Whether you're shopping for a classic Japanese sleeve or a small, tongue-in-cheek symbol, New York affords you the chance to get inked by some of the best artists in the world. We've put together a new list of 11 of the city's very best tattoo shops—altogether, these offer you a wide array of stylistic options, from classic Americana to mind-bending original imagery. Here are our favorites; be sure to leave yours in the comments.
NY Adorned (Scott Heins/Gothamist)
NY ADORNED: Years ago, when I still lived in Minneapolis, I told my roommate I wanted a Japanese sleeve tattoo. She told me, "You've got to get it at New York Adorned." The point is, Adorned's quality work is known throughout the country, and no roundup of local ink shops would be complete without it. The Second Avenue shop is bright and beautiful, with a front room filled with flash, official merch, and jewelry hand-picked by Adorned's founder, Lori Leven (Leven opened Adorned in a back room in 1996, using a jewelry store as a front). The roster of top-caliber artists constantly changes, and sessions often need to be booked months in advance, but their new policy of staffing 1-2 artists strictly for walk-ins on weekends means that even visitors on a tight schedule can get work done. Not to be missed are the Tibetan designs of Yoni Zilber, who studies under a master thangka painter.
NY Adorned is located at 47 2nd Avenue between East 2nd and 3rd Streets in the East Village (212-473-0007, nyadorned.com).
East River Tattoo (Scott Heins/Gothamist)
EAST RIVER TATTOO: With an aesthetic that's half hunting lodge, half outlaw hideout, East River Tattoo is a first-rate shop staffed by artists who look like they'll beat your ass in a whiskey-drinking contest just as soon as you're bandaged up. Prolific artist Duke Riley runs the place, and when he's not controlling 2000 pigeons or staging a Roman-style food fight on a Queens beachfront, you can find him at work on one of his classic scrimshaw-style tattoos, which turn customers' limbs and ribcages into detailed woodcuts. Appointments will need to be booked a few weeks out but, in keeping with classic tattoo tradition, weekends are always open for walk-ins. Even if you're not looking to get inked, it's worth sticking your head in. The shop's decor is incredible and the vibe is always friendly.
East River Tattoo is located at 1047 Manhattan Avenue between Freeman and Eagle Streets in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (718-532-8282, eastrivertattoo.com).
Kings Avenue Tattoo (Scott Heins/Gothamist)
KINGS AVENUE TATTOO: The first time I walked into Kings Avenue Tattoo "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" was playing on the shop speakers and you could see the sunset streaming in through the windows—which is to say, the vibe here is just right. Their second-floor loft boasts 10 tattoo stations, and the staff has held itself to high standards of kindness and expertise ever since their Manhattan location opened in 2011. Mike Rubendall, famous for his Japanese full bodysuit work, is the marquee artist here, but no matter who's tattooing you at Kings, you'll walk out with a beautiful new work. Plus, the shop's windows look out on the famous 190 Bowery, so you'll be able to ponder the buffing of decades of graffiti history as you add a little ink to your own skin.
Kings Avenue is located at 188 Bowery between Spring and Kenmare Streets in Nolita, (212-431-5464, kingsavenuetattoo.com).
Daredevil Tattoo (Scott Heins/Gothamist)
DAREDEVIL TATTOO: Michelle Myles began tattooing illegally in 1991, when tattooing was still against the law in New York City. When the ban was struck down in 1997, she opened Daredevil Tattoo with her business partner Brad Fink, and the two have since created a place that's brimming with local history. Part shop, part museum, Daredevil's walls are covered with priceless hand-drawn flash from legends like Bert Grimm, Cap Coleman, and Charlie Wagner, and Myles's team of artists will happily replicate them with keen precision. A case in Daredevil's lobby holds one of the first twin coil tattoo machines ever used in Manhattan, along with photos of early ink enthusiasts that date back to the 1860s. These relics of tattooing's past makes it a must-visit for classicists, but the artists on staff can handle just about anything, from Asian symbology to jaw-dropping bio-mechanical designs. Be sure to check out Ozzy, who does fantastic Polynesian and Maori black work.
Daredevil Tattoo is located at 141 Division Street between Ludlow and Orchard Streets on the Lower East Side (212-533-8303, daredeviltattoo.com).
Todd Woodz at work after hours at Magic Cobra Society Tattoo (Scott Heins/Gothamist)
MAGIC COBRA TATTOO SOCIETY: Ink artist Todd Woodz has worked at Magic Cobra Tattoo Society since the day it opened in 2009. This past April, he bought the place, and in only a few short months their quality of work has skyrocketed. Tucked into the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, Magic Cobra is a no-bullshit temple of classic tattooing where nothing is forced and everything feels homegrown. Woodz leads a team of seven staff artists and specializes in traditional Japanese and Americana work, and the shop is covered with his flash work, along with designs donated by his tattoo buddies from all over the world. Also on the team is Christian Cervantes, who excels at the black-and-grey Cholo portraiture rarely seen on the East Coast. "We're a true street shop, and we're proud to cater to everybody. It's more about the quality of the work going out than the money coming in" Woodz told Gothamist. Walk-ins are available seven days a week, and if you keep an eye out you should be able to spot multiple Woodz murals in the surrounding neighborhood.
Magic Cobra Tattoo Society is located at 775 Driggs Avenue between South 3rd and 4th Streets in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-782-8287, magiccobratattoo.com).
Mike Bakaty's vintage flash art at Fine Line Tattoo (Scott Heins/Gothamist)
FINELINE TATTOO: Plenty of local tattoo shops trace their origins back to the '90s, before the end of the tattoo ban. Few, however, can boast a lineage that dates back to the days of Gerald Ford. The East Village's Fineline Tattoo was founded in 1976 by Mike Bakaty, and its inventory of his personal, decades-old flash is one of its greatest assets. There, you'll see gnarled dragons, beautiful birds of paradise, demons, angels, eagles, and more. Bakaty's son Mehai now runs Fineline, and has kept tradition at the heart of the shop's operation. If you're looking for a tattoo that exudes vintage East Village cool, this is your go-to shop.
Fineline Tattoo is located at 21 1st Avenue between East 1st and 2nd Streets in the East Village (212-673-5154, finelinetattoo.com).
Three Kings Tattoo's Greenpoint storefront (Scott Heins/Gothamist)
THREE KINGS TATTOO: There's a reason why Three Kings has one of the largest staffs of any tattoo shop in the world. For its 20-plus artists, it's a great place to work, and for its thousands of customers, it's a perfect place to get new ink. Co-owners Matt Marcus and Alex McWatt have fostered an atmosphere that reassures tattoo rookies and veterans alike, and pride themselves on their unorthodox scheduling. Every artist at Three Kings Artist is required to set aside shift time for walk-ins, meaning that it's possible to get work from a tattooer who would otherwise be booked solid for months. People from all walks of life end up at their two locations, whether they're getting a Japanese half-sleeve from Adam Machin or an ornate geometric design courtesy of Ellie Thompson.
Three Kings Tattoo is located at 572 Manhattan Avenue between Driggs and Nassau in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and 181 Avenue B between East 11th and 12th Streets in Alphabet City (Brooklyn shop 718-349-7755, Manhattan shop 212-505-8287, www.threekingstattoo.com).
Inside Fun City Tattoo (Scott Heins/Gothamist)
FUN CITY TATTOO: It's true that St. Mark's Place isn't nearly as gritty today as it once was. But amid all the bubble tea and frozen yogurt counters you can still find a decent ink shop, and Fun City is our favorite. In its earliest days, founder Jonathan Shaw ran the company out of an apartment, and customers had to call from a nearby payphone before being buzzed in. Nowadays there's less secrecy: it's impossible to miss Fun City's circus-style signage near the corner 1st Avenue, and the shop's list of high-profile clientele includes Johnny Depp, Tupac, Mike Tyson, and the cast of The Lord of The Rings. Not to be missed among the staff is Amanda Wachob, whose beautiful, fluid watercolor style produces tattoos that defy all conventions. As owner Steve Pedone told me, "We're not a flea market tattoo shop."
Fun City Tattoo is located at 94 St Marks Place between 1st Avenue and Avenue A in the East Village, Manhattan (212-353-8282, funcitytattoo.com).
Invisible Tattoo (Scott Heins/Gothamist)
INVISIBLE NYC: Invisible founder Troy Denning describes his shop in three words: "layered, ambitious, aggressive." This Lower East Side basement parlor specializes in Japanese tattooing, and while you might be able to get a walk-in appointment on a weekend, their expert artists are usually fully booked months in advance. The good news is, the wait is worth it. Invisible's connections to Japan's contemporary ink scene run deep. With a staff that draws upon Japanese natives, their tattoos are the genuine article—not a "close enough" recreation. Denning himself is constantly traveling back and forth over the Pacific, keeping a keen eye on the work of his Tokyo contemporaries. "Japanese tattooing requires more homework, it doesn't lend itself to spontaneity," he said. Think hard on what you want, book an appointment, and have patience. Great tattoos aren't quick, and quick tattoos aren't great.
Invisible Tattoo is located at 148 Orchard Street between Rivington and Stanton Streets on the Lower East Side (212-228-1358, invisiblenyc.com)
John O'Hara, Anka Lavriv, and Eve Steuer of Black Iris Tattoo (Scott Heins/Gothamist)
BLACK IRIS TATTOO: Black Iris is the collaborative project of Anka Lavriv, John O'Hara, and Eve Steuer—three genre-defying artists who make strictly original work. Shop hours are by appointment only. Inside, there's no old-school flash, no binders, no feel-good Pinterest print-outs, and nothing that resembles Americana. The tattoos coming out of Black Iris tend to be illustrative and finely detailed, with plenty of black line work, natural forms, and occult imagery. Lavriv, O'Hara, and Steuer see each tattoo as a new opportunity of expression, and their work has stunning results. The clientele at Black Iris skews artsy, irreverent, and female. If you've got black nails and The Cure records, you'll feel right at home.
Black Iris Tattoo is located at 630 Humboldt Street between between Nassau and Driggs Avenues in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (Open by appointment only, email information here)
Flyrite Tattoo's Metropolitan Avenue storefront (Scott Heins/Gothamist)
FLYRITE TATTOO: Having logged over 20 years of tattooing on Metropolitan Avenue, Flyrite is a no-frills, starkly-lit parlor that can handle everything from the quickest walk-in session to a full Japanese bodysuit (the latter is a specialty of resident artist Steven Huie). Above all, it's a neighborhood joint: Williamsburg locals make up much of Flyrite's clientele, and multiple generations of neighborhood families have been inked there. But visitors needn't be intimidated—with an open walk-in policy and wide array of staff talent, anyone will feel comfortable stepping in for a little permanent body modification.
Flyrite Tattoo is located at 492 Metropolitan Avenue between Meeker and Union Avenues in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-599-9443, flyritetattoo.nyc).
Honorable Mentions: Smith Street Tattoo Parlour, Hand of Glory, Grit N Glory, Rose Tattoo, and Leathernecks Tattoo.