Here’s a list (and pics) from some of the best shops in town.
We are in a Golden Age for tattoo art. But this wasn’t always so.
The discovery of “Otzi the Iceman” in the Alps give us proof that the act of tattooing existed at least as far back as 5,000 years ago. In most cultures, for a majority of those 5,000 years, having a tattoo was taboo, only suitable for those considered to be lesser members of society such as criminals, war prisoners and slaves.
But perceptions, unlike the permanence of a tat, change with time.
In the 1940s, patriotic tattoos with a military or nautical focus gained in popularity due to World War II, and as more women went to work and were exposed to the wider world, a number of them also got tattooed. This happened just as mixing pigments added more colors to an artist’s repertoire, making more appealing options available to the consumer.
This is about the time we start seeing permanent tattoo shops pop up in New Orleans. (Before that, artists tended to migrate from city to city.) In 1955, George Pinell — nicknamed “The Professor” and “Old Man” because of his status in the local electric tattooing scene — opened up a tiny shop under the Canal Street ferry terminal. It was so tiny that a stretched customer would have their leg partially outside the space.
In the decades since, the tattoo industry has slowly but surely made its way into the mainstream, fueled in large part by celebrities getting tattoos of their own (those of a certain age may remember how Pamela Anderson’s barbed-wire armband tattoo kicked off a craze in the ‘90s.)
That brings us to today’s renaissance, where more than one in five Americans have at least one tattoo, and where there are more than 20,000 tattoo parlors in the country. (With one being added, on average, every single day.)
Maybe you’re ready to get your first tattoo and you don’t know where to go. I talked to some very local New Orleanians and came up with a list of some of the best spots to get your ink in New Orleans. And, while it’s true the development of our city’s tattoo scene primarily existed within larger trends, we do have an important first.
Aart Accent Tattoos & Piercing
Opened just lakeside of the French Quarter in 1976, Aart Accent isn’t just the oldest still-active tattoo shop in the city (which it is). Its founder and owner, Jacci Gresham, also happens to be the first black female tattoo artist in all of America. You can read more about her here.
With a background in drawing and architecture, Gresham is renowned for her beautiful penmanship, and her ability to turn what the customer sees on paper into what they see on their body, despite the challenges present when tattooing curvilinear places.
With those skills and a long list of satisfied customers, it’s no wonder Where Y’at Magazine has rated Aart Accent the best tattoo shop in New Orleans for three consecutive years.
Courtney Gullo has had a couple of not-ideal tattoo experiences. So, when she went to Electric Ladyland on Frenchmen, she could tell immediately that the experience was going to be different.
“You could just tell they really cared about the tattoo I wanted to get, and what it meant to me,” Gullo explained. “That investment was such a welcome change from some other shops.”
Talk to most anyone who’s been to one of Electric Ladyland’s 10 tattooing stations and you’ll hear something similar: the staff is friendly, attentive and — to Gullo’s point — caring. You can’t beat that.
Abracadabra artist, Jordan Barlow, has a loyal following up on Freret Street. Tommy Meyers now counts himself in that number.
“I waited years to get my first ink,” he said. “But I needed to make sure I had the right artist.”
Meyers must have found that artist, because he’s now had three pieces done by Barlow.
What sold Meyers on him?
“He does a lot of painting, so you can see he’s a really good artist. And that shows up in his body art, for sure,” Meyers explained.
Getting a tattoo is a big decision. So, for Whitney Soenksen, a little patience goes a long way.
“I’ve been to shops where they get frustrated with me because I didn’t show up with the design in the correct format, as if I was supposed to magically know how they want it,” she said. “Or they’ll question my decision on the tattoo choice I’ve obviously thought a lot about. So when I get that kind of snark, I’m running out the door.”
But that’s never been an issue for Soenkensen at Treasure Tattoo on St. Claude Avenue in the Marigny.
“It’s so different there. They have multiple convenient ways for me to submit the image, they showed nothing but patience with me when I struggled to find the artwork on my phone, and she even was totally willing to touch up some old tattoos for me.”
Customers celebrate the reasonable prices, the flexible availability and the fact that the owner is — according to Soenksen — “a badass, inspiring woman-entrepreneur.”
“Plus,” she added, “there’s a small puppy in the store to calm your nerves, and nothing works better than that!”
Open since 2012, Downtown Tattoo is creating a buzz with nine artists in their shop, providing decades of experience.
The large number of artists allows for a wide variety of styles, inspired from as far away as Africa and biblical times, or as near as the Caribbean and right here in NOLA!
To get a feel for what you’re looking for — or which tattooist might serve you best — there are copious examples of each individual artist’s work in a photo gallery on their website.
New Orleans Tattoo Museum & Studio
Want some history with your tattoo? Co-owners Don Lucas and Adam Montegut have done an incredible job curating a comprehensive history of electric tattooing in New Orleans.
The New Orleans Tattoo Museum & Studio uses artifacts and research to take guests on a comprehensive journey from the early days of migrant tattoo artists, to the city’s first shops, and all the way to the growing body art culture of today.
It’s really a special place to check out, even if you’re not looking to get a tattoo of your own.
But, if you are, they do that really well, too. You can view Montegut’s extensive portfolio online.
Natasha Schmidt and Rachel Robinson opened Tattoo Temple in 2014 in Mid City, and for the last five years, their focus has been on providing a welcoming and professional atmosphere in which their employees enjoy creating and their customers feel comfortable.
Take a look at their their artists’ portfolios on Instagram, and then go to their Request an Appointment page to book a time.
It won’t take long for you to understand why their diverse range of artwork and their clean, cozy shop has become a Mid-City favorite.
And here’s a little interesting news: lots of tattoo shops offer big deals any time it happens to be Friday the 13th. They typically post flash sheets of tattoo options for you to choose from which — depending on the shop — cost somewhere in the $13 to $20 range.
In case you didn’t know, that’s a seriously inexpensive tattoo by some seriously talented New Orleans artists.
The next Friday the 13th is coming up in September (on Friday…the 13th…) so check in with your favorite shops on social media — or just give them a call — to see if they’re offering discounts.
It’s still a ways from September, so we don’t know who will offer deals yet, but — in the past — Downtown Tattoos, Electric Lady Land, Sailor’s Cross, Mid City Voodoux Tattoos, Hell or High Water, and Pigment are just some of the local shops offering Friday the 13th deals.