When the economic burdens of the Great Recession in 2008 forced New Yorkers to tighten their belts, the famed — yet unassuming — one-dollar pizza slice relieved part of that burden. 2 Bros., a one-dollar pizza chain, opened its doors that year and has since become a staple in New York City dining.
It didn’t matter if you were wearing an Armani suit or a three-year-old NYU Welcome Week T-shirt, one-dollar pizza was always a cheap, tasty lunch option. Much like New Yorkers, it was straightforward and upfront. It wasn’t great pizza — it was one-dollar pizza. At that low of a price, it didn’t matter if it was bad pizza. It’s a beautiful system devoid of wait-times or considerations of ambiance. You walk in, hand over a dollar bill and get warm slice in return. It wasn’t about the artisanal aspect, the stretch of the cheese-drag, or the taste — it was the price tag. And as silly as it may sound, it is kind of sad to see that the number New York dollar slices rapidly diminishing. Because a slice of dollar pizza, in its unifying force as a New York City standard, was something that could belong to and be shared by everyone.
To many of us, this system offered a consistently reliable option for grabbing a snack or scarfing down a quick meal. It’s a New Yorker’s go-to, and more than that, has allowed us to form a bond with an institution. For NYU’s Brooklynites, the 99 Cent Fresh Hot Pizza locations on Willoughby and Jay Street serve as a safe haven. Tandon students often visit these locations for a bite between lab and lecture. For those in Washington Square Park, Joe’s Pizza and Gotham Pizza were always there in case you needed a hunger pick-me-up at three in the morning.
However, this culinary tradition has fallen victim to the strain of an ever expanding New York City, as embodied by the recent closure of Gotham Pizza’s branch on Third Avenue. The slow reduction of access to the beloved one-dollar slice is a result of the world economy bouncing back, and the increased costs of labor and rent in New York that followed. Little by little, one-dollar slices have crept toward $1.25 and $1.50, and in the case of Gotham and Joe’s: $2.75 and $3, respectively. Although some institutions, such as 2 Bros. Pizza, are fighting tooth and nail to maintain that coveted $1 selling price, the overwhelming majority have succumbed to the pressure of raising prices or closing shop altogether.
I’m not saying that an expensive pizza is a bad pizza. Plenty of pizzerias make incredible slices for a premium, such as Artichoke Pizza on MacDougal, the purveyor of $6 slices. However, it is worthy to note that dollar pizza is magnificent for separate reasons. New York is a city of polar extremes: you can walk through the city and observe both unimaginable wealth and incredible destitution — yet those people all eat the same one-dollar slice. This pizza was born in response to an immense American hardship and is by concept and definition inherently American — and more specifically, symbolic of New York through and through. And while the change in price might seem a passing sign of inevitable growth and expansion, the dollar slice was a dollar for a reason. That humble price tag made something simple into an accessible facet of New York City culture, able to be enjoyed by any and all New Yorkers.
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Email Jasem Alzaabi at [email protected]