The Canvases Walk in the Door: A Brooklyn Tattoo Parlor Popular with foreigners
The brownstone-lined streets of Carroll Gardens may not seem like much of a tourist destination. But brand Brooklyn is ascendant these days, and foreigners come to idle at farm-to-table restaurants and browse in fanciful boutiques.And farther south, where affluence gives way to aluminum siding and Smith Street dead-ends under the din of the Gowanus Expressway, visitors come for a more permanent souvenir: authentic Brooklyn ink.
On a recent Thursday, Yossy Yoshino, 35, a tattoo artist from Japan, lay face down on a massage table at Smith Street Tattoo Parlour while Dan Santoro, 31, inscribed a pig in a bikini on his back (“three tops, one for each set of teats,” Mr. Santoro explained). The words “Weird World” floated above the pig’s head.
Mr. Yoshino, a teardrop tattoo dripping from his eye, said he had traveled thousands of miles from his home in Okinawa to get a “New York tattoo.”
Just what makes a New York tattoo can be a bit difficult to pin down. The shop’s owner, Bert Krak, 35, described the parlor’s style as traditional American, with a bit of Japanese thrown in.
“We just do tattoos that look like tattoos,” he said.
Mr. Krak opened the shop in 2008 with another artist, Steve Boltz, 42. Mr. Santoro and Eli Quinters, 35, completed their team. The four men, who all are impressively inked themselves, work with a brotherly camaraderie. They chat above the constant hum of the tattoo guns they operate, which drone on like summer locusts.
Smith Street Tattoo’s international reputation might stem from its artists’ frequent trips abroad. “We probably tattoo more Australians than Americans,” Alex Kapsidelis, the shop’s manager, said. “I booked an appointment for a guy from Singapore who flew here just to get tattooed.”
And what did he get? Mr. Kapsidelis, 24, looked to Mr. Santoro.
“I don’t remember,” Mr. Santoro said. “Something cool.”
On this Thursday, the waiting area teemed with visitors. Britni Costello, 21, a student from Melbourne, Australia, was hoping to get a tattoo on her hipbone of a man and a woman embracing with a rose beneath them.
She came for Mr. Boltz — “I’ve been following Steve on social media for ages,” she said — but he was already booked, tattooing a devil holding a naked woman across the entirety of a man’s back. She settled for Mr. Quinters instead.
Younes Benfquih, 27, had traveled from Belgium. He cited Smith Street as an inspiration for his tattoo shop in Antwerp, called Brabo’s Hand. He was studying the shop’s walls, covered floor to ceiling in what is known in tattoo parlance as “flash”: original designs by the resident artists. It is said that a shop is only as good as its flash, and Smith Street’s is very good, in that there is a lot of it, with a wide variety of designs to choose from. Mr. Benfquih said he planned to get a tattoo of a horse. Or possibly a skull. Or maybe a black panther.
Others in the waiting area had not crossed oceans to reach Smith Street, but had still traveled great distances. Eric Goltz, 35, a tattoo artist in Niagara Falls, N.Y., awoke at 3 a.m. to make the trek into Brooklyn so Mr. Krak could tattoo a large torch on his left forearm.
“I’ve been a big fan of this shop for a while,” Mr. Goltz said, gazing at the wall of flash. “The more I thought about it, it’s only across the state.”