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Famous Original Ray’s Pizza from “Sex and the City”

May 18th, 2016 | By | Category: Sex and the City Filming Locations

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The Grim Cheaper and I used to visit New York at least once a year.  Prior to this recent trip, though, we had not been to Manhattan since October 2009!  Being separated from my favorite city for almost seven years was quite a hard pill to swallow.  During that time, I accumulated a ridiculously large list of must-see Manhattan filming locations that were chronicled in various files in my office and on my computer.  Because our recent trip was booked very last minute, I did not have much time to plan my itinerary, which was especially frustrating to someone as hyper-organized as I tend to be.  Adding to the haphazardness of my planning was the fact that some of my files seemed to be missing.  One locale that I vividly remembered tracking down was a pizza parlor that appeared on Sex and the City.  I couldn’t find a mention of it anywhere in my notes, though, nor could I for the life of me remember the name of the place, what episode it had appeared in, or even what the scene involving it entailed.  So I went back to the drawing board and began the hunt for it all over again.

I cannot tell you how many Google searches I did using the terms “Sex and the City,” “episode” and “pizza” to try to stir my memory.  After what seemed like days of scouring the internet, I finally came across a mention of a scene in Season 2’s “The Caste System” in which Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) grabbed a slice of pizza with then boyfriend Steve Brady (David Eigenberg).  So I popped in my SATC Season 2 DVD and, sure enough, it was the right episode!  I was even further floored to discover that a logo reading “Famous Original Ray’s Pizza” was visible on a cup in the scene.  From there, despite the fact that there are several “Famous Original Ray’s Pizza” locations dotted throughout the city, finding the right one was a snap.

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In “The Caste System,” Steve treats Miranda to two large slices of pie at Ray’s, which they then eat while sitting on a bench outside.  I had been mesmerized by the size of the pizzas upon originally watching the episode way back when, which is why I had wanted to track down the restaurant so badly the first time around.  Walk-up pizzerias aren’t commonplace in California, nor are humongous slices that require two hands to eat, so I was dying to not only stalk the place, but to sample a slice of my own.

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I mean, look at the size of those slices!

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My wish finally came true during our third day in the city while hanging out with my friend/fellow stalker Owen, of the When Write Is Wrong blog.  And the experience was everything I’d hoped it would be.  Ray’s serves up some fabulous two-hands-required slices of pizza!

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I was most thrilled, though, to see that despite the passage of 17 years (Seriously, 17 years!  How is that possible?), the restaurant still looks very much the same today as it did when “The Caste System” was filmed in 1999.

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Both the interior . . .

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. . . and the exterior were featured in the episode.

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Ray’s has quite the interesting – and confusing – history.  At one point in time, there were countless iterations of Ray’s Pizzas dotted throughout the city.  So many, in fact, that their presence was a running joke among Manhattanites – and even figured into a Seinfeld storyline.  In Season 9’s “The Maid,” Kramer (Michael Richards) gets lost in downtown New York and calls Jerry (who played himself) for help.  Kramer tells Jerry that he is standing in front of a Ray’s Pizza.  The rest of the conversation goes like this – Jerry: “Is it Famous Ray’s?”  Kramer: “No, it’s Original Ray’s.”  Jerry: “Famous Original Ray’s?”  Kramer (on the verge of hysteria) : “It’s just Original, Jerry!”  You can watch the segment by clicking below.

The very first Ray’s – or should I say “original”? – which was dubbed “Ray’s Pizza,” was opened in 1959 by a Sicilian named Ralph Cuomo at 27 Prince Street in Little Italy.  When asked why he didn’t name his restaurant “Ralph’s Pizzeria” while being interviewed for a 1991 The New York Times article, he told reporter John Tierney, “Ralph’s might have sounded, I don’t know, maybe too feminine.  Besides, nobody ever called me Ralph.  My family took the Italian word for Ralph — Raffaele — and shortened it to Rayfie or just Ray.  All my life I was addressed that way.”  A few years later, Cuomo opened a second Ray’s Pizza at 1073 First Avenue, which he subsequently sold in 1964 to another Sicilian named Rosolino Mangano.  Rosolino quickly turned that single pizzeria into a virtual industry, establishing several additional eateries under the name “Famous Original Ray’s Pizza” in a short period of time.

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The story doesn’t end there, though.  In 1981, Mangano sold one of his outposts to New York native Gary Esposito.  Gary went on to open five additional pizzerias under the name “Original Ray’s.”  It was around that time period that copycat parlors, all using some variation of the “Famous Original Ray’s” name, began popping up across New York like a virus.  To stop the insanity and to keep the integrity of his own chain intact, Gary tracked down the true original Ray (or should I say Ralph?), Cuomo, who sold him the rights to the Ray’s name.  Esposito and Cuomo wound up joining forces by establishing a new company together in order to franchise additional Ray’s outposts.  After some legal hassling, Mangano also joined the team and became vigilant about shutting down all non-licensed Ray’s sites.  His efforts were largely successful and today there are eight licensed Famous Original Ray’s Pizza branches dotted across New York.

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The Ray’s Pizza epidemic was also mentioned in the 2003 comedy Elf.  Upon learning that Buddy (Will Ferrell) is to heading to New York City to find his father, Santa (Edward Asner) advises him on all things Big Apple.  One of his tips is, “There are, like, thirty Ray’s Pizzas.  They all claim to be the original, but the real one’s on 11th.”  That’s actually incorrect, though.  The 11th Avenue spot, formerly known as “Original Ray’s,” was an unaffiliated parlor opened by brothers Mario and Lamberto DiRienzo in 1973.  That site was shuttered in 2011, thanks in large part to lawsuits filed by Mangano.  Though it later re-opened under the name Famous Roio’s, the eatery closed its doors for good in 2013.  The space that formerly housed it is now the site of a Chinese food restaurant.  You can read a more in-depth history of the Ray’s Pizza battles here.

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Famous Original Ray’s Pizza was also featured in the Season 6 episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit titled “Identity” as the spot where Olivia Benson (Mariska Hargitay) and Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) interrogated two teens about the death of one of their fellow gang members.

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For more stalking fun, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Los Angeles magazine and Discover Los Angeles.

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Until next time, Happy Stalking!  Smile

Stalk It: Famous Original Ray’s Pizza, from “The Caste System” episode of Sex and the City, is located at 204 West 9th Avenue in Chelsea.  You can visit the pizzeria’s official website here.

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One comment

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  1. Owen says:

    Four things: 1. Did you notice that the illustration of the tree that was on the wall near the front door in SATC is now farther from the door, on the other side of the buildings illustration? 2. Did you notice that the gumball machine looks to be the same, yet it has been painted yellow? Who repaints a gumball machine?! 3. I love the episode of “Seinfeld” that you referenced. Kramer was at the intersection of 1st and 1st, and he assumed he was at “the nexus of the universe.” 🙂 4. I never granted you permission to show a portion of my right arm on your blog. You’ll be hearing from my cadre of lawyers.


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