Video by Jessica Leibowitz

While the majority of the city sleeps, Ray Alvarez deep fries Oreos, slathers chili and cheese on hot dogs, and keeps the coffee pot full at his eponymous shop on Avenue A. Since 1974, Alvarez and Ray's Candy Store have kept the East Village well fed at all hours of the night and day, from the street punks and bohemians through to NYU kids and tourists who populate much of the area around Tompkins Square Park. For all these years, Alvarez has kept a close watch from behind his counter or from his apartment above the shop, barely missing a shift in 43 years.

The recent years have been more tumultuous for Alvarez and his beloved shop. The cafe's been the subject of closure rumors on and off for nearly the past decade, but Alvarez and the shop have thrived, even when Alvarez himself, who is 83—[Ed. Note: Alvarez misspeaks in the video, and after all those years, who can blame him?]—was laid up following heart valve surgery last year. In Alvarez's mind, there's no such thing as downtime.

The octogenarian will celebrate his 84th birthday in January, no doubt with the bevy of burlesque performers dancing on the counter. Though long past the traditional age of retirement, Alvarez continues to serve the community, nourishing it with a friendly attitude and a hot plate of onion rings any time the craving hits.

Ray's Candy Store is located at 113 Avenue A; website