Papaya King reopens after iconic NYC building demolished for luxury skyscraper: ‘I have tears in my eyes’

The king is dead, long live the king.

Beloved New York hot dog shop Papaya King has reopened in a new location after the iconic building it once occupied was sold and demolished.

“Now I have tears in my eyes seeing it’s back,” said 57-year-old neighbor Jamie Boone as she visited Papaya King’s new Upper East Side location on Sunday.

“My sister couldn’t even walk past that place that was being torn down,” added Jamie’s 68-year-old sister CJ, who explained how they were “born and raised” in the store they visited with their parents.

Papaya King has reopened on the Upper East Side with a new location directly across from the old one. James Keivom

Papaya King once described by Anthony Bourdain as “the pinnacle of the art of hot dog making” reopened its doors on Saturday, more than a year after the old, fluorescent-lit location closed for good last spring to make way for a luxury high-rise.

The new location is just across the street from the intersection of East 86th Street and Third Avenue, a huge relief to many who feared the store would never reopen in the neighborhood where it thrived for nearly 100 years.

“I have been getting so many calls every day for the past year and a half. Some people say I will die for the Papaya King,” said manager Mohammad Alam.

“We don’t want to lose our customers because we are the neighborhood. This is our business that has been here for 92 years.”

The new Papaya King reopened on Saturday after being closed for more than a year James Keivom

Sunday afternoon saw a steady stream of customers at the new location, drinking their spicy red peppers with relish and onions, pairing them with Papaya King’s signature tropical drinks.

“My dad grew up around here and always loved it, so when we visited New York as kids he would always have us stop by,” said Bill A. of New York, who added that he’s now excited to continue the tradition with his own children.

“It’s fantastic My daughters will be thrilled. They are 9 and 12 and they loved this place. They were very sad when it closed a few years ago. It will be the third generation to visit Papaya King.”

Last weekend, many customers came to Papaya King again, some of whom had not been there before the restaurant closed last year. James Keivom

Papaya King first opened in its old location in 1932 and has since become a fixture for generations of New Yorkers and passersby.

But the building had to leave its longtime home after the landlord sold it to developers for $21 million in 2021.

The owner promised to reopen in a location just across the street, but negotiations with the new landlord fell through in early 2024, leaving the future of the property in limbo — especially after the original building was razed.

The dogs at the new location were described as “excellent” by customers who stopped by on Sunday. James Keivom

“This is a New York institution, and the old location should have been a landmark,” said Jill Schlesinger, who grew up on the same block as Papaya King founder Constantine “Gus” Poulos. “I went to every board meeting to try to save this place.”

According to Alam, the influx of customers has not been as great since the store opened yesterday as before, but he expects that to change once it is announced that the store is open again.

“I think it will take a while, maybe one or two weeks,” he said.

The old Papaya King location, where the restaurant was located for nearly 100 years, was demolished to make way for a skyscraper. James Messerschmidt

Until then, the new location has already welcomed a number of new customers.

“We moved here about two years ago and started looking around to see what kind of food we should try. Everyone said, ‘Here,’ so that’s why we’re here,” said Eric Wang as he devoured a hot dog with his wife, Erin, and their daughter.

Although they were “a little late” to get to the old location, they said everything at the new Papaya King was “excellent.”

Additional reporting by David Propper.

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