Waikiki is a bustling tourist mecca filled with everything from high-end retail boutiques to chintzy souvenir shops, so it's easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of choices alone. But today, we're venturing off the beaten path to Kaka'ako — a post-industrial, up and coming district minutes down the road from the south shores main drag.
This small town just west of Waikiki hasn't yet become swamped by droves of thrill-seeking tourists, so if you're someone who digs research and craves adventure, you can wander deeper down into Kaka'ako for a traditional tattoo done by the talented artists at Queen Street.
Founded in 2013 by Steve VonRiepen, the vibe at Queen Street, not unlike most places on Oahu, is low-key and anything goes. They accept walk-ins and appointments from noon to (usually) eight, seven days a week.
VonRiepen believes the success of Queen Street is derived from the shop's positive rapport with its clientele, predominantly the local tattoo connoisseurs, 80-90% of whom are directly off the military base. “It's weird, advertising doesn’t work in Hawaii like it works everywhere else,” he says. “The way we advertise is you put a nice tattoo on a few guys, and you let it come back.”
Though its local customer base is strong, the shop also plays host to visitors who have traveled as far as from Australia with the sole purpose of collecting a tattoo from Queen Street.
At just 250 square feet, the shop is small and intimate. No floor people, no frills, no bullshit. You consult with your chosen artist and you get your tattoo — old school, sweet and simple.
Hand-painted flash and tattoo memorabilia adorn nearly every visible surface. Pinups, eagles, and Hawaiiana are a common motif amongst frames upon frames of original designs. Clientele can choose from the art available, or request a custom piece of their own.
Aside from VonRiepen, there are three full-time artists at Queen Street — Hawaii-born Keir “Unomas” McEwan, New York transplant Becca Roach, and Erik Oseto — all who have managed to place their own riff on solid traditional and sometimes Japanese stylings.
VonRiepen refers to his crew as family, but to keep a seat at the studio, they need to be on their A-game.
"You have to draw and paint constantly,” VonRiepen says. “None of us really sit around. Nowadays, you walk in a tattoo shop and you got your guys sitting with their feet up on chairs, playing on iPhones, and it’s not like that here. Keir and Erik took to it like fish to water. It isn’t easy to stay inspired all the time, but we’re always looking for new designs. We have so much fun rearranging the flash on the wall, taking old stuff down and putting new stuff up."
The Nitty Gritty Details
Queen Street Tattoo is located at 980 Queen St, Kaka'ako, Honolulu, Hawaii. For appointments, call the shop at (808) 637-9888.
You can also check them out on Instagram here.