“I’ve been coming here since 1984. It’s an institution,” stated one native New Yorker who gets his dog done with mustard and topped with kraut. Alan Schleshinger disagrees explaining why Gray’s Papaya gets buzz, “It’s the most famous place in the City. It’s a New York staple, but it’s not a wow factor. Nathan’s and Katz’s, they’re outrageous!” Another New Yorker explained it like this, “Everybody likes it, if you live in the area, it’s the local place to go, you gotta go to Gray’s. It’s good, it’s easy, it’s a neighborhood place.” And yet another agrees with Schleshinger, “I lived in the same block for years and maybe ate there twice.”
These are varying opinions of New Yorkers on the famous Gray’s Papaya, a New York staple since 1973, famous for providing the city with good (okay, that’s up for debate), affordable hotdogs. I had to go check it out for myself. There are four locations on the West side of New York. I visited the outpost on 72nd Street and Broadway and was greeted with a waft of grilling franks on display about to be devoured by hungry patrons. There is nothing special about the place, you stand up to eat, take it on the run or order take out, which they make easy to do on their website.
The menu is displayed on a board and is a little all over the place, with offerings like breakfast sandwiches, donuts, bagels and even pizza slices. Don’t get distracted, go there for the hotdogs. They tout themselves for serving high-quality, all-beef dogs that are cheap, just $1.25 each. So where does the papaya fit into the name? They are also famous for their fruit juices including papaya, orange, grape, pineapple and nonalcoholic piña colada, coconut champagne and banana daiquiri. The hotdog itself was fine, nothing to write home about, for me anyway. So how to explain all the hubbub around Gray’s? I think it’s the nostalgia, the memories, a taste of home, if that’s what you grew up on. For me it’s my mom’s chicken soup in the winter, for some New Yorkers it’s Gray’s Papaya.