There is an empty space on Broadway and 110th Street. There is a hole, not just between buildings, but also in the hearts and stomachs of Columbia students and other residents of Morningside Heights. Mike's Papaya--that pillar of tradition, that fortress of the dollar meal--is no more.
Few self-respecting upperclassmen at Columbia can honestly say that they never once dined at Mike's. Whether that meal was the ever-popular "Recession Special" of two hot dogs and a drink for $2.25, or an egg and cheese sandwich at 4:00 a.m., Mike's aimed to please at all hours of the day.
While Columbia Hot Bagels and others may thank the bigwigs who decided that an elementary school was more important than a neighborhood Papaya dive, every student who ever crossed the threshold at Cannon's, the Abbey Pub, or even Smoke has since bemoaned the dark fate that called Mike's Papaya into the empty void of restaurants-that-once-were.
I feel that it is only right to tell my own personal story in this overwhelming time of loss. In November 2000 I was wandering home from yet another long Thursday night with the gentleman at Cannon's. My stomach was moaning; my head was light. The alcohol had taken a visible effect on me. On any normal night, this would be not a problem, but a cause for celebration. With a test in my Friday morning class, this was not a normal night. What was a poor first-year to do? As I resigned myself to the inevitable headache that would accompany me to class in a little under six hours, my eyes came to rest upon a sight that damn near made me cry. There was Mike's Papaya, brilliantly illuminated, emitting a smell that was somewhere between ambrosia and manna. At that moment, the pull of my desire could have favorably compared to the combined power of all of the bulls in Pamplona.
Now, little more than a year later, Mike's Papaya is a memory. We must remain strong, though, and not give in to our grief. Mike's was a celebration of life, a bastion of happiness and joy. It is only right that we continue to live as we did before. This does not mean forget Mike's! Far from it! Instead, when wandering back toward campus during the early morning hours, doff your hat to the emptiness that once was Mike's and remember the good times. For unless you feel like taking a trip to Gray's Papaya or cooking up low-grade hotdogs on your own, Mike's can only nourish our drunken minds and clog the arteries of our shared memory. Goodbye, old friend.