(Originally posted on the “A New York Thing” Glob. R.I.P.)
New York is a city of wonder and opportunity, a rising monument to the dream of our great nation. To see it emerge in the distance elicits a shiver at the gleam, the mystery of what is contained in the alleys and avenues deep below the spires of an empire. But it is also a city of divisions. A short bridge ride brings one from the luxury of Columbus Circle into the hallowed grounds of Queensbridge. Divided by a river and three socio-economic classes, the neighborhoods exist in stark contrast.
Even with rampant social stratification and disenfranchisement, there are still great equalizers, shared elements deeply embedded into the DNA of the metropolis. The hot dog sits peak atop these unifiers. Rich or poor, Jewish or Muslim, Black or Dominican, all enjoy this gastronomique guilty pleasure. Venture with me, lost soul, idealistic dreamer, white-collar criminal, into the world of papaya juice and hot dogs.
Sometimes, in the darkest moments of my life, I choose to push myself further into the abyss. You see, it is complete darkness, black, that is the absorption of all light. So when I am forced to take the L train back to Kings County at 4am next to many a collared shirt-wearing merrymaker, I choose to compound the darkness in my suffering by stepping into Papaya Dog on the corner of 1st Avenue and 14th Street.
Beyond being geographically accommodating, placed directly on the demarcation line of downtown, Papaya Dog is the most economically gracious of the Papaya Dog purveyors. For a mere 4 dollars you are treated to 2 hot dogs and a fruit juice. The hot dogs at Papaya Dog are good, filling and salty – all that you would want in a dog, really. Yet, they lack a certain snap to them. The Papaya juice is passable, but you can most certainly tell it is made from a powder. The beverage was pleasing but also caused some sort of existential/real crisis for aNYthing’s own Torey Kish, launching him into a haze for the following half hour. It is the decor of Papaya Dog that makes it so bleak. Standing up and eating at the windowed counter, under the bright fluorescents, one watches the world go by. Young professionals commuting home/drunk, a street book seller vending, MTA buses (that I am too scared to get on because they lack the rails of direction that ease my mind on the subway) passing by. I eat here once every month and a half.
Note: All of the employees at Papaya Dog are from Assiut, Egypt, where in the year 2000 the Virgin Mary appeared. They are very nice.
Taste: ⅗ Mangas
Cost: ⅘ Mangas
Ease of Use: 3.5/5 Mangas
In the 1930’s, Gus Poulos founded Papaya King with the raison d’etre of providing cheap and healthy beverages to the masses. It was a noble cause and no one batted an eyelash when these health drinks were paired with hot dogs, which no matter how delicious, are very close to the height of un-health. Mind you, at the time you could still smoke everywhere and probably get a doctor to give you cocaine. Papaya King was the original Juice Press, which I hope in 50 years is understood as similarly unhealthy (you won’t get diabetes but wheatgrass probably makes you prone to shingles, or something of a similar ilk).
If you were unaware that “Papaya King” was the original proprietor of papaya juice and dogs before entering the store, which does have a dazzling neon-sign, you will when you are bombarded by thousands of “Papaya King Facts” placarded all around the shop. For example: “Papaya promotes heart health and male fertility” – debateable. “Lenny Bruce lived on this street, and married a stripper!” That’s a cute story but so did Wiz Khalifa and I’ve already seen everyone I know naked on “the Internet”.
The current iteration of Papaya King is very much attempting to channel the ethos of the original juice-hot dog combo. Yet, their pursuit of capitalist grandeur and fame have diverted them from their cause. It is 7 dollars for two hot dogs and a juice. There is the option of multiple “toppings”, but that is putting lipstick on a pig in every sense, even if these are kosher dogs. With this said, the hot dogs at Papaya King are quite good. They aren’t 3 dollars better than competitors, but the skin does have an excellent snap to it. Even so, the papaya juice was too sugary. Further, for this price, I might as well go to Crif Dog down the street and watch people wait for hours to get into a bar that they think is cool because you go through a phone booth to get in. Here’s a neat trick for you entrepreneurs out there: just put a pay phone next to the door of your bar and don’t let anyone in, people will pay anything to sit there.
Taste: ⅗ Mangas
Cost: 1.5/5 Mangas
Ease of Use: 2.5/5 Mangas
The Gray’s Papaya on the corner of Sixth Ave and 8th St has closed, and true to my theory, is being replaced by a “Liquiteria” gourmet juice shop (fact check). This is a tragedy, as the Village Voice once called Gray’s Papaya “The Finest Culinary Addition to Downtown” – a true Jacobin in the bourgeois brunch fiefdom of the West Village. On the night of our hot dog evaluation there was no time for mourning this loss. Torey and I ventured uptown to 72nd st, Gray’s Papaya’s last location.
“When you’re hungry, or broke, or just in a hurry!” says the sign greeting you after seventy blocks of bicycle riding. Gray’s was founded in the 70s by Paul Gray, originally a partner in Papaya King. This breakaway colony has maintained a much more authentic feel than its originator. Prices have gone up, but 5 dollars for two dogs and a juice in their “Recession Special” remains a deal. The papaya juice itself is perfect, refreshing, with a delicious milkiness and no horrible after-taste to it. The dogs are delectable and snappy; I easily finished two of them and did not feel outwardly horrible about myself for eating five hot dogs in one hour. They blend the notes of intense salt synonymous with a superior dog with a subtle sweetness of the buns. The quotation placards at Gray’s are far less facetious and money grubby in their feel than at Papaya King. “Gray’s Papaya grills a meaty beef hot dog that is a steal” – Mimi Sheraton, who according to google image search DOES NOT LOOK LIKE SOMEONE WHO ENJOYS HOT DOGS. “Famous Hot Doggery” – Anonymous, because when we are talking great hot dogs, who needs to cite sources? “Can slam dunk a basketball, definitely not allergic to horses.” – Anonymous, discussing Gabriel Luis Manga.
Gray’s Papaya is the pinnacle of papaya juice-hot dog storefronts. They combine taste, cost, and even though they are all the way uptown, the fact that they are located in Jerry Seinfeld/Kramer’s fictional neighborhood bumps them up by two ease of use points.
Taste: ⅘ Mangas
Cost: 4/5 Mangas
Ease of Use: ⅗ Mangas.
Just remember: no one looks good eating a hot dog, no one looks bad eating a hot dog.