THE ORIGINAL RAY’S PIZZA CLOSES IT’S DOORS, ENDING AN ERA
Ralph Cuomo opened the first Ray’s Pizza, at 27 Prince Street in Little Italy in 1959, named after his nickname “Raffie.” The final slice sadly, was sold on Sunday October 30th. One day before much of the city prepared to don costumes for Halloween. Those who miss the old days would say that alot of us play dress up daily nowadays. Trying desperately to BE characters while those who came before simply WERE characters. A new pizza joint will re open in it’s place. The owner of Ray’s is currently looking to reopen in the neighborhood.
Is the end of the “Original” another sign of the times that feature new building owners out pricing long time businesses by charging exorbitant rent prices for their storefront spaces? Or are the seemingly insane monthly prices just the going rate for ownership on high profile streets in Manhattan?
Either way, it’s always sad to see legendary places close their doors. For whatever reason. We’ve been here long enough to have the place embedded in our minds as a part of this block forever. It will be surreal to see another restaurant name on the storefront window.
We ourselves arrived here years back, but not long enough ago to be considered anything but newbies to the rich tradition and history of Little Italy. As the shrinking neighborhood began to be overtaken by the growth of Chinatown as well as a gentrification that played a role in raising the cost of living throughout the Big Apple.
This all thanks in part to the iron fisted rule of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Whose ends always seemed to justified means that included actions taken outside of the law if needed, in order to rid the place of it’s intimidating reputation. Giuliani took over a city that was known for it’s disarray. A place that lived by it’s own tough rules on the streets. As the city became safer in appearance from the outside, the culture began to change on the inside. Especially for those who fought to maintain their businesses. As a result of the change from the Mean Streets of yesteryear, to pretty high rises downtown, many notable places such as the Second ave deli for example, began to slowly fall by the wayside.
In addition to the food, we’ll never forget the colorful personalities that worked at Ray’s. Mornings shooting the breeze over coffee with “Cheech,” before he opened for lunch. Or “Sal” closing up shop in a wife beater, after a long shift of making pizza. Work that was accompanied by Yankees broadcasts on AM radio. This while “Jose” his night time partner, would add editorial’s regarding the highlights of the shift, while taking orders.
Those nights of Yankees post game talk by the counter with this timeless duo, and patrons still eating slices at the tables, was never talk for a family show if the Yankees lost. Yet it was always an honest unedited assessment of what went on at the ballpark and in the neighborhood. The kind of “made for movie” quotable dialogue that made Ray’s one of the sole embodiments of days past. Where expression wasn’t taught in classes at the New School. Where honesty wasn’t guarded like gold bricks in armored trucks.
One night ten years ago, “Sal,” was counting money while warming up his car outside after work one night. Workers then began driving cement rollers down the block, to pave over the hundred year old cobblestone on Prince st. Cigarette in hand, he unlocked the front door and shouted up to my fire escape, to answer the confusion I wore on my face from three stories above. Over the callousness of such a measure. He remarked “Good. Now the car won’t get fucked up. Should have done it a long time ago!”
That smoothing over made sense for guys like Sal, who drove to work every night for years and years. Parking on either side of what was then a dimly lit street. When there WERE parking spots available. When the homeless who we knew by name, prior to checking into the Sunshine Hotel on the Bowery would take quick naps in the foyer of our building. Before the explosion of apartment co-ops as gaudy fashion shops soon began to surround them. Prior to the invention of green bicycle lanes.
Little did we know at the time that the city, paving over another part of it’s turn of the century past that night, was symbolically paving the way for Ray’s one day closing their doors as well.
Ray’s leaves a legacy of stories that in their entirety, would help to explain much of how things work in this City. From it’s politics, to the cold harsh realities of business, to the relationship between customers and mainstays.
Thanks to those who kept Ray’s going all of these years. We hope to see you open once again for business on the streets down here as soon as possible.
TJ and the TUX