What’s New in Our Making A Museum Exhibit? From the Archives: A Lost Ticket From Katz’s Deli

The Lower East Side landmark and makers of famously large and delicious sandwiches, Katz’s Deli, is undoubtedly well known to readers of this blog. Founded in 1888, family owned and operated, When Harry Met Sally, “Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army,” etc. All old hat to you experienced New Yorkers, who would never order mayonnaise on your pastrami and always tip your cutter.

And veteran Katz’s patrons are naturally familiar with the ticket system used to ensure everyone pays their check: every adult receives a ticket, printed with a grid of numbers, upon entry; each adult must return that ticket when exiting, even if unused. Lose the ticket, and it’s a $50 fee. It’s an archaic system that has induced curiosity, rage, and panic in customers, and has become as integral to the Katz’s experience as pickles, shared tables, and fading celebrity photos on the walls.

While you can display your Katz’s ticket knowledge with a t-shirt or socks, the high price for a lost ticket makes the ticket itself a highly unusual item to find outside the confines of Katz’s. Truly lost tickets are a rare occurrence, according to Jake Dell, Katz’s current owner, and indeed the historical timeline posted in the deli’s window states that the first lost ticket didn’t happen until 1962. We don’t know the story of how this ticket, found on the street, escaped – did it cost the erstwhile owner $50 or an hour or two of dishwashing work, or did the staff take pity and let them go? – but it represents a slice of New York life that can only be found one other place in the city.

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