NYC's Papaya King Is Slated for Demolition — Some Fans Are Getting Their Final Hot Dog While They Can
Few New York City restaurants are as iconic as Papaya King. Founded in 1932, the brand — which despite attempts to expand currently only operates its single original location on Manhattan's Upper East Side — is named after its tropical drinks but became equally famous for its hot dogs, inspiring a host of (not necessarily bad) imitators like Gray's Papaya and Papaya Dog. Adding to its appeal, unlike New York-style pizza which is advertised around the world, these hot dog joints have remained primarily an NYC phenomenon, further hammering home Papaya King's connection to the bustling city.
But 90 years of history could apparently be coming to an end. Late last month, the site Patch reported that the developer Extell – known for building luxury apartments – had filed plans to tear down the single-story storefronts on the corner of East 86th Street and Third Avenue, one of which is home to Papaya King. Extell reportedly acquired the lot for $21 million in 2021.
Both Extell and Papaya King have reportedly been quiet on when the restaurant may be asked to leave or when the building will be torn down. Neither The New York Times, which covered the story a week after Patch, nor NPR, which covered it on Saturday, was able to get a comment from either party. But New Yorkers interested in one last visit to the classic hot dog stand with a tropical twist apparently aren't taking any chances.
NPR wrote that customers have been "flocking to Papaya King to snag what might be their last bite there" as news of the eatery's demise has continued to spread. "The fact that this was good 70 years ago when I was 11 and that it's good today says a great deal," Richard Barnet, a resident in his 80s, was quoted as saying. "It says that there's a certain kind of continuity and also that ordinary people can have good taste."
Bruce Kraig, billed as a hot dog historian, spoke of a broader importance to the brand. "New York's the only place that does this," he told the public radio station. "That's one of the historical importances of Papaya King."
But Peter Poulos — the son of original founder Gus Poulos who took over his father's business before selling it off about two decades ago — told the NYT that, in real estate sense at least, Papaya King's future seemed inevitable. "It's too valuable of a corner to make it a one-story building," he said. "It's like everything else. Everything has to come to an end eventually."
And so even if Papaya King — which has reportedly struggled to hold onto their lease in the past — is able to survive this dilemma, the current situation is a prudent reminder that every hot dog could be our last, so appreciate every bite.