Believe it or not, tattooing as we know it has only been legal in NYC for 21 years. Banned in 1961 after a hepatitis B outbreak (although more amusing theories are rumored), City Council finally voted to legalize and regulate the practice in 1997. “We were afraid,” a Canal Street shop owner said after the victory. “Now, a lot of people are listed in the yellow pages.”
Today, years removed from telephone book tyranny, there are about 300 licensed tattoo shops in New York City. You couldtry them all, but odds are you have a fam to -ily, and a j to -ob, and a society to assimilate to despite your base self-destructive desires. Plus, tattoos are expensive. Keep your skin in the game with this list of the nine best tattoo shops in New York City.
Bushwick Aptly located amid Bushwick’s murals and artist studios, Allied is one of NYC’s best American traditional studios. Most of the lighthearted artists here specialize in bold, bright, classic pieces; others work in grayscale, too. The gleaming shop’s brick walls are adorned with a fine curation of original and collected flash art. Walk-ins welcome. Cash only. $100 minimum, $100 deposit for appointments, $200 an hour for larger pieces.
Greenpoint Twenty-five-year industry veteran Duke Riley -- who has work in the permanent collection at the Brooklyn Museum -- founded this waterfront parlor in 2000. Artists here trade in 19th-century traditional tattooing and maritime folk art. Expect opaque black inks evocative of woodcuts, engravings, and scrimshaw. In keeping with that fashion, the space here feels like the inside of a cabin on a ship, festooned with distressed wood and nautical charm. Appointment only on weekdays. Walk-ins welcome for flash art on weekends. $150 minimum, hourly rates start at $300.
Lower East Side Sculpture artist Mike Bakaty picked up tattooing after he tired of SoHo’s ‘70s art square scene -- literally. While waiting for his own ink appointment, Bakaty began leafing through a tattoo supply catalog and decided to take matters into his own hands. In 1976, Bakaty set up shop in his LES loft, where he operated for more than 20 years before he was issued the city’s first tattoo license under new legislation in 1997. Now, Bakaty’s son and protege Mehai runs the show, peddling hand-painted classic flash tats and custom work. Walk-ins welcome. Cash or credit. $100 minimum, $160 an hour.
Hell’s Kitchen Of course this ode to the macabre would be in Hell’s Kitchen. Here, memento mori abounds across three floors and 5,000 square feet of space. Gothic candelabras illuminate blood-red drapery, cemetery-style decorative gates, and all manner of skeleton detritus. Founder Paul Booth has a four-and-a-half year wait list, but each of the four artists who share the space also specialize in the dark arts. Appointment only. Cash or credit. $400 deposit for appointments, no religious icons.
Carroll Gardens Jes Dwyer bounced between tattoo shops in New York and New Jersey for more than a decade before deciding to open her own judgment-free parlor. “We wanted to create a space that felt a bit different from a traditional parlor, one that felt like a cozy living room where folks who are not necessarily deeply embedded in traditional tattoo culture would feel comfortable,” says co-owner Robert Boyle. “It’s a tattoo parlor where everyone is nice to you.” Nice is best known for its Pinterest-chic micro-tattoos, but they also produce fine line and traditional pieces. Occasional $50 flash parties keep the place accessible. Call for appointment. Walk-ins welcome Wednesday through Sunday 12pm-6pm. $100 minimum. Cash, credit, and Venmo accepted.
Nolita After outgrowing his Long Island space, Mike Rubendall opened this one-stop-shop on Bowery in 2011. More than a dozen artists and the occasional celebrity guest (Kat Von D, Chris Núñez) turn out all manner of custom tattoo in spacious, comfortable environs. Walk-ins welcome. Deposits start at $100, hourly rates at $250.
Williamsburg In a sea of American traditional and Japanese-style ink options, 10 Thousand Foxes is one of NYC’s few neo-traditional focused shops. Co-founder Manu Cruz studied art in Barcelona before he started traveling the world as a tattoo artist. Now at home in Williamsburg, Cruz and his partners put out unique pieces with bold lines, reverent shading and lush colors. Walk-ins welcome. $100 minimum.
Williamsburg The artists here produce beautiful, meticulously detailed black line work, with standout watercolor pieces by Baris Yesilbas. Everyone at Gristle works with vegan ink, and the shop hosts community pet adoption events and fundraisers for animal rescues. The studio doubles as a gallery, with fundraiser art shows benefiting groups like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Appointments are recommended. $100 minimum.
Crown Heights This is a solid shop with a stable of artists putting out exceptional American traditional, Japanese, and realistic tattoos. The real fun here is the “get what you get” machine. For $100, you’ll turn the dial in a gumball-style machine and get a surprise design. You’ll finally have a cool story when someone asks you about your ink. Walk-ins welcome. $100 minimum, $200 an hour for larger works.
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Daniel Fishel is an illustrator and writer living in Queens, New York. He’s probably the second-most tattooed among his friends. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.