Where to Get Tattooed in New York City

Consider this your ultimate parlor guide

May 28, 2024 6:37 am
A person gives someone a tattoo on their arm.
Kathryn Sheldon

Walk down the street nearly anywhere in New York City, and you’re bound to see just as many tattoo sleeves as cloth ones. That’s why many are surprised to find out (or remember) that the art of tattooing was actually illegal in the city up until 1997. Obviously that’s changed, so there’s no shortage of talented artists and first-rate shops set up around the five boroughs.

Tattoo History and Its Modern Evolution 

Winding back the clock, tattooing in NYC found its first foothold in the 19th century in the city’s seedy underbelly, with sailors, soldiers and circus performers all seeking to adorn their bodies with inked tales of their adventures. However, it was banned in 1961 after a Hepatitis B outbreak and faced decades of legal ambiguity until the mid-1990s, after which its legalization paved the way for a renaissance of tattoo culture.

In New York today, tattoo culture has been evolving rapidly, thanks to the ongoing process of de-stigmatization. Tattoo artist Liv Novotny attributes this shift in public perception to the current entrance of tattooing into mainstream society, mentioning that while it was mainly chefs and artists who were receiving tattoos a few decades ago, that has very much changed, with everyone from young professionals to lawyers and doctors donning ink. Novotny recently co-founded Unscripted Ink, the first and only permanent in-hotel tattoo studio in the Untitled Hotel in the Lower East Side.

Besides her work at Unscripted, Liv’s bread and butter has become tattooing flash at events, with dozens of people lining up to get inked by her. For context, an artist’s flash sheet displays their pre-drawn designs, and a rise in demand for flash, both at events and in-studio, nods to a growing trend of “sticker sleeves” — arrangements of small tattoos that dot the arm to create a sleeve of sorts. 

In her own words, “New York is the tattoo capital of the world.” No argument there. NYC boasts a diverse array of studios and artists pushing the boundaries of creativity and technique for the art form. From historic shops to the trendy parlors, the city offers an ever-widening melting pot of styles and influences, attracting ink enthusiasts from around the world. While this list is nowhere near exhaustive, read on for inspiration for where to get your next tattoo. 

For Meticulous Detail or Tiny Tats: Bang Bang

Chances are you’ve already seen a photo of the work done at Bang Bang, one of the best-known tattoo shops in the country, thanks to their plethora of high-visibility clientele.  Everyone from LeBron James to Rihanna and beyond have come into the Soho-based parlor to get inked by founder Keith “Bang Bang” McCurdy, who is known for his unique detail work. He and the team at Bang Bang are experts at fine line tattooing and hyperrealism at any scale, able to tattoo a full sleeve or a finger. Most recently, the shop has been making headlines for their announcement of the development of Magic Ink, the world’s first reprogrammable, rewritable, erasable tattoo nanotechnology. 

Close-up of tattoos on thighs and along a hand
Studio Knew York
Deirdre Alston Photo

For Continuous Line Work and Bold Design: Studio Knew York

There’s a reason why tattoo artist Mira Mariah, also known as Girl Knew York, has been able to build a loyal social community of more than 200K: her designs are one-of-a-kind, with an easily identifiable style that is both bold in line work and nuanced in message. Mariah offers a seasonally shifting flash sheet as well as custom designs out of Studio New York in Downtown Manhattan. Each piece reflects her bold style, often which utilizes continuous line work and “relies heavily on symbolism from classic literature, art history and modern art references, as well as callbacks to American traditional tattoos and celebrations of girl culture,” according to the artist. Thanks to a dedicated newsletter following, her limited spots fill up quickly one month in advance, so it’s suggested to keep an eye out for email sends from her studio. 

For Tattoo History: Daredevil Tattoo

Daredevil opened in the Lower East Side the same year tattooing became legal in New York City. Besides being one of the best spots in the city for American traditional tats, Daredevil also functions as a tattoo museum, full of artifacts from co-owner Brad Fink’s collection of antique tattoo memorabilia and donated items that range from tattoo flash, machines and ephemera from the early roots of modern tattooing with original artwork by tattoo legends. In the shop itself, their roster of artists are masters of their craft, some of whom have been inking people since before legalization. 

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peering into a small tattoo shop with a neon sign
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For Tattoo Happy Hour: Unscripted, UNTITLED at 3 Freeman Alley

Freeman Alley in the Lower East Side is already a veritable Wonderland (á la Alice), frequented by artsy individuals and offering everything from a longstanding restaurant to a newer hotel and, most recently, a tattoo studio. Unscripted is located at the back of the Untitled Hotel and is the first permanent in-house hotel studio. Besides offering a large selection of flash, custom designs and piercings, a unique offering from Unscripted are its tattoo happy hours, which take place every Wednesday to Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. Prices start at $150 and include your tattoo as well as a post-ink cocktail to celebrate your new body art, to be enjoyed on their rooftop with epic views of the Lower Manhattan skyline. Unscripted is also a great spot for any nervous first-timers, with co-founder Liv Novotny emphasizing the shop’s focus on hospitality and patience. 

For Fine Line: Atelier Eva

Named after founder and acclaimed fine art tattooer, Eva Karabudak, this Williamsburg studio is one of the most stunning places to get inked in the city. Each artist who works in Karabudak’s two Brooklyn shops (there is a second location on Grand Street) have unique specializations, from hand poked modern art to botanical designs and more. Karabudak herself is known for her incredibly detailed fine line work, which translates to scenery or portraits, but you seemingly can’t go wrong with anyone on her well-reviewed team. 

For American Traditional: Smith Street Tattoo Parlour

Since its establishment in 2008, Smith Street has become a veritable tattoo institution in New York City, thanks to a roster of talented artists who specialize in the classics, including big names like Steve Boltz and Bert Krak. Visitors come from far and wide to pay a visit to Smith Street’s location in Carroll Gardens and come away with top-notch American traditional ink work, characterized by bold lines and vibrant color. 

For Japanese Design: Behind the Circle

Takashi Matsuba, the owner of Bushwick-based tattoo parlor Behind the Circle, was born in Japan and has practiced the traditional Japanese method of tebori tattooing for 14 years. An appointment with Matsuba involves sitting on a tatami mat while the artist draws up your  design freehand, directly onto your body. In the traditional style of tebori, the tattoo is applied using a slender tool similar to modern stick-and-poke. His design style is traditional Japanese, while some other artists at the studio focus on Japanese-inspired takes of Americana style and other types of design. 

For an Elevated Experience: Lines New York

There are tons of tattoo studios across the city, but Lines is perhaps one of few to define itself as a “tattoo atelier.” Their multidisciplinary space offers everything from ink to yoga to dance classes and functions as a nail salon, a clothing shop and a piercing studio, amongst other things. Their staff is trained to provide a high level of inclusive service with a focus on fine line tattooing, botanicals, micro realism and lettering, making it a great choice for first-timers, women or those in the LGBTQ+ community. 

For a Surprise Tattoo: Electric Anvil Tattoo 

Spontaneous ink lovers will love Electric Anvil, located in Crown Heights, where you can take the guesswork out of which tattoo to get next. In their own words: “Swing by the shop with $150 in your pocket and adventure in your heart!” In return, you’re provided a token to pop into their mystery tattoo machine, which spits out a design that might find its way directly onto your body. For anyone considering a surprise tattoo, arguably the most important consideration is picking a shop with skilled artists who won’t do you dirty, so it helps that Electric Anvil’s roster is extremely experienced, with styles that range from American traditional to Japanese and everywhere in between.

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