‘First Class Tattoo’ Joins the Fray on Canal Street

Posted on: June 3rd, 2016 at 5:00 am by
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The ink wars are intensifying on the eastern fringe of Chinatown. Daredevil Tattoo is no longer the only choice.

After sitting vacant for a couple years, the storefront vacancy at 52 Canal Street has been filled. A new studio called First Class Tattoo just announced itself with some marquee signage. Not much else is known about this business at the moment. (No website or phone numbers, either.)

The location of this new ink spot is quite apt, given its proximity to the birth of modern-day tattooing – ye olde Bowery.

The first tattoo shops in ol’ New York initially catered to seafarers who grabbed a haircut and some permanent ink in what is now the Wall Street district. Yet, like all things in this city – that changed. By the late 19th century, tattoo mecca had moved to the Bowery. Tattooists catered to all kinds, but the Bowery was soldiers’ and sailors’ depraved heaven (and haven).

During this era, the tattoo and barbershop often shared a storefront, leading to the appearance of barber poles. These storefront ornaments reflected the common belief that haircutters were “doctors” of the days (blue – veins, red – blood, white – bandages). As far back as the medieval times, “barbers were more akin to surgeons than hairdressers, and provided much more than a simple shave and a haircut…they lanced abscesses, set bone fractures, picked lice from hair and even pulled rotten teeth.”  By the 19th century, tattooists “fixed” your black eye while barbers continued their role as surgeons (not for too much longer). This entailed placing a hot towel on the injured eye to reduce the swelling, then adding leeches around the blackened socket.

You can read more about the rich history of Bowery tattooing here and here.

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