Baxter's Blog


Posted in Road Trip Stuff by misterroadtripper on May 27, 2010
Here’s more great insights on the San Francisco tattoo scene by Charles Gatewood. The entire story, including coverage of nine of the hottest San Francisco tattoo shops: Diamond Club Tattoo Art Studio, Everlasting Tattoo, Goldfield’s Tattoo Studio, Idle Hand Tattoo, Greg Kulz Tattoo, Mom’s Body Shop , Skull and Sword Tattoo and Seventh Son Tattoo will be published in their entirety in the near future on in the San Francisco section. But first, just a teaser to keep you interested: Ed Hardy’s Tattoo City, with a just a handful of the many photos taken by the Grandmaster of San Francisco photography, the incomparable Gatewood.

Doug Hardy


By Charles Gatewood
Greetings, tattoo lovers! In 1989, I helped Bob Baxter assemble an in-depth magazine report on San Francisco, “The Center of the Tattoo Universe.” There have, of course, been many changes in the last twelve years. In this updated version, we are pleased to continue our saga of, what some have called, “the most tattoo-friendly town in the world.”
Because of its unique position as a bustling port and close connection to Pacific Rim cultures, San Francisco has played an essential role in the evolution of contemporary tattooing. Sailors came ashore wearing exotic tattoos from Asia and the South Pacific, showing off their colorful souvenirs—and tattooing found a new home.

“San Francisco was shaped by its closeness to the sea,” says tattoo scholar Chuck Eldridge. “During World War II, the city became the world’s largest shipbuilding center. Thousands of American soldiers and sailors passed through San Francisco and returned here to live. In addition, many civilians came to help with the war effort. This fact alone may have more to do with the strength of the tattoo business in this city than any other factor.”

Eldridge and Lyle Tuttle have collections of business cards from early San Francisco tattooers, old timers like Duke Kaufman, Walt Wetzel, Painless Nell, Joe Lieber, Sailor Vern Ingarmarson, E.C. Kidd, and C.J. “Pop” Eddy. In 1933-’34 the legendary Betty Broadbent worked at a dime museum at Seventh and Market, both as an artist and as an attraction.

In the ’60s, Tuttle led the first wave of America’s Tattoo Renaissance with his rock-star persona, his talent for self-promotion and his popular tattoo museum. In the ’70s and ’80s, Erno Szabady and Bill Salmon rocked the body-art scene, while Ed Hardy and Leo Zulueta blew the wheels off modern tattooing with Tattootime magazine’s feature article “New Tribalism.” And in 1989 RE/Search Publications gave us Modern Primitives, the book dubbed “the bible of body modification.” Constantly reborn and rejuvenated by San Francisco’s creative atmosphere, tattooing continues to be one of the Bay Area’s most vibrant art forms. has opened its doors for an inside look at nine of San Francisco’s most happening shops, the latest news, the styles, the artists and the buzz. We offer this first excerpt as a heartfelt tribute to our favorite city and salute the free spirits and romantic visionaries who have taken the art of tattooing to such dizzying heights. Enjoy!

—Charles Gatewood

Trevor by Kahlil Rintye (275 hours of work!).


Ed Hardy, the world’s best-known tattooist, recently retired from tattooing. Tattoo City is now run by Ed’s forty-four-year-old son, Doug. Doug is amiable and enthusiastic, with an easygoing manner
and an obvious love of tattoo art. Doug greeted me warmly, introduced me to Tattoo City’s other artists (Jen Lee, Mary Joy and Kahlil Rintye) and gave me a tour of the art-filled studio. It was early afternoon in historic North Beach, and Tattoo City was alive with activity, so Doug led me to a quiet area where we could talk. My first question: “What was it like to have Ed Hardy as a father?

Doug smiled. “It was great. There was always lots of art in our house, plenty of new and exciting things to look at. My father would come home from work, show me his drawings and bring me cool stuff. There was also lots of great music. I remember when he brought home the first Ramones’ album, and Grand Master Flash’s “The Message.” And the Sex Pistols. My father also took me traveling to exciting places like New York City and London. He taught me a lot. He was always supportive, but never pushy. And he always emphasized hard work.

“My earliest tattoo memories,” continued Doug, “were of life in the San Diego area, where my father worked at Ace Tattoo. I remember seeing Zeke Owen and my father at the shop. It was next to a big arcade where all the sailors hung out. I would go there after school, play games at the arcade, and visit the tattoo shop.

“When I was six, my parents divorced and I moved to Colorado with my mother. Later, my father moved to San Francisco, and in 1974, with my stepmother Francesca Passalacqua’s help, he opened Realistic Tattoo at 2535 Van Ness. Realistic was the first all-custom, appointment-only shop in San Francisco.

“Tattoo City has been through three incarnations. The first Tattoo City was established at 2906 Mason, in the Mission district, in 1977. It featured fine-line, black-and-gray work, which was new at the time. But the studio was destroyed by fire in 1978. The second Tattoo City opened at 722 Columbus avenue in 1991. It was a busy, appointment-only shop emphasizing large custom tattoos. Our present shop, at
700 Lombard, opened on Valentine’s day, 1999.”

“When did you start tattooing?” I asked.

“In 1991,” said Doug. “I got a phone call from my father, who was living in Hawaii. I was twenty-five years old. I’d worked several jobs after high school, including working for a bank and a mutual funds firm. But I was looking for something new. “When I asked how Mike Malone was doing, my father said that Mike would accept me as an apprentice. I said, “Wow, okay!”

Doug spent six years in Hawaii, working at China Sea Tattoo. “It was located in the old Chinatown of Honolulu. It was definitely authentic, with lots of old-time characters and joints like the Hubba Hubba Club and Smith’s Union Bar. At the shop, Mike Malone, Kandi Everett and Scott Sterling taught me well. Mike loved old-time tattoos, bold lines and black shading. Very traditional. Yet Malone liked breaking rules, like the time he did a big Godzilla backpiece. I’d never seen work like that before. Mike said, ‘Open your eyes and look around—great images are everywhere.’

“In 1998, a friend opened a shop in Minneapolis and invited me to join him, so I did. After that, I worked at a great shop, the Ink Lab, owned by David Dettloff, for several years. Great art, fine people, fun scene. Following that, I worked at Nic Skrade’s and Jon Sweet’s Uptown Tattoo. It was all custom work, appointment only. Really great, but I missed the street-shop energy. So, after a while, I was asked to work at my friend Josh Arment’s Aloha Monkey Tattoo, twenty miles outside Minneapolis, which was some of the most fun I’ve had in years. And then, last year, I got a call from my father. He said he was getting out of the tattoo business, so he could spend more time making his art and would I like to
come to San Francisco and help out?

“So,” said Doug, “I told him yes, and here I am. I arrived in October 2009, and I love it here. We have a great crew, and this is a dynamic, positive shop with soul, passion, and high-quality tattooing.”

Indeed. The work at Tattoo City is outstanding. Doug Hardy’s interpretations of traditional Americana tattoos are especially tasty. “I grew up with Sailor Jerry flash and my father’s old-school designs. I love that style.”

Tattoo City’s other artists also favor modern interpretations of old-time designs. Jen Lee’s stunning portraits of people and animals are exquisitely rendered and show sophisticated coloring and shading. Mary Joy’s Victorian-influenced Americana is equally breathtaking in its delicate beauty and fine draftsmanship. Kahlil Rintye is equally fluent in creating Asian and American designs, plus a surreal style he calls “spooky.” Kahlil’s draftsmanship is superb, and his color and shading are exceptionally
fine. Trevor Ewald, Tattoo City’s bright-eyed counter boy, wears a beautiful bodysuit by Kahlil (one-hundred-and-seventy-five hours of work so far), a testament to Kahlil’s impressive talent.

Tattoo City is a living museum, a visual delight. The walls are hung with flash by Ed Hardy, Owen Jensen, Sailor Jerry and many others. Outrageous paintings, posters, sculptures and collectibles are everywhere, and the vast reference library is certainly one of San Francisco’s finest. The world-class tattooing offered at Tattoo City isn’t cheap, but it is, quite frankly, some of the City by the Bay’s best. Highly recommended.

Ed Hardy’s Tattoo City

700 Lombard Street (at Columbus)

San Francisco, California 94133

(415) 345-9437

Open daily, 12-8. Appointments required.

Kahlil Rintye

Trevor's frontpiece by Kahlil Rintye.

Caroline's tattoos by Mary Joy.

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