There’s never been a “closed” sign that burned as brightly as the one in the window at Gray’s Papaya in the West Village. I don’t know what time it was when we saw the sign, but I know it was at least a couple hours past a reasonable person’s dinner time. Plus it was snowing.
We rode the subway from the Upper West Side down to the Village for “The Best Hot Dogs in The City.” Look, I’m not a planner. I don’t go on vacation with a whole bunch of ideas of what I’m going to do, and definitely not where I’m going to eat. My best friend, my favorite travel partner is the opposite. She makes elaborate plans a long time in advance. She once came to visit me in Jackson, Mississippi and weeks ahead of the trip she sent me links to various museums and restaurants she wanted to visit when she got there. It’s a good thing she plans the way she does because several of my college vacations would have just turned into me roaming around unfamiliar streets waiting for stores or landmarks to draw me in. I’m an aimless explorer.
I’m glad she plans. I’ve had many a good meal in strange cities because she totes a Zagat guide around. I’ve seen sites I’d never think to look for on my own. Somebody has to take charge and Ginny does it, but sometimes taking charge is how two girls in their early twenties end up riding the Subway way too late at night to some restaurant with a name that says anything but “we sell hot dogs”. Regardless, the Zagat guide recommended Gray’s Papaya and I’d already dragged Ginny to every major news network building in the city, so of course I was bundled up on a hard yellow subway seat next to her. I didn’t mind searching for a good hot dog, really. It’s just that I could probably find a good hot dog a half a block from our hotel. Hers required a metro map and a little patience.
Greenwich Village is not a bad place to be at night, and thank god for that because Zagat’s guide to hot dog royalty failed to mention the hours of operation, apparently. So we were a half-hour subway ride from our hotel with empty stomachs. I don’t know if you’ve ever been around me when I’m hungry, but it’s not good. If you want to see a grown-woman acting her most “youngest child”… find me when I haven’t had anything to eat for a few hours. I can be cooperative. I can compromise, but my hunger is non-negotiable. A Subway ride to the second best hot dog in the city was completely out of the question. No big deal though because we were in New York and when you’re in the big apple you’re never more than a block away from pizza.
It probably wasn’t the best in the city. In fact, it wasn’t even the best pizza we had that week, but it filled me up. It also made me stop complaining about the cold long enough for us to roam around the village looking for the exteriors of Monica and Chandler’s place.
It turns out a lot of those buildings look the same, and I wasn’t invested enough to put real effort in, plus sometime during the search we found the famous Magnolia Bakery. It was cute. It looked warm. And it was open late.
Those few hours are the only ones Ginny and I spent in the West Village. She didn’t get to try the best hot dog in the city. I never found Monica and Chandler’s place. I guess the whole late night subway ride would’ve been a big waste if I hadn’t tasted the best damn cupcake on the planet …and frankly, I don’t need Zagat to confirm.