Last week, word that the West Village location of Gray’s Papaya has shuttered spread like wildfire throughout the city. Outrage was the default response, and not just because it had been there for so long, or because the closure left the city with just one remaining location of the all-hours hot-dog haunt—there was also the knife-twisting news that it will be replaced by a juice bar. Gone are the funky, chalky tropical concoctions in styrofoam cups, the snappy dogs, the red standing counter, and the blaring local radio; now, kale juice marks the spot.
As the dust settles, it’s clear that the loss of Gray’s is just another case of not knowing what we had until it was gone. Gray’s Papaya never really got the level of reverence that New York’s vaunted pizza joints or centuries-old bars routinely receive—not until the lights had been turned off, at least.
Let’s not get caught slacking again—Gray’s lives on uptown at 72nd and Broadway, and if you like hot dogs and New York, you should make it your business to pay homage from time to time. And when you do, you’ll remember that the place isn’t just about the dirt-cheap franks. It’s also about the people who go at all hours, and how they take their hot dogs, and the bizarre things they’ve seen, and the way this quirky, unfussy place defines some vital aspect of their New York lives.
With that in mind, we went uptown during a rainy lunch break to talk to some of those patrons, if only as a reminder of the seemingly universal appeal of Gray’s Papaya. As you’ll see, the dogs are the product, but the wide swath of people who visit are just as much—if not more so—what makes the place special.—Foster Kamer
Click through the slide show to see the faces of the last remaining Gray’s Papaya.
Photos by Liz Barclay. Interviews by Josh Kaplan.