It seems getting at tattoo or a piercing has become synonymous with Ybor City. There is probably one per block on 7th Street, and a few off the beaten path. Each shop, or parlor as they used to be called, has its own following and as I found out, their own story.
Take Bay City Tattoo. Positioned on the corner of 7th Avenue and 17th Street, Bay City Tattoo has a great location and a solid reputation with both customers and other tattoo artists not just in Ybor, but also around the Tampa Bay area. Owner Jeff Ziozos, who hails from Bay City, Michigan, named his store for both his hometown and the town he's made his home twice in the last 30 years.
After over 20 years as an artist, 15,000 tattoos and 10,000 piercings, Jeff says he likes to do original tattoos, anything unique, and to do cover ups. "Turning something that someone hates into something they love," he says is very satisfying. Everyone who currently works at Bay City has trained with him, and he doesn't have a lot of turnover in artists. When asked what's the craziest thing he's ever been asked to tattoo, he says there's no definitive answer to that question. "When you've done this as long as I have, you dont really know what's 'crazy' anymore. The people are more interesting than the tattoo they're getting," he replies. "It's not about our ego." They do the tattoos they are asked because it's about people being happy with what they get.
"It's the story behind why they want a tattoo," Jeff says as he relays a great story about a couple that came in to a place he worked. He overheard the artist refusing to do the tattoo because the man came in with a crayon drawing of a house and some figures representing their family. Jeff came over and took the drawing and asked the couple what the story was behind their desire for this to be tattooed. They told him their son had drawn it, and he had passed away. He explained that the tattoo wouldn't be exactly like the drawing as it's difficult to reproduce crayon as a tattoo. The man said that was fine, as he just wanted to keep that with him as a representation of his son. While I was there, a young lady came in to ask about getting a tattoo done on her ankle. Already in the midst of tattooing someone, Jeff looked at what she wanted, gave her a great price, told her when he'd be available or recommended another one of his artists, and also gave her advice on her choice of placement. It was a perfect example of why Bay City Tattoo should be in your top choices of places to consider for your body art.
As I mentioned, there's one on every block pretty much, so I could go left out of the shop and hit Atomic Tattoos, or right and hit Ink Spot Tattoo. I went to Ink Spot first, and the young female artist that was in the shop at the time was beyond friendly and willing to help. She made me feel very welcome, something that's truly important when you are going to get tattooed somewhere. Ink Spot Ybor is one of many locations owned by the same person, many of which are located in and around Orlando and the Central Florida area. The Ybor location was opened February 14, 2015 and manager Mark Mahaffey has been there from the beginning, as have most of the artists. If an artist changes shops too often, you'll lose your customers. Mark says they're like a family, and when you come in, they want you to feel like you're a part of the family too.
Their goal is to make you feel comfortable and know that you're getting a quality tattoo for a reasonable price. Ink Spot Tattoo also stresses their dedication to the cleanliness of the shop. "You have to be on point at all times. You never know when you're going to get a visit from the health department," and Mark proceeds to tell me about these two women who came into the shop one day and were looking around and decided to get tattoos while they were there. Afterwards the women told them they were from the health department and showed their badges to prove it; if the health department trusts Ink Spot, that should speak volumes to potential clients!
Atomic Tattoos has been in Tampa for a long time. The Fowler Avenue location was the lone shop for quite awhile, but they began popping up in malls around the area as tattoos became less taboo and more mainstream. Currently there are 12 Tampa area locations including Lakeland as well as Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties. But don't let the fact you can get one in the mall detract you from seeking out their services in Ybor City. Atomic Tattoos is known for the quality of their work. I spoke with "Scorpion" for a few minutes, as some young girls talked with another artist about getting a tattoo. Ybor City's Atomic Tattoo shop has seven artists and two piercers, all with extensive experience - the newest guy has been there three years. Each artist has a specialty; Scorpion's specialty is realistic tattooing. Chopper, the manager, has a specialty of Japanese art. No matter what it is that you're looking for, Atomic Tattoos has an artist for you. They're open seven days a week noon to midnight.
If you want to learn a lot about the history of tattooing and piercing, head into Las Vegas Tattoo Co. I was lucky enough to find one of the owners available and Belle was a wealth of fascinating information. Well-known in the industry, Doc Dog has been in the business for over 50 years. He opened the first tattoo parlor in the San Fernando Valley in 1972, and worked with the health department in Nevada in creating the first set of health laws and regulations governing tattoo parlors. After opening the first tattoo parlor ever in Las Vegas in 1977, there's also a sister studio in Siegburg, Germany. As I can attest by my experience there, customer service is a high priority.
All artists do custom work; no one says they can't do a certain type of tattoo because it isn't their specialty. And there is nothing that they can't draw for you; bring your idea and they will help make it your own masterpiece. Belle is actually a piercer there, and she told me about the high quality jewelry they carry that is different from what you're going to buy at some mall store; according to Belle it's the highest quality made in the industry. What makes their jewelry unique among other things is that it is made in the USA, and also they carry implant grade titanium. People who may not be able to be pierced anywhere else, due to allergies to certain metals, can get pierced at Las Vegas Tattoo Co.
Because it came recommended to me, I have to give 1603 Tattoo & Body Piercing Co. honorable mention. I was unable to reach the owner, but in checking out his website, you can meet him and their artists and see some of their amazing work. Skip Sampson, the owner and one of the artists, has been in the business 24 years, and tattooing for 20, starting off at a family owned shop in New York. Some of his other artists also have impressive resumes, with years of experience behind them. 1603 Tattoo & Body Piercing Co. is NOT located at 1603 7th Avenue, so check the address before you go.
Rod Stewart famously sang "every picture tells a story, dont it?" Truer words were never spoken, as every tattoo is a picture with meaning for that person, and every tattoo studio has its own story as well. Choosing a studio and artist is subjective and personal, which is why this isn't necessarily a best list, but definitely highlights many of the best of Ybor's many tattoo shops. Hopefully you find one able to tell your story.