My good friend, Scott Wiener, founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours, recently lamented the anticipated closing of the very first (“Original Original”) Ray’s Pizza on Prince Street, while chronicling the history of the most overused name for a pizza joint.
Apparently, he’s onto something, as The One & Only Famous Ray’s Pizza of Greenwich Village on Sixth Avenue and 11th Street beat its predecessor by shuttering overnight. Although the Prince Street Ray’s predated The One & Only Famous Ray’s of Greenwich Villlage, which opened in 1973, I would submit that the Famous Ray’s of Greenwich Village had the most history and for me, and many others who live or went to school in the neighborhood and even for tourists to the Village, Famous Ray’s was justifiably “Famous.”
Famous Ray’s never changed very much. Recent obituaries in the Village Voice disrespect Ray’s memory by saying that the pizza was mediocre or worse. Now, I’m not saying that the cheesey, oily, gloppy slices were superior to Joe’s or John’s of Bleecker or Artichoke or my new favorite, South Brooklyn Pizza, but they sure beat 2 Bros. which, had I known that they would contribute to the demise of Famous Ray’s, I never would have defended. Certainly the Neapolitan “authentic” pizza police also played a role in knocking off Ray’s.
If you’ll permit me a moment to reminisce. Growing up in Queens, my Dad first took me to Greenwich Village as a boy primarily to visit the bookstores — both the original pre-chain Barnes & Noble and The Famous Strand Bookstore — before stopping in at Sixth Avenue and 11th Street for what I then thought was pizza on steroids, as I could barely lift the gooey delicious slice which beat heck out of any pizza in Queens in the '70s.
While touring NYU as a high school senior years later, I took the future Mrs. GutterGourmet on literally our first date to Ray’s. Not knowing her aversion to raw onions (I married her anyway), I comforted her as she spit out the onions that were always inexplicably hidden under the cheese of the Sicilian slices at Ray’s (she married me anyway). While attending NYU, my childhood buddy, “Fuzzo,” and I regularly consumed entire sausage pies at Ray’s while the elementary school kids from P.S. 41 across the street stared at us with awe and what we assumed to be admiration until they ran out the door and yelled “Pigs” with obvious contempt. We considered chasing them but decided to finish our pizza, as we were clearly deserving of our new moniker.
Ray’s was always a place where you could go to get an enormous slice after midnight to absorb too much alcohol. Newspaper and magazine clippings decorated the walls long before anyone ever heard of DiFara’s, proclaiming Ray’s of Greenwich Village the “best” pizza in New York City and relating true stories of local college students studying abroad in then pizza-deprived cities like London arranging for overnight delivery from The One & Only Famous Ray’s Pizza of Greenwich Village. Never to be able to stand up at one of their tall chairless tables, the height of which I used to measure my own daughter’s growth spurts as we frequently went to what she called the “Cheesey” pizza place once she developed her own passion for a slice, is almost too sad to bear.
Farewell Ray’s of Greenwich Village. There’ll never again be another like you, no matter how many places call themselves “Ray’s.”