Saturday, August 8, 2009

Gray's Papaya - Recession Special

Gray's Papaya - cheap, quick fix hot dogs - every bit of the New York City landscape as pizzas, halal carts, yellow cabs and the Statue of Liberty are. They have four locations on the west side (Eighth Ave at 37th St., Sixth Ave at 8th St., Broadway at 72nd St., and Waverly Place, where it all began). They're open 24 hours a day everyday all year (can you imagine what the 5:00 am characters must look like? It would be a fun project to photograph Gray's Papaya 3 am to 5 am eaters). In addition to their famous hot dogs, they sell fruit drinks - papaya (hence, the name), pina colada, orange, grape, coconut champagne, and banana daiquiri. This photo is of their 72nd St./Broadway location.

When you step into Gray's Papaya, it feels like a busy indoor hot dog cart, except with a hell of a lot of advertisement that makes you feel dizzyingly like you're in the middle of Times Square. It's like NYC hot dog theatre. It's bright, it smells, it's confusing at first, people are at the windows standing while stuffing their faces with hot dogs near trash cans. What can you say, it's fun.

And ah, the recession special. We've read that all New Yorkers understand that the phrase "Recession Special" means two hot dogs and a drink at Gray's Papaya. Currently, $4.50 will get you two hot dogs and a papaya drink. (It used to be $1.95 in the 1990s, $2.45 in 2002, then $3.50 until just this past October). The hot dog prices might have gone up, but you can still get a egg/cheese/sausage breakfast sandwich and coffee for just $2.50.

They're not hot dogs that'll bring tears to your eyes, but they're traditional, straightforward slim all-beef dogs that won't hurt your wallet but will keep your tum happy. The papaya drink tastes "interesting" - a bit of a funky taste and smell that leaves you a bit puzzled and wondering whether you liked it or not. At least it's fruit and negates the bad hot dog effects, right? At their entrance, there's a large sign that states "It is recognized that Papaya contains peculiar and valuable digestive properties which make it of great value to the daily diet."

And yes the photo above shows ketchup on the dog. I don't care if Bourdain kicks my ass - I love ketchup and ketchup goes with everything. Bourdain, by the way, apparently loves Gray's too. Actually, Gray's is famous for the famous and wealthy people that roll up in their Rolls-Royce for their dogs to go. That's New York for you - you'll have a jobless person eating at Gray's out of necessity and a millionaire that just can't help themselves. Gray's Papaya is one of those classic only in New York City places, no matter how many imitations spring up. Again, the dogs aren't anything to jump through fire hoops for, but you go to Gray's Papaya for a piece of the Big Apple nostalgia and a cheap unhealthy meal.

The other hot dog place that we'd like to venture to if we have time is the one that sells $1 gigantic hot dogs in an unmarked pawn shop in Chinatown. Sounds scary and interesting.