Manhattan hot doggery Gray’s Papaya set to raise prices (again)

New York City hot dogs at Gray's Papaya

It’s murder, I say! Murder!

Well, I don’t say it … Gray’s Papaya does. The Manhattan hot dog institution is about to raise its prices once again. This will be the third price increase since I moved to the Upper West Side in 2004.

There’s a rather dramatic sign hanging in the window at Gray’s Papaya screaming, “MURDER!” It continues:

WE ARE GETTING KILLED BY THE GALLOPING INFLATION IN FOOD COSTS
UNLIKE POLITICIANS WE CANNOT RAISE OUR DEBT CEILING AND ARE FORCED TO RAISE OUR VERY REASONABLE PRICES
PLEASE DON’T HATE US

Okay, it’s hard to hate the folks who sell two hot dogs and a drink for a modest $4.50, though I was much happier when it was a dollar cheaper, back in 2008. Seven years ago, one hot dog cost only 85 cents. Then it skyrocketed, on a relative basis, to $1.25 in 2005, inching up to $1.50 three years ago.

%Gallery-126040%The deal, which still returns change for a $5 bill, is called the “Recession Special,” which took real meaning in 2008, as New York City suffered the shock of the financial crisis. Since then, as we have struggled toward a recovery that never really seems to come, the Gray’s Papaya Recession Special has been a fantastic alternative to … well, just about everything.

But, where will the prices go next?

It’s hard to say. The notice has been up for a few weeks, but I have yet to see any indication of price change. The guy working behind the counter said he didn’t know where prices were headed and that they would probably take effect in early June. I walked by a few days ago and didn’t see anything different.

There is a lesson in all this: buy hot dogs.

If you bought hot dogs from Grays’ Papaya in 2004 at 85 cents each, they would have nearly doubled in value by 2008. With all the gripes were hearing about food inflation, it’s pretty safe to say that we’ll see another big spike in 2011.

Hot dogs are the new gold.

I guess the only problem would be storing them. I do suspect, though, that hot dogs are like Twinkies – they last forever.

If you find yourself in New York, definitely hit Gray’s Papaya. If the prices are higher than you expect, try not to complain. It still really is the best deal in town!

Note: The space in the window at Gray’s Papaya seems to be reserved for political messages, as it once endorsed Barack Obama for president. Now, the company is sending a message about government spending and deficit management. Who ever knew that a dog from Gray’s Papaya came with a free civics lesson?

Another note: when prices were raised in 2008, I stopped at Gray’s Papaya on my way to work for a hot dog for breakfast (it’s sick, I know). There were television cameras set up out front. I didn’t know why. Well, it turns out that MSNBC was doing a story on the price increase. And, a good friend of mine, now my roommate, wound up being interviewed about it. He’s in this clip.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon inflation

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade always attracts a crowd from the Upper West Side of Manhattan down to W. 34th Street, where you’ll find the store for which the parade is named. It can be exciting to cram onto the streets and see each of the floats and balloons roll by. Even if it is chilly outside, with the coffee in your hands quickly growing cold, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and experiencing it in person does not compare to having it on television in the background when you’re preparing Thanksgiving dinner.

If you come to New York City for the parade, there’s an attraction the night before that doesn’t draw the same hype, yet I find to be much more fun: the balloon inflation. From 3 PM to 10 PM the night before Thanksgiving, crowds converge on the blocks that circle the American Museum of Natural History to watch the balloons slowly take shape. For many, this is an alternative to going to the parade, providing both the experience of seeing the balloons and the feel of an insider going behind the scenes. A unique touch for me is a Gadling family connection: Melanie Nayer‘s father was part of the crew inflating the balloons in years past.

Getting photos for @gadling (@ Macy’s Parade Balloon Inflation w/ 113 others) http://4sq.com/ajc4qcless than a minute ago via foursquare

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%Gallery-108282%You can feel the crowd start to form well before the W. 79th Street entrance. As low as W. 75th Street, the Columbus Avenue sidewalks became crowded, and by the time I passed Shake Shack, on the corner of Columbus and W. 77th Street, I was effectively in line. It moved quickly, however, and within 15 minutes, I was crossing Columbus with friend and fellow travel blogger Laurie DePrete and headed toward the first balloons down on W. 77th Street.

From 3 PM to 6 PM, the scene changes drastically. Balloons go up as the sun goes down, and characters begin to come to life. Some, such as Snoopy, were not yet recognizable, while others, including Shrek and a Smurf, were already recognizable. At points, the bodies were jammed in, making it virtually impossible to move, but there were spots where the spectators moved easily.

Turn the corner from W. 77th Street to Central Park West, and there’s nothing to see: all you do is walk up to W. 81st Street, where the spectacle continues. Spiderman, Santa and Kung Fu Panda were taking shape on the street.

He exit wasn’t as crowded as the entrance, but t still took a few minutes to push up to W. 82nd Street, where the walking was a little easier. If you’re without kids, the next natural stop is Prohibition, a bar on Columbus Avenue between W. 84th Street and W.85th Street for an excellent Irish coffee and a chance to shake off the chill of the November evening air.

There’s nothing quite like going behind the scenes of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, even if it isn’t the exclusive experience that it sounds. If you do want to get a great view, though, whether it’s for the balloon inflation or the parade itself, nothing compares to making friends with someone who lives in a building overlooking the inflation or parade route!

New York City can make you deaf: new study links city noise to hearing loss

The locals hate midtown, and we just got another reason why.

It turns out that visiting the most heavily trafficked neighborhood in Manhattan could be hazardous to your health. Noise is the problem. Of course, it comes as no shock that parts of Manhattan can be quite loud. People, taxi horns and construction represent just part of the list that can rattle your ears and, eventually, cost you your hearing.

According to a study being released today at the International Conference on Urban Health at The New York Academy of Medicine, there are several neighborhoods where the risk to your hearing is substantial, especially for residents who become accustomed to it over time.

My Fox New York reports:

Most readings – even in several small parks meant to be oases of green and calm – were above 70 decibels. People whose daily noise exposure tops an average of 70 decibels can lose some of their hearing over time, said Richard Neitzel, a University of Washington research scientist and another of the study’s authors.


The result, of course, is that people have nowhere to go for a little peace and quiet.

Some of the noisiest spots in the city aren’t where you’d think to find them. Of course, midtown is noisy, but First Avenue above 14th Street? Broadway in Inwood? Well, these are the city’s trucking routes, which kicks up the decibels a bit. The Lower East Side, East Village and West Village, it seems, have fewer buffers and the added complication of nightlife – not a problem on the Upper West Side (I can assure you), which is fairly quiet.

[photo by joiseyshowaa via Flickr]

Four views of Shake Shack burgers in New York City

The line always seems to be long in Madison Square Park. Shake Shack, known for its burgers as well, always draws a crowd, and it isn’t unusual to spend an hour or more waiting to sink your teeth into its greasy delights. I’ve done it, and I know I’m not alone. Well, the stand’s popularity has led to expansion, and there are now four locations across Manhattan, with a fifth in Queens at Citi Field. Since those that follow never compare to the original, I was curious as to how they all compare. Could the concept withstand such rapid growth?

I set out with the noblest of intentions. Fellow travel blogger and friend Laurie DePrete (who took some of the photos) and I planned to hit the four Manhattan Shake Shacks on one Saturday afternoon. Scott Carmichael reached out to me over Twitter just wish me luck and let me know I was nuts (thanks, Scott). With my heroic appetite, I planned to down a double cheeseburger and fries at each location: Upper West Side (Columbus Ave and W. 77th Street), Upper East Side (E. 86th Street between Lexington Ave and Third Ave), Madison Square Park (Madison Ave and E. 23rd Street) and Midtown (Eighth Ave and W. 44th Street) – in that order.

My plan was to start on the Upper West Side, where I live, cut across Central Park to the Upper East Side, shoot down to Madison Square Park and then cut up and over to Midtown. Fatigue and the prospect of getting full never entered my mind. Neither ever does.

Below, you’ll find the results of my excursion, a look at the four Shake Shacks in Manhattan:


Eating all this @shakeshack food will be tough. 4 in all! RT @ScenebyLaurie: Stop #2 on the #NYC @shakeshack crawl http://4sq.com/covAmRless than a minute ago via ÜberTwitter

1. Upper West Side

This was the second Shake Shack to pop up, and I was excited to have an option close to home. The line frequently stretches around the corner onto W. 77th Street, though it’s rarely as intimidating as the original at Madison Square Park. On the Saturday I undertook this endeavor, the line was short, and I was able to order in about 10 minutes. Seating was tight, as expected, by Laurie and I were able to grab a spot on the counter, standing but with some space.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the cheeseburger, a double, but it struck me that I’d have to change course to survive the day. Though the burgers are a bit small (at all locations), they are filling. On the Upper West Side, expect to find the fare a little less greasy but still enjoyable. The taste was a bit flat. You’ll still be happy as you chomp away, but there better Shake Shack options in the city.

Where the Upper West Side restaurant stands out is in seating. There is plenty of it indoors, and don’t forget to look downstairs if you find the street level to be crowded. Also, there’s a bathroom on the premises, which is always helpful when you eat burgers and gulp lemonade.

After this first stop, we agreed to walk to the next location. To make it through four, it seemed like a good idea to move around a bit in between to keep the blood flowing … and the extra pounds at bay.

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2. Upper East Side

Unlike the first stop, I wasn’t hungry when I got to this one – but I wasn’t not hungry. I switched to a single cheeseburger and fries, cognizant of the road ahead. From across E. 86th Street, I saw that the line was out the door, but my concerns receded as I got closer. The stretch up the stairs from the cash registers to the front door isn’t long, so I figured the line would move quickly (it did). To help the process along, there are menus hanging outside, and a Shake Shack staffer walks by periodically to hand them out.

Seating inside is a bit scarce, but there’s plenty outside, perfect on a day like the one we used to tackle the four Shake Shacks. And, like the Upper West Side, there are bathrooms on the premises. The décor is a bit sleeker on the Upper East Side than in the other locations, and the staff was swift: the lines moved quickly because they moved quickly, too.

I was impressed by the burgers on the Upper East Side. They were soft and moist – nice and greasy, which is how a burger from the Shack should be. Hold yours with the wrapper to keep your shirt from getting drenched (learn from mistake I’ve made a number of times on visits to Shake Shack). As for taste, this spot’s burger was bursting. I devoured it shamelessly.

When I tried to stand from the bench in the outdoor dining area, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to. I was three burgers and two orders of fries into the adventure, and I was full … with two more locations to go. I was satisfied – and I definitely wasn’t hungry any longer. I was also tired. I turned to Laurie and saw a look implying the same feeling, but we decided to soldier on, slogging over to the subway for a ride down to Madison Square Park.

This project was becoming work.

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3. Madison Square Park

The original was our third stop simply for logistical reasons. Given the starting point and the way the subways work, it made sense to take this one on third. Also, we’ve both eaten there countless times, so we had a reasonable benchmark against which to compare the Upper East Side and Upper West Side locations.

As we walked through the park, a familiar sight emerged: a long line. We braced ourselves for a wait of at least half an hour before realizing that we needed it. I’d be able to rest my stomach for a while, try earnestly to build up an appetite again and prepare myself for the home stretch. I sat on the ground for a moment to gather my courage.

You’ll find free water at every Shake Shack location, and at this point we needed it. I headed over to pick up a few cups from the urn (the other three have running water) and rehydrated, something I’d been neglecting. Slowly, we advanced to the counter, where I ordered another single and fries. I wasn’t eating to alleviate hunger at this point, I was just looking for the taste.

The original remains the best. Grease dripped from the burger (though not as much as on the Upper East Side), and the familiar flavor erupted in my mouth. The first bite was incredible – everything you’d expect a burger from the Shack to be. It was soft, warm and thoroughly enjoyable. Then, I looked down at my tray and saw that I still had the rest of the burger in front of me. I was only able to make it through half – likewise for my fries – before deciding I had enough information and giving up.

While Madison Square Park wins on taste, the surroundings can be a challenge. There is lots of seating, but it’s all outdoor. Given that the crowds tend to be largest here, they fill up quickly. During the lunch rush, with people spilling out of the nearby office buildings, you may have trouble finding a chair anywhere. Protect your food from the occasional bird (I speak from experience), and bring change for the bathroom (a freestanding public one is your only option, and it’ll set you back a quarter).

After giving up before finishing, groaning and shaking our heads, we decided to keep going. Again figuring it would be a good idea to keep the blood flowing, my burger buddy and I started the trek back uptown, dreading the final stop. It was getting close to 10 PM, leaving us just enough time to get to the Midtown location – our final stop on the Shake Shack tour. My feet felt heavier with each step. My stomach hinted that a mutiny was on the horizon. After swapping knowing glances, Laurie and I decided to leave the Eighth Ave location for another day.

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4. Eighth Ave

We waited a little over a week before resuming the tour, a natural reaction to overloading your body with some of the finest burgers New York City has to offer. Situated on Eighth Ave, I expected this restaurant to have frightening wait and no available seating. It’s close to Times Square and Port Authority, which led me to believe there would be endless tourist traffic. To my surprise, however, the line lasted only about 15 minutes. As on the Upper East Side, Shake Shackers armed with menus came out periodically to help people make their decisions before getting up to the counter to order.

The Midtown Shake Shack offered a tasty burger (I found Madison Square Park and the Upper East Side to be better) that came fairly quickly. It wasn’t terribly greasy but was enjoyable nonetheless. Seating was tough, as people seemed to take a bit more time with their meals while the kitchen was able to turn over orders quickly.

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Like the other indoor locations, the Midtown spot had bathrooms for customers. To use them, though, you needed to enter a code on the door. Unlike most places, which use a token or a key from the counter, Shake Shack was savvy enough to put the code on every receipt, minimizing the time it takes to get where you need to go. The Eighth Ave restaurant also had a more powerful faucet for water, which led to shorter lines for those fighting thirst. It’s clear that the company learned a few lessons before opening its newest space.


Getting the last of the #manhattan @shakeshack stops in!!! (@ Shake Shack w/ @scenebylaurie) http://4sq.com/dhBg7Bless than a minute ago via foursquare


And that was it.

Toiling through four Shake Shacks, even if the last was left for a later date, was far more challenging than I expected, and I learned just how much my stomach can hold. If you’re headed to Manhattan, it’s worth visiting one Shake Shack – but only one. Don’t try to cram them all into a demented burger tour. You really are only hurting yourself if you do.

Flickr’s New York: A tale of two cities

Tourists photograph Midtown and Lower Manhattan, while locals click their cameras in the East Village and Chinatown. So, it’s clear: tourists and locals don’t mix in New York.

Eric Fischer, a computer program, used geotagging data from Flickr and Picasa to plot maps of New York and 71 other cities, using a system he created for determining which shutterbugs are locals and which are from out of town.

Using this system, we can divine the following:

  • Tourists shoot Yankee games, while there are more locals snapping away when the Mets are playing at home
  • Locals prefer the Manhattan Bridge, and tourists flock to the Brooklyn Bridge … yet Brooklyn itself is packed with local photogs
  • Nobody goes to the Upper West Side (unless he or she lives there)
  • Governors Island is about as tourist-free a place as you’ll find in New York