1. The Recession Special.
When I arrived in New York City in 1995, the Recession Special at Gray’s Papaya was just $1.99 for two franks and any drink (except, ironically, the Papaya drink). There wasn’t much of a recession back then and it disappeared, reappearing after 9/11 and staying through most of the Bush Administration. It was up to $4.99 the last time I dropped in, still quite a deal.
2. They sold the same delicious Sabrett hot dogs for much less than those street carts did.
Gray’s Papaya hot dogs were 50 cents when I first encountered them. The price went up over the years, but the same delicious Sabrett hot dogs at Gray’s have always been about half of what you’d pay for the same frank at a sidewalk cart.
3. Never ordering the Papaya drink.
The name “Gray’s Papaya” had the air of of some kind of tropical health juice joint. The papaya drink was even flogged for its health effects and light nature. The thing is, you never ordered it with your hot dog. Ever.
4. Not being charged extra for toppings.
You were broke. You were hungry. You could get two hot dogs for pocket change, and the sauerkraut and delicious red Sabrett onion mixture for no extra charge? Yes, please!
5. It was open 24 hours a day.
You were drunk. You were up late studying. You couldn’t sleep. It didn’t matter if you were young and in love or old and out of love; if you were an insomniac in Greenwich Village and were hungry, you could count on Gray’s.
6. Cheap 24 hour pizza doesn’t compare
A 99 cent slice of pizza from a 24-hour pizza shop is among the shittiest slices of pizza you’ve ever eaten, and you only ate it because you were drunk, bored, and nothing else was open. However, a cheap Gray’s Papa hot dog was among the best hot dogs you ever ate. The crackle of the skin, the pop of the juice filling your mouth in that first bite…mmmmmm…..
7. The glass wall of shame.
There was no hiding when the Gray’s urge hit you, for their counter made you face the world while you ate. You’d be standing there on a busy Manhattan corner, facing outward with your mouth full of hot dog. Be you in a suit, your pajamas, or on a date, there was no escaping the glass wall of shame.
8. The smell was enough to convert a vegetarian!
When I first went to Gray’s, with my roommates from the NYU dorm down the street, I had been a vegetarian for many years. The smell got to me. To my great vegetarian shame, it made my mouth water. Combined with the fact that they were only two quarters, Gray’s hot dogs knocked me off the wagon of vegetarianism!