said...

I have added my own comment to the Observer article. I, as so many others, wish you every success.

Pat said...

@Anonymous 8:18am:
To add to your observation, on the Lexington Avenue side, around the corner, next to Mike's Pizza, the nice little ramen restaurant Terakawa went out of business in January. The threading & waxing salon next to it has a disconnected phone number. Tonight all the windows of the building, 18 Lexington, look dark, although the entryway is still lit, and there was a broom and dustbin in the doorway. Strangely, there was a sign on the door that said an apartment was for rent.

On 23rd Street Vercesi Hardware is next to the Xavier Society and that spot has been vacant since Vercesi went out of business.

Greg said...

That Robert A B Sawyer is a real piece of work.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

relish? ewww ;)

laura r. said...

lets say NY is a place for the rich. ok i get that. but who does thier laundry? who cleans their apts? who builds the condos? who works the checkout? who does electrical work? i dont know thier names, but maybe they eat hotdogs because they are good. im also sure there are rich people who still have their brooklyn tastes as well. they like hotdogs too, its part of NY culture. good research jeremiah.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely Laura! Rich people do love authentic Brooklyn hot dogs! When we used to live in Chelsea, we'd go to Chelsea Papaya (at 23rd and 7th) rather than Better Burger (they used to be on 19th and 8th but have closed a few years ago). The ones at Better Burger were hardly anything to write home about with regards to taste but were like over twice the price than that of Chelsea Papaya (or almost 3x the price, don't remember exactly). Had them once and never again. For hot dogs, it was Chelsea Papaya all the way! And if they had one of those well-done dogs available (you know the crispy ones - where they've been slow-cooking it for the past half-hour), OH my goodness! Those especially you should eat right there in the store rather than take out. When taking out, if you order two or more, they wrap them in aluminum foil and the heat makes them soggy.

I'm sure other "high-end and expensive" places will open up and serve things that will "somewhat" resemble a hot dog. And I'm sure that people will see themselves as "trendy" because they are paying $4 for the priviledge of eating one of those "hot dogs". But in the end, it's the taste that people remember and that's what brings them back.

That's of course assuming that there's a store to come back to!

laura r. said...

anon 9:40 what im afraid of is chichi hotdog places. for $20. you get a lunch. for $6. you get a hotdog @ the bar. (brunch is all kinds of "dogs" buffet style). btw bennie madoff would meet w/his high roller friends @ a coffeeshop called burger cue (or something like that) on lex or 3rd around e. 61st. even billionares dont want to deal w/the pretenious bs. thats for younger people, & transplants. i havnt had a hotdog since the 1960s (nedicks), but i would not want to see this dissappear.

Anonymous said...

There's also Len's Papaya in the Whitehall Terminal of the Staten Island Ferry.


dickdinh said...

Last year a new Papaya Dog opened up near South Street seaport area near Ryders Alley
50 Fulton St, New York, NY 10038