Thursday, January 9, 2014

8th St. Gray's Papaya


The Gray's Papaya at 6th Avenue and 8th Street has closed. Eater reported yesterday that the beloved hot dog haunt has been demolished inside and the sign taken down. The details of the closure are still unknown. There's talk of "just renovating," and other talk of rent hikes and a possible move.

Update: The Voice talked to Mr. Gray, who confirmed the closure was due to a massive rent hike. He said, "They wanted to raise my rent to $50,000 from $30,000."


Founded in 1972 (0r 73) when Nicholas (or Paul) Gray broke away from the Papaya King, Gray's once had a few locations around town, including an outpost on 8th Avenue in the 30s that shuttered in 2011 due to rent troubles.

The 8th Street papaya and dog outfit was favored by celebrities and junkies, late-night boozers, the broke, the hungry, the everyone. It was a great spot to grab a quick bite and eat it at the window, looking out at the world.


As Gothamist pointed out, there's only one Gray's Papaya left standing, at Broadway and 72nd. "When you're hungry, or broke, or just in a hurry!"


As Robert Sietsema put it today: "A city is defined by its hot dogs, and Gray's exhibited the real New York terroir... The disappearance of such a well-known eatery — and a bargain one at that —diminishes our city immeasurably. And the inevitable appearance of a franchise restaurant in its place (see if I'm not right) makes New York that much more like every other city in the country."

 Here's a lovely old shot of the original Gray's on Broadway, circa 1972:

Justin Langsner / LaSalle Sign Corp, via NY Neon


sam_the_man said...

The fact that this happened right after the new year seems to point to the lease ending and a new one, even if offered, being too big for the business to swallow. But good god, if a popular and successful, but not luxury or chain or theme or food fad oriented, business like this is unable to survive in a prime corner location like this, then the whitewashing of the city will be just about complete.

They should be able to, like Joe's pizza, find a cheaper mid-block location nearby, so maybe all is not lost. But the corner space will surely be occupied by either a chain or a doomed fad-type business that will destroy the life savings of some poor family.

Gojira said...

CRAAAAAP! Jesus Christ, I will have to start selling blood in order to be able to eat out occasionally! We need commercial rent control, stat!

Unknown said...

This just sucks. Between this and the astor place newsstand, it's just been merciless.

Anonymous said...

this stinks- i used to go to that one as a recent college grad in the 90s. there was a b. dalton bookseller (remember them?) across the street. haven't been to that part of the village in a while but, yeah, i hear it's really changed. no more smut shops, tats parlors, etc. i work in midtown & everyday i pass the old location of the one on 37th & 8th ave. it was next to a smut shop. now? it's a cohen's fashion optical eyeglass store & a I Love NY tee shirt & magnet store! Friggin' sad!

John K said...

Ugh! When I lived on a little over $12,000 of an NYU grad stipend, supplemented by little jobs, this place was a staple. The delicious, cheap hot dogs, the tasty drinks, the swift, polite service, were and are incomparable.

New York City, and Manhattan specifically, does not need another stupid chain; it doesn't need another high end restaurant; it doesn't need more day spas or luxury kid's clothing stores or fro-yo shops or bank branches or any of the other crap that just keeps metastasizing like tumors all over the place. Yes, I know that these spots are lining the pockets of the real estate elites. But PLEASE, enough!

I hope Gray's Papaya can reopen somewhere, even if not here. And that people will wake up and stop running into every Subway's or Starbucks or 7-11 or all the other chancres that draw in customers while killing off mom-and-pop businesses.

Unknown said...

And I just read about 7A! Fuck me fuck me fuck me.

Jeremiah Moss said...

It's been a rough week. The post New Year's die-off.

Uncle Waltie said...

Before it became a 'Gray's Papaya' it was an 'Orange Julius'. I used to patronize that place almost daily in the 70s. A few months ago I took a trip down memory lane around 8:30 PM, walking down 8th Street from B'way to 6th Avenue. What once was a vibrant street with much hustle and bustle had turned into a ghost town.

Michael Simmons said...

I'm coming to my hometown of NYC in a couple weeks and I always stop for a dog at Gray's.

This means war.


Antoher shot of their window in the 90's...with Giuliani's message to New Yorkers to be "polite new yorkers" !

Loved the way the dogs were heating up on the metal rods...
The drinks were the most chemical tropical fruit juices I've ever tasted...
I will miss too !
New York in the 1990's Photo Archives

Ed said...

Sometimes Curbed and Eater have really good coverage and comments on the changes in the city, and sometimes the sites suck. Eater's posts on the closing of the 6th Avenue location of Gray's Papaya is one of the instances of good coverage.

From what I gleaned from the posts and comments, the branch was doing good business. The landlord increased the rent by something like $200,000, which is what you do when you no longer want the business as a tenant on any terms. The lease will go to a pricey juice bar.

One commentator noted that there was basically nothing left on that part of 8th Avenue that was not for "rich kids or tourists". This is part of the mallefication of Manhattan. There are big chunks of the island that have become sort of dead zones, where you just don't see much non-tourist oriented commerce.

Its obviously harder to be a night owl in New York now, or to be broke. I don't get why people in their 20s and 30s still come here. OK if they have a job that pays alot of money, but I know this isn't true in all cases.

My wife first moved to New York three years ago and I am happy I was able to take her to a few of these places before they vanished.

Eric said...

I always enjoyed their signs. I wish I could remember more of them. Here are a few I've found pictures of - via Google Images -

"YES Senator Obama - We are ready to believe again."

"Recession special - Save $1.00"

"Put a subway rider in the White House - Mike Bloomberg for President. He talks the talk and he'll walk the walk. Your country ... [obscured]"

"MURDER! We are getting killed by galloping inflation in food costs. Unlike politicians we cannot raise our debt ceiling and are forced to raise our very reasonable prices. PLEASE DON'T HATE US."

"OUR HOT DOG. The thunderous pop when you bite into it. The saline tang of the flesh!! ... Oh! Yes! (Please -I'm getting hungry already!)"

Even their standard signage was witty:

"Strictly gourmet hot dog."

"Snappy service!"

"Let's be FRANK. We want you to buy our FURTERS."

onemorefoldedsunset said...

Oh man, this one is a sad one. I'd been going there for thirty years. I regularly got the Recession Special here, and loved everything about the place. Another corner taken.

Anonymous said...

im searching for anyone who can tell me when this specific Grays opened? all articles refer to the first one in 72 or 73. But what about 8th street?

Anonymous said...

Well, 8th street has been a problem for the Village for a long time.

I was a child when the Orange Julius came in. And we locals hated its emergence because OJ was a franchise and completely out of place with the neighborhood. Mom&Pop one of a kind restaurants, shops, leather making stores, were slowly being driven out all up and down the street.

But OJ's was different than even that transition, because it was a magnet for serious heroin users, a new phenom at the time. (Not a moral problem of course, and city gritty, but it was, for us, sort of our frozen yogurt/cupcake shop problem.) Anyway, between this new bright franchise on the corner and the ugly squared up, cheap metal windows installed at ground level into the 8th street brick facades, the whole block developed a character that to us, even way back in the 50's, looked like a mall.

We saw 8th as a street that divided the Village---an unappealing passage you had to walk through, holding your nose, to get from one part of the actual Village to the other part of the actual Village. We tolerated it because it was the only east-west block like this in the whole area. But in certain ways, it was the toe in the door to the Village starting to vibe like a mid-town.

There used to be 2 incredible (local) bakeries, a small candy store, that featured chocolate covered ants in the window, a toy store, and a fantastic art book store mid block. Was it a Brentano's? Not to mention The Cookery Restaurant, (where by the way, you could see Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman eating discretely in a corner---unmolested. They lived in a brown stone on 11th.). There was a locally owned drugstore near 5th on East 8th, named Warrens I think. A stationary store, locally owned. (Just FYI--across Sixth Avenue, just south of 8th was a Howard Johnson's. Another uneasy occurrence for us, but we did go there pretty often.)

But it seems that both OJ/Papaya were there long enough that they took on the weight and grime of the local neighborhood and so became part of the new normal. So it's too bad I guess.

But 8th Street has not been healthy for a long time. Now a new more soul-less franchise will replace an old franchise that seems to have been imbued, at least, with a little heart by its patrons.

Pat said...

@Anonymous January 13, 2014 at 9:00 PM

Beautifully written...thank you. I remember cheeseburgers at The Cookery, Lee Bauman's if I wanted to splurge on a nightgown, Fred Braun (were they on 8th? Anyway I remember those hard leather bags!) good memories

Anonymous said...

Thanks Pat! And you're reminding me of stores I'd forgotten. All those sexy underwear and bras! And the women who sold them were dressed up to their chins in formal suits and very serious!

Gojira said...

I worked at Capezio in the Village on the corner of 8th and MacDougal from 1980-1982; there used to be a great sushi restaurant directly across the street on 8th, and a little ways down the block was a health food restaurant (Eva's, I think?) I don't remember Gray's being there at that point, if it had I would have been a regular.

laura r. said...

anon 9pm: 8th st was a nice street w/little boutiques. sam kramer jewelers, fred braun leather, many silver stores. it was whelons drugstore on 6th that came in & ruined it. by the mid 60s 8th st was ruined. 6th ave was ruined. it was chain stores & open all night that changed that part of the village. in the 70s, 8th st became an ugly commerical shoe store zone.

Unknown said...

First, allow me to say thank you for writing this blog and documenting these special places. These places are what make the city special.

Gray's Papaya closing is especially painful.

I remember the first time I went there. It was after the annual "Marijuana Protest" in Washington Square Park (before Giuliani ended it in 1997). I had come over from Brooklyn with a bunch of friends. As the protest was winding down one of my friends said, "You gotta have a Gray's Papaya hot dog! It's tradition!" We walked the short distance from the park (less than 2 blocks) and there was a long line. My friend assured us that we wouldn't be waiting long and he was right! As we entered I found myself amazed, watching the lightening speed of the chefs! When it was our turn we were greeted with quick and friendly service. We got our piping hot dogs and fresh juices within moments of ordering before wandering back out into that beautiful day in May. The first bite. I talked with my mouth full, "MMMMM!!! THIS IS THE BEST MMM HOT DOG MMM-MMM I EVER MMM HAD!!!" My friend had a big smile as he chewed his first bite. All of us were smiling. My roommate and dear friend who was with us at the time died on 9/11 in the South Tower...I can still see her smiling, eating that first Gray's Papaya dog.

I moved into a rooming house on W 8th Street bet 5th and 6th Avenues in the late 90's (which I'm sure is gone now). I regularly went to Gray's Papaya as it was less than a block away. I was very poor at the time so I owe my life to Gray's Papaya - I would have gone hungry many nights without them. Delicious food for an incredibly affordable price is a rarity in Manhattan. The dogs were always delicious and I loved the way they'd heat up the buns. Everyone was always friendly and they knew how I liked my dogs because I was there all the time. They'd say, "The usual?" with a smile. It made me feel at home. I'd stand by the windows and eat my delicious hot dog in it's warm bun, gazing out at the bustling sidewalks and traffic on 6th Avenue. I remember, even when it was cold outside, I felt so warm. I'd always smile, even if I was having a bad day. I also loved their fresh juices, especially when it was warm outside. I spent a lot of time there. There were a few times I was short on money and they gave me my "usual" anyway. I was very poor at the time and...there are no words that could express how much it meant to me.

Gray's Papaya was a very special place because it was a place for everyone. I am all about INCLUSIVE places because they are not only creating something for everyone, they are fascinating! Inclusive places are exciting! INclusive places are IN. Exclusive places should exclude themselves from continuing to ruin NYC.

R.I.P. Gray's Papaya at the corner of West 8th & 6th Avenue. Another of Manhattan's treasures has fallen to rent greed. </3

The Faustian Man said...

New York City is a series of communities and neighborhoods stitched together to form boroughs. Looking at The Village the way most out-of-towners and mass media do would be akin to looking at the entirety of North America (Canada and The United States) and making a broad sweeping assumption.

The fact is things like NYU's expansion and outside manipulation of the real estate market have real impact that effects lives of the people in these neighborhoods. People who weren't born here, or grew up here have no real attachment to these kinds of places one way or another. It's easier to kick out institutions and establishments like Joe Jr.'s out if the customer is transient, and somewhat souless.

I am glad I made this vid of Gray's in Greenwich Villiage while I had the chance. A shame I didn't do the same with more of the institutions I took for granted in my youth.