NY's papaya, hot dog joint closes

NEW YORK - No more "recession specials", neon lights and cheap bites washed down with papaya juice: New York has lost one of its most iconic hot-dog joints after three decades.

Gray's Papaya in Greenwich Village, a reputed favourite of the late rocker Lou Reed, has fallen victim to the near daily roll call of New York institutions crushed by exorbitant rent increases.

Shops, bars, cafes and restaurants that for generations are considered integral to the world's most exciting city suddenly disappear overnight, no longer able to pay the rent.

"I'll miss getting those hot dogs at midnight," jobbing actor Peter Coleman, 28, said in a nearby bar, waxing lyrical about the shuttered premises on Sixth Avenue and 8th Street.

"It's sad to see another neighbourhood staple go the way of Ray's Pizza," said Coleman, who works in the neighbourhood and still misses the beloved pizzeria that closed a few years ago.

Famous for its "recession special" - two hot dogs and a medium soda for US$4.95 (S$6.30) - Gray's Papaya was a veteran culinary landmark. Kids, late-night drinkers, clubbers and the homeless came for a dog and the legendary papaya drink "made from the magical melons of the tropics".

They flocked to the 24/7 joint, as much for its food as its quirky decor - paper-mache fruit hanging from the ceiling and its witty ads: "If you're hungry, or broke or just in a hurry".

Another fan, film-maker Ashbey Riley, paid tribute in an emotional blog on the Huffington Post. "I can hardly remember the first time my father took me there. I must have been about three. It doesn't matter really. Gray's became an everlasting part of my life," she wrote.

"Gray's has always been there through every phase. Gray's was enduring, never changing, always dependable, forever delicious and conveniently, Gray's was always open," she added.

Tourists came for a genuine taste of the Big Apple. The place featured on the small and silver screen in among others, Sex And The City, How I Met Your Mother and the 1998 romcom You've Got Mail with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

Owner Nicholas Gray confirmed that the reason for the closure was the sharp increase in renewing the lease. He was quoted as saying in the local media that the landlords wanted to raise his rent to US$50,000 from US$30,000.

Employees and the manager of Gray's remaining branch, away from the Manhattan bar scene on the Upper West Side, declined comment.

Journalist Jeremiah Moss, who has written for The New Yorker, Playboy and the Paris Review, has catalogued rent casualties on his blog Jeremiah's Vanishing New York since 2001. He blames much of the loss of "6,926 years of history" on billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg, who left office in January after 12 years of rising inequality and booming property prices.

"It's been 12 merciless years of destruction and loss, from 'significant' losses to countless 'smaller' ones - neighbourhood laundromats, shoe repair shops, drugstores," Moss wrote.

Besides Gray's Papaya, this year has already seen the loss of a clutch of other businesses, including Famous Oyster Bar, which shuttered after 55 years at Seventh Avenue and 54th Street.

It put up a sign saying that it was closing "due to exorbitant rent prices". The owner was quoted as saying that four years ago the rent was US$12,000 and that it is now more than US$30,000.

Another was well-known clothing store Camouflage in uber-chic Chelsea, which was kicked onto the kerb after 38 years when the rent more than tripled from US$7,000 to US$24,000 a month.