Most people, whether they are a professional artist or simply have a lot of ink themselves, will advise you not to drink before getting a tattoo. And it’s not unsound advice: Alcohol thins your blood, and we all know that getting a tattoo makes you bleed a bit. But is it OK to take one shot to calm your nerves? How much will a drink impair your judgement? And is it OK to have a drink after getting a tattoo to reward yourself for sitting through a painful experience?
To get the lowdown on these questions and more, we chatted with Dave C. Wallin, a professional tattoo artist and owner of Eight of Swords parlor in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. If you’ve been looking to get a straight answer about how a cocktail could affect your tattoo experience, he sets the record straight once and for all.
Supercall: They say it’s bad to drink before getting a tattoo because it thins your blood, which can make you bleed more during the process. What are your thoughts—if someone has one shot or a single beer before getting a tattoo, is it going to affect them negatively?
Dave C. Wallin: One shot or a beer might not actually affect the thinness of their blood, and of course that varies person to person. The real concern is people not being completely confident in getting a tattoo, or maybe it’s because there’s a culture around drinking where it’s like, “Oh let’s get drunk and get a tattoo.” I think that’s more of the concern. If somebody is nervous about getting a tattoo, one drink isn’t really going to help. And a lot of times, if you go into a professional studio and they smell alcohol on you, they might actually refuse service to you because they don’t know how much you’ve had to drink.
If you’re interested in getting a tattoo and you take it seriously, then it’s no different than going to get lasik done or something else medical where you’re doing a consult. It’s very serious and they talk about medical issues, you ask questions and you prepare for it. And it’s not like they say “OK, have a couple of drinks before you come in. You’ll feel great!”
SC: Do you have examples of people you’ve seen, even if it wasn’t at your own shop, where they got a tattoo drunk and completely regretted it?
DW: You hear the stories. And like I said, if professional shops can tell you’ve been drinking, you’re out the door. You hear about these trashy tattoo studios where they won’t say no to anybody, but I feel like most of the stories I’ve heard—and I’ve been tattooing 25 years—sound like urban legends. But there are plenty of examples online of terrible tattoos that were definitely inspired by drugs and/or alcohol. And probably stupidity, of course.
SC: Have you ever had to turn someone away because they’ve been so wasted?
DW: Oh yeah, definitely. I’ve worked in walk-in style tattoo shops, most notably in Waikiki in Hawaii where we would have sailors come in. They’ve been at sea for six months, they get shore leave and are dropped off in this port, and everybody wants to go crazy. We would have lines of people and a lot of them were drunk. We had a Samoan bouncer who would basically throw out the drunk people. People would leave a deposit because we’d tell them to come back when they were sober. They would leave a deposit, make an appointment, and then never show up because they were drunk and didn’t remember it or lost the receipt. So it became kind of a running joke that out of the entire line of people, half of them were probably drunk and not going to get tattooed.
SC: Those deposits make a lot of sense now!
DW: Yeah, and that’s an extreme example. But here in New York, I would say that maybe once every six months, we get somebody who comes in after brunch or a group of people do the thing where they’re like, “Hey, how much to get a tattoo on our ass?” And they’re just kind of joking around with their inebriated friends. Or occasionally someone wanders in from a bar because they suddenly got the courage to get some crazy tattoo. And we can easily weed those people out. That’s also part of the reason why we close at 8 o'clock. In Williamsburg where we are, it becomes a party scene, and there are bands of drunk frat guys roaming the streets. So it’s a good idea to be closed by then.
SC: So people really shouldn’t take even one shot before getting a tattoo because it impairs judgement. So how else do you tell people to prep for the tattoo?
DW: I tell people to get a good night’s rest, which is hard if you’re nervous, but take it easy at least. Feel confident with your artist. You’ve done your research, so putting your trust in their hands should help set you at ease. But a good meal before you come in and staying hydrated are the best things you can do. Also, we tend to keep glucose tablets and sugary snacks if somebody’s blood sugar levels drop, which is common when you’re getting tattooed. So we recommend for people to also bring snacks to eat if they feel like their levels are dropping. But too much coffee or too much alcohol both will thin the blood, and it can also make you a little more anxious.
SC: Do you think it’s a bad idea to treat yourself to a drink or two after getting a tattoo?
DW: I don’t think so at all. In fact, if that’s part of your regular routine of self-soothing, then I say by all means. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend going crazy because as long as you’re coherent, you can properly take care of the tattoo afterwards. But a beer or two, a glass of wine or whatever is not going to damage the tattoo.
SC: There used to be this club in New York that had a tattoo parlor inside.
SC: Yeah it was crazy. I bring it up because we’ve been noticing some establishments that are tattoo parlor-bar hybrids. Do you think this is a trend we could be seeing more of, or is it a weird fad?
DW: I think the problem with the overexposure of tattooing is how everybody is trying to cash in. And I will tell people, “Look at who the owner is and look at what their intentions are because a lot of shops now are owned by non-tattooers who are opportunists just trying to cash in.” And if you are a well-trained, intelligent tattooer, you are going to be as far away from the bar scene as possible. That is a separate world, and it has nothing to do with the act of getting a good quality tattoo. It doesn’t make any sense at all, so you don’t want that kind of environment. That’s for after the tattoo.