City Reliquary

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 46 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned In 1986, the first run of brass subway tokens with steel centers had a tiny “SJD” worked into the design.  That stands for “Silvester J. Dubosz,” then Assistant Controller of the New York City Transit Authority. Mr. Dubosz ordered the tokens, and thought it would be cool to have his initials on every one. And he was fired for it.  Great relic!

New York City boasts a host of institutions dedicated to preserving our history and heritage, led by the twin titans of the Museum of the City of New York and the New-York Historical Society.  I described one of our history museums, the New York City Fire Museum, as the attic of the Fire Department, storing its heritage of historic treasures.

Stretching that metaphor, the quirky City Reliquary would be, not the attic of New York, but the dusty space between the attic floorboards and the downstairs ceiling, where who knows what bits and bobs find their way.  Open it up and you may just find a lot of crap, but if you look from the right perspective, treasures abound.

City Reliquary, ExteriorHoused in a tiny storefront in Willamsburg, City Reliquary started as a hobby for its founder, who first created it as a display in a window in his apartment.  It has grown from there as New Yorkers with collections of, well, whatever, occupied the space for exhibitions, and the Reliquary’s own collections multiplied.

Knish Show at City ReliquaryThe current temporary show features perhaps the most under-appreciated of the city’s street foods, the humble knish.  I learned things I never thought to wonder about knishes. Where they come from (the Eastern European knish belt extends from Latvia through Moldova); who makes them (there are six “Heroes of the Knish” who are the main local manufacturers); and what it means in Yiddish slang (lady parts).  Also, back in 2013 Joan Rivers tweeted that Kim an Kanye should name their baby Knish because “who doesn’t love one?” Who knew?

2nd Ave Deli Sign, at City Reliquary

City Reliquary Restroom
The restroom at City Reliquary

The rest of the space is crammed from floor to ceiling, and then some, with a  dizzying assortment of this-and-that, bric-a-brac, and thingamabobs. Even the restroom threatens a case of sensory overload. 

Some of the Reliquary’s exhibits include:

  • The Statue of Liberty, the city’s “secular saint.”
  • New York geology, including core samples of Manhattan bedrock.
  • Souvenirs and memorabilia from both the World’s Fairs.
  • Seltzer and other native soft drinks.
  • “Little Egypt,” a burlesque dancer.
  • Jackie Robinson.
  • A quilt commemorating the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

The Reliquary is dense.  Every time you visit, you’ll discover something new.  Should you go?  Those seeking a solid chronological telling of New York’s tale won’t find it there. But those looking for the quirky bits will love this place.  Alternately, if you’ve explored the A-list history museums and still feel like something’s…missing, have I got a place for you! 

In the end, New Yorkers will probably get more out of it than visitors. But for anyone afraid that this city has become sterile and homogenized and has lost its mojo, the Reliquary has it.  It’s in one of their collection of Greek coffee cups, next to some gneiss and schist samples, on a shelf just below the collection of subway grab-holds.

For Reference:

Address 370 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn
Website cityreliquary.org
Cost  General Admission:  $5
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