The first two years that I lived in New York, I couldn't believe it. I'd walk around marveling at all the galleries, the graffiti, the grit and grime. Standing on a high building, or on a subway platform, with a clear view of that Manhattan skyline I'd feel what so many others have felt before me: inspired and full of dreams.
I may not be so starry eyed now. Nine years later of hitting pavement, embracing the struggle, grinding it out...I don't mind saying I'm a bit emotionally exhausted. But I am, in no way, less in love with this city than when I initially arrived. It is surely full of magic...you just have to know where to look, and have an open mind ready to face all of the possibilities.
In this guide to New York City and Brooklyn, I give you some of the best tattoo studios and tattooists around, in no particular order, as well as some of my favorite art galleries, foodie heavens, film houses, and more.
Grit N Glory, founded by the lovely Megan Massacre, is a mainstay of the Lower East Side. This is, by far, one of my most favorite neighborhoods...full of cool shops, great food, and great spots to pick up a brand new piece to remember your travels by. Megan has handpicked tons of awesome resident artists including Travis Ross, Janice Danger, Joice Wang and Alisha Gory. Megan and the team often have flash days dedicated to support organizations helping rebuild schools, or give funds to animal shelters, but it's not just a place to get a cool tattoo. This studio is, for sure, a lifestyle kind of vibe. Tons of clothes, cool gifts, and more, to laden down your carry on with.
In the neighboring Soho sits Kings Ave, but they also have a studio in Long Island so don't fret if they can't fit you in. No matter which location you end up checking out, you’re sure to be blown away by the talent that rests within these hallowed halls of this tattoo temple. This place is tha business. For real. Personally, I was tattooed by Zac Scheinbaum, who spends half his time in San Fran, and half in NY. He’s not the only heavy hitter, however. Matt Adamson is known for his incredible take on Neo Traditional. Mike Rubendall, the owner, does gorgeous Japanese. Justin Weatherholtz not only tattoos here, but also runs Pagoda, one of my favorite conventions, down in Reading, PA. There’s also Rose Hardy, Becca Genne-Bacon, Grez, Chris O’Donnell...the list goes on and on. You will not be disappointed, and your money is more than well spent here.
Also in Soho is Five Points, the resident home of the famed and ultra respected Chris Garver. If you can’t get a tattoo by him, make sure to pick up one of the stunning ceramic pieces he’s been making lately...this guy is non-stop when it comes to producing one of a kind incredible artworks. If you’re looking for something other than Japanese, however, look no further than Rodrigo Canteras who can pretty much do anything you’d want. Traditional, Blackwork, giant punk rock pieces...he’s down. Guy Waisman is also a resident here and a champ at insanely intricate dotwork, blackwork, and illustrative. If you’re looking for sacred geometry in NYC, hit him up. Paulo Benevides also calls this shop home and he does bad ass Traditional. Bold will hold, my friend, bold will hold.
A little further down, several blocks so to speak, is Daredevil Tattoo in Chinatown. Co-owner and tattooer, Michelle Myles slangs a whole lotta superb ink here, as do resident tattooers Lara Scotton and Diego Mannino. For me, this shop has always felt like a close knit, old school New York vibe...which makes sense since it’s been open since 1997, the year that tattooing was finally made legal in NYC. This tattoo studio is the real deal, authentic AF stuff. And as if their reputation didn’t proceed them enough, they also have a tattoo museum filled with antique tattoo machines, original tattoo flash by masters, photographs, banners, and more. It’s worth it just to pop in and see...but if you’re looking for a tattoo to remember New York by, you couldn’t do any better than doing it here.
Saved is perhaps one of my favorite studios, although I’ve never been personally tattooed here. The shop is known for its progressive and inclusive philosophies. This is a Brooklyn based spot, that makes care and compassion for clients at the forefront of its mission. Incredibly queer and female friendly, the tattoo artists here are all known for their particular styles and hope to create a space within the tattoo community that is enlightened with kindness. Tamara Santibanez, Virginia Elwood, Ian Healy, Doreen Garner, Anderson Luna...the talent here is extraordinary, and that’s not even scratching the surface. They also recently added Framacho, a Brooklyn based bad ass known for their expressive and poetic take on tattooing.
Another Brooklyn based spot is East River, which possibly has the best tattoo artist guests always and ever. Based in Greenpoint, this tattoo studio is surrounded by sweet cafe’s, and bars...including Saint Vitus which plays host to many a metal band. Luca Font is a regular guest here, as is Caleb Kilby. You can also try and catch Jenna Bouma between travels. Victor J Webster, who often does deeply transformative and groundbreaking tattoos, is resident here and does a beautiful mix of Folk, Tribal, Japanese and more. If you’re one of those people looking for fine art tattoos, this is the place.
Not just a tattoo studio, but also an art gallery that produces tons of awe inspiring events, Senaspace is on a street that sort of borders a bunch of different neighborhoods. Soho, Little Italy, Chinatown; they all kind of end up in a mash in this particular spot, which makes it the perfect place to eat your heart out. Such great food, such great galleries, shopping...you name it. And nestled in the midst of this is Senaspace. David Sena has been tattooing for over 20 years, and concentrates heavily on traditional Irezumi, though he’s also known for his Blackwork, Tribal, and Aztec stylings. Other artists include Daniel Cotte, Nicolas Gualteros, and Becca Roach, all of whom are deeply talented. You can actually stop in here for a tattoo, but it’s also, as I said, a gallery space with a revolving collection of exhibitions, so be sure to stop by if you’re in the area!
Back to Brooklyn, we have Greenpoint Tattoo Co, which, you guessed it, is based in Greenpoint. Truly a close knit family of tattooers, the open air space makes it feel very relaxed. There are tons of artists here who are mainly known for the devotion to Traditional, including Jason Ochoa, Jeff Sypherd, and Ryan Mettz. Owner John Reardon is well known for his Japanese tattoos, but like most old school tattooers, John can pull off almost anything and with such style. He also loves to support young talent, is constantly producing cool short films, and other projects. This tattoo studio is also near some great bars, and food havens, as well as McCarren Park, which, in good weather, is a real treat.
Also in Greenpoint is Dukkha Tattoo, the place if you want fine line, dark art, illustrative. Ryan Roi, owner of Dukkha, is also known for his reverence for Buddhist iconography and often creates intricate custom pieces for his clients in this style. But he also does dotwork portraiture, ancient esoteric etchings, and more. Also at this tattoo studio in Brooklyn is Kevin Alexander, who, like Roi, does a spectacular amount of delicate blackwork based in surreal and alchemical designs. The vibe I got here was highly obscure and mystical...which is right up my alley, along with many others, who resonate with this type of work.
Special mentions: Juan Diego, who I met years ago, is a tattooist that started out of Pratt Institute years ago. His style continually evolves and gets better and better, it seems, literally with every tattoo. I very seldom see a young artist who works so dang hard, and makes it look so freaking effortless. His Chicano style is absolutely one of my favorites, and the wild stallion he gave me is one I look at with much love.
Jackson is another tattooist who is based in Brooklyn, but is deeply entrenched in underground comics and illustrative artists like Moebius. His pieces emit this aura of far off alien lands, utopian dream worlds, or hypnagogic hellish landscapes that includes comfy looking Eames chairs. If you like his stuff, make sure also to check out Desert Islands, a book store that carries the creme de la creme of comics.
Owner Julian Llouve has a studio right off of Broadway in BK. His style is like anime on acid; brightly colored scenes of surrealism lightly lined in black, slipping off into the ether of the cyber unknown.
As if that weren’t enough visual overload, if you’re into the art scene...or even if you just want to see some weird shit...check out Last Rites and Booth Gallery, they are both in the same space, and this also includes Paul Booth’s tattoo studio that continually creates the darkest of dark art. Booth’s hero H.R. Giger would be delighted.
Check out Postmasters, The Whitney, MoMA, as well as their extension in Brooklyn, MoMA PS1, and New Museum too, if you want to get your eye candy on. If you’re looking for good music, I suggest Pioneer Works...if you’re looking for movies, look no further than Metrograph which typically shows everything from classic Golden Age Hollywood to the newest of new avant-garde flicks. Anthology Film Archives gets even weirder and more niche so, if that’s your thing, eat it up.
Looking for good food? This city has some of the best gastronomic delights out there. I can only speak from my own tastes which is mostly maguro sashimi, but Kenka is the best for down n dirty izakaya, but go to Bar Goto if you prefer okonomiyaki...their Japanese pickles are seriously the best I’ve had since Tokyo. Los Hermanos, in Brooklyn, is where I go when I’m a little homesick and need good Mexican food. It’s also a tortilla factory, so those babies are fresh as hell. And the best frozé, which you’ll need...considering how this summer is going...check out Rise Bar. They also have drag shows that will get you in touch with your inner Ru Paul. But if you'd rather get in touch with your inner rock star...look no further than Jimmy Webb's Trash and Vaudeville. This is a clothing store that will make you feel like Bowie, Iggy, or both.
But, regardless of what you’re into and why you’re here, I hope that you have fun and get a touch of that New York magic! Make sure to hit us up for more info, or to book your next tattoo...after all, that's what we live for.