Bowery Tattooing & “Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants”

Posted on: May 9th, 2011 at 6:18 am by

The tattoo community affectionately refers to the legendary Moskowitz brothers as the “Bowery Boys.”  No doubt a different type of B’hoy for the mid-twentieth century.  These guys were game changers, operating an ink shop on the Bowery for many years.

Patriarch Willie Moskowitz arrived on the Lower East Side in 1918.  Fresh off the boat from Russia, the Yiddish-speaking immigrant quickly opened a barbershop at 4 Bowery, just north of Doyers Street.  His friend Charlie Wagner (pioneer of the electric tattoo machine still in use) later schooled him of the art, and Moskowitz quickly learned there was more money to be made in tattooing.  Soon thereafter, a tattoo parlor was born in the basement.  Their clientele was rough-and-tumble, and is now the stuff of legend.  Drunken brawls, rowdy clients, police harassment, and the overall hustle to get by.

Willie taught his two sons – Stanley and Walter –  the archaic trade, and the family business continued.  Except Walter had a rather unorthodox upbringing.  Studying Torah and Talmud in a Brooklyn Yeshiva by day, and learning tattooing by night.  The brothers (nay, Bowery Boys) became successful in their own right, but were sidelined during the Health Department crackdown in the 1960s when a Hepatitis outbreak led to closure of all city tattoo parlors.  Rather than sit idle, the Moskowitz brand relocated to Amityville, and opened one of Long Island’s first ink spots – S & W Tattooing.  Walter passed away in 2007, but brother Stanley is still kicking.

This survey of the Moskowitz dynasty barely reveals the tip of the iceberg.  Lucky for us all, Last of the Bowery Scab Merchants will be released tomorrow.  It’s an audio-only book recounting the family history on the Bowery, as recorded by Walter’s son, Doug, in the last year of his father’s life.  The neighborhood is obviously a much different place now, but trace elements of that past are beginning to make a comeback.  Thanks to the arrival of Kings Road Tattoo last month, body art has again returned to the Bowery.

Today, 4 Bowery is home to the Lin Sister Herb Shop.

[via Needles and Sins, Jewish Forward]

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