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

Are We Really the Fairest Big City with a Mayor for the 1%? [Op-Ed]

The following editorial was written by David Tieu on behalf of Youth Against Displacement, a group formed by youth across the City who aim to stand up against the Mayor’s pro-developer agenda and protect our communities from displacement. Last week, New Yorkers were greeted with two new proposals from the de Blasio administration: a “municipal […]

‘The Forward’ Ceases Print Publication After 121 Years

The Forward will do so without its print edition. The 121-year-old Jewish-American publication, founded as the Yiddish language Jewish Daily Forward on the Lower East Side in 1897, suspended print operations this week and will refocus efforts toward its online verticals. As a result, forty percent of the staff was reportedly laid off, including editor-in-chief […]

RIP Lower East Side Man in White, ‘Jimmy Blanco’

It’s a sad day for the Lower East Side. Jimmy Becker, known colloquially as “Jimmy Blanco” for perennially roaming the streets dressed in all white, passed away this week after a battle with Lymphoma. It’s believed he was about 69 or 70. Apparently, a neighbor in his building called EMS a couple weeks ago after […]

Tictail Brick-and-Mortar Market on Orchard Street Goes Under

Tictail officially closed down its Lower East Side market last month. The former shop at 90 Orchard Street is now a vacancy with the token farewell letter on the door. This retail surrender follows just a short while after the Swedish startup’s high-profile acquisition by Shopify. As for what’s next, expect nightlife of some sort. […]

More on ‘Gouie New York’ Sake Bar at the Market Line

The team behind Itzakaya, Davelle, and Samurice is multiplying again on the Lower East Side. More specifically, joining the ever-swelling roster of the Market Line concourse at Essex Crossing. As previously reported, the entity is to be a Japanese sake bar called Gouie New York. And now we have some additional details, including sample menu […]