Volume 77 / Number 36 - Feb. 06 - 12, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Christopher J. Ryan

Ray Alvarez enjoyed a burlesque performance by “Creamy Stevens” last Saturday evening. His friends hired the dancer for his 75th birthday.

Egg creams and a ‘Creamy’ dance for Avenue A’s Ray

By Christopher J. Ryan

Seventy-five years old…50 more to go! So said Ray Alvarez, proprietor of Ray’s Candy Shop on Avenue A as he watched “Creamy Stevens” strip off her clothes in honor of his 75th birthday. Her high heels clicked away on Ray’s well-worn counter as her white-gloved hands touched the ornate tin ceiling for balance. 

The soda shop’s customers enjoyed the burlesque tassels that spun with skill perhaps only a 75-year-old egg cream jockey could truly appreciate. 

“Two dogs and one $3 French fries,” stated an inebriated young man, getting more of a show than he bargained for before grabbing some food to take to his friends in a nearby bar. Ray’s tiny sliver of a store, located between Seventh and Eighth Sts., overlooks Tompkins Square Park and has been serving hot dogs and egg creams for longer than even the most hardcore, old-school Alphabet City crowd can remember. 

Ray remembers when Avenue A was considered the “German Broadway,” long before it evolved into its current status as a hipster highway. Yet Ray and his classic New York shop still have the power to draw them in. His hallmarks are plentiful portions of tasty fries and hotdogs heaped with extra cheese sauce and chili — all at prices appreciated by squatters and drunk young professionals alike.

Gone are the winos and junkies who would line the stools for 10 to 12 hours a day.

“I got rid of them by getting rid of the stools,” joked Ray. But still in place is Ray’s tiny, shelf-like perch, where he sits and watches the continuous action of Avenue A. Ray tells a story of when he saw “A black guy lock his bike to the meter right there and walk away. Then some white guy comes over and lifts the bike off the meter! I yell and cause a fuss and get a police officer. The police come, and they handcuff the black guy! I had to set them straight.”

When asked about the steady stream of beautiful Polish girls who have worked the soda counter Ray explained, “The first one got her green card thanks to me and the shop, so she told all her friends. Then they kept comin’. Many of them are now citizens. One came in other day. She was so old, I didn’t recognize her!”

So Friday night was a full house at Ray’s — some people coming in for the birthday cake and their favorite-flavor egg cream, others tasting their first egg cream ever. All enjoyed the near nudity, old neighborhood stories and the ridiculously tight quarters that are difficult to imagine being able to accommodate anything other than Ray.

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