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.

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