Like the neighborhood itself, Williamsburg’s museums tend toward the unconventional. Yes, you can view artworks and historical artifacts here, just as you can in numerous other museums throughout the city. But in Williamsburg you can also tour a gallery of menus from Chinese restaurants and see a shrine to a long-forgotten burlesque dancer, among other esoteric treats.
135 Broadway (at Bedford Avenue)
Williamsburg Art & Historical Center. Image: Eden, Janine and Jim/Flickr
Founded in 1996 by artist Yuko Nii, the WAH Center is housed in the former Kings County Savings Bank building, built in 1867 and on the National Register of Historic Places. With its coffered ceilings and elegant columns, the stately building is worth a visit in and of itself. But it also hosts a wide array of art shows, talks, and performances. The multidisciplinary approach is key to Nii’s goal of using art as a bridge between cultures and people; in fact, “WAH” means “harmony” and “unity” in Japanese. The 19th annual WAH Salon Art Club Show, running through February 18, features paintings, sculptures, and other works from Salon members, who include both emerging and established artists.
62 Bayard Street (between Leonard and Lorimar Streets)
Even finicky eaters will enjoy a visit to the 5,000-square-foot MOFAD space, which hosts a series of interactive exhibits designed to instill an appreciation of culinary history and educate visitors about food production and distribution—in fun and delicious fashion. The current show, “Chow: Making the Chinese American Restaurant,” has been extended through February 16 (the Chinese Lunar New Year, appropriately enough). A timeline of menus and other artifacts from a century’s worth of Chinese American restaurants shows the effect of changing immigration laws on the cuisine; a dish from a specialist in the cuisine is yours for the noshing, as are unlimited fortune cookies; on Saturdays fortune cookies are made on-site in a 1,500-pound machine. MOFAD also hosts standalone events. Scheduled for February 1 was “Dinners of the Past: Beefsteak,” a meal of all-you-can-eat steak and all-you-can-drink beer, unencumbered by such niceties as napkins and cutlery, during which experts will discuss this former institution, the New York equivalent of a Maine clambake or a Texas barbecue. Aquavit was the subject of the February 8 event, “Scandinavian Spirits,” a talk led by a curator from the Museum of Danish America accompanied by a sampling of liqueurs and Nordic nibbles.
370 Metropolitan Avenue (between Marcy Avenue and Havemeyer Street)
Inside the City Reliquary. Image: Cmangis/Wikimedia
“Quirky” is the word that comes up repeatedly when discussing this densely packed collection of ephemera representing the city’s past. Old subway signs and a tribute to Jackie Robinson share the storefront space with souvenirs from the 1939 and 1964 World’s Fairs and an homage to 19th-century burlesque dancer Little Egypt. And that’s just the permanent collection; the City Reliquary regularly hosts “community collections” curated by locals. Currently on display is a collection of Coca-Cola ephemera from around the world.
63 Flushing Avenue (at Carlton Avenue)
Technically the Brooklyn Navy Yard borders Williamsburg, but Bldg 92 is worthy of inclusion in any roundup of the neighborhood’s museums. Over three floors the museum explores the history of the shipyard’s site, from its use by the Native Americans to the technological advances and social impact of the yard itself. Part of the museum is given over to displaying works by the 14 manufacturers, designers, and artists based in the decommissioned shipyard today. Visitors can also sign up for Bldg 92’s numerous tours. These include a bike tour of the yard’s eco-friendly initiatives, such as the first green multistory industrial building in the country; a walking tour of the 300-acre facility, which includes a former Navy hospital; and a tour that focuses on the shipyard’s contributions during World War II.