NYC Tattoo Ban the Subject of ‘Illegal Ink’ on Clinton Street

Posted on: September 6th, 2018 at 5:06 am by

From 1961 up until 1997, there were no “legal” tattoo shops in New York City. The City Health Department banned tattooing due to an alleged series of blood-borne Hepatitis-B cases linked to Coney Island tattoo parlors in the late 1950s. That tattooing was once banned here seems so archaic now. Especially with the proliferation of the art form.

Now, more than two decades after its conclusion, this prohibition is the subject of a new talk at Clinton Street performance venue, Caveat.

“Illegal Ink,” as the show is called, focuses on the 36-year tattoo ban. Five historians and tattoo artists are on the bill, including Fineline owner Mehai Bakaty, author Efrain John Gonzalez (Ink & Steel), Stephanie Tamez of Saved Tattoo, and author John Wyatt (Under My Skin).

Tattoo artists will also be inking patrons onsite.

A sordid love triangle involving a top government official and a Bowery tattoo artist; a personal vendetta. Tattooing in New York City is forced into an unfair and unjust underground existence. The story of our 36-year tattoo prohibition led to unlikely alliances across class lines, sacred safe spaces hidden in plain sight, and an unexpected renaissance that would change the art of tattooing forever.

Including Mehai Bakaty is certainly appropriate, as Fineline is considered the longest continuously operated shop in the city at 42 years. His father was a legend. During the height of the ban in 1976, Mike Bakaty founded Fineline Tattoo and began inking customers out of his Bowery loft at McGurk’s Suicide Hall, where he lived with his sons. The elder Bakaty operated on the underground circuit for 21 years – in secret back rooms and loft apartments – until the prohibition on ink concluded. That was the year Fineline went legit with a store at 21 First Avenue. Mehai eventually took over the family business in 2014 after the death of his father at age 77 from cancer.

“Illegal Ink” is live on Sunday, September 30, 6:30pm, 21A Clinton Street.

Recent Stories

Luxury Accessories Brand ‘Title of Work’ Opens Flagship on Orchard Street

The eponymous Site 57 gallery spent two years in the ground floor of 57 Orchard Street before folding not long ago. It’s been replaced. A new fashion boutique just opened behind that corrugated metal awning. Title of Work is the name of the newcomer, which specializes in men’s formal accessories that “skillfully merges art, science, […]

New Target at Essex Crossing is Plagued by Thefts

For shoplifters, the bullseye on the facade of 400 Grand Street is an invitation. Indeed, the small-format iteration of Target at Essex Crossing has become just that in the short month since it opened. According to police sources at the 7th Precinct, there have been 42 reported thefts inside the second-floor retailer since the August […]

Chinatown Locals ‘Erase the Hate’ of Insensitive Gate Murals

One Los Angeles-based street artist angered residents in Chinatown for racially-insensitive caricatures across the neighborhood this weekend. Someone with the tag name Sickid1 imparted the controversial images on at least three store gates over the weekend – 34 Mott, 81 Allen, and 38 Allen Street. Outspoken Chinatown activist Karlin Chan took it upon himself to […]

Another Malaysian Cafe Replaces the Old ‘Kopitiam’ HQ on Canal Street

The Perfect Taste is now on Canal Street. Literally. A new Malaysian cafe by that name opened yesterday in the original home of Kopitiam. The tiny shop takes over after the latter moved from 51 Canal to East Broadway several months ago (thanks to a rent hike). As the awning suggests, Perfect Taste features “healthy […]

CNBC’s ‘American Greed’ Focuses on Ex-Con Landlord Steve Croman

Ex-con Steve Croman is now the subject of a television hit piece by CNBC as part of its American Greed series. The second half of the program is dedicated to the notorious landlord in a segment appropriately called “Lousy Landlord.” You’ll recall that Croman completed his “white collar” sentence on June 1, having served eight months […]