Getting a tattoo is a very personal thing; it’s going to be with you forever. So choosing a shop and an artist can be just as personal as your choice of body art. There’s no good way to really choose who is “the best", but I thought I could definitely help highlight some of the tattoo shops that have great reputations and cater to all different types of people. There’s one for every one of us in this mix.
The first place I stopped was recommended to me by a friend. Commitment Tattoo is located in a great area, on 9th Street North, in the building next to Sunset Grill. My timing was off and I couldn’t catch owner and artist Bob Hey in the studio, but I spoke with his newest artist Kristen. Kristen may be new to Commitment Tattoo but she’s been tattooing for 10 years. She said the work the artists do speaks for itself. They are “artists who love their jobs”. She also said they are “crazy friendly" and that was evident! I very much enjoyed chatting with her there. Owner Bob Hey’s interest in tattoos began as a child because his grandfather had tattoos. Over the years, he designed tattoos for friends and family and eventually turned it into a career as a tattoo artist. Kristin indicated they were still kind of “under construction” in the studio, making it their own. Even so, their attitude is so welcoming and agreeable, you will feel right at home at this shop.
There’s almost two different parts of downtown St. Pete. One is right in the heart of things, near Jannus Live and all the eateries and bars. However, if you travel up Central Avenue just past 9th Street, you’ll find Fredo Ink & Co. If you’re looking for some laid back guys who just want to give you the tattoo you’ve been thinking about, this is the place to go. They cater to walk-ins as lots of people tend to trickle up Central from the bustle of the main bar area - and that’s what makes Fredo’s location so great; it’s close enough to walk to and easy to find. The artists take pride in their work, and artist Wes Sewell says they’re very blue collar. Weekends are usually pretty busy, but stop by on a weekday and you most likely won’t have to wait at all. If you look at the reviews on their Facebook page, you will see patrons raving, one right after the other, about not going anywhere else and how many compliments they get on their tattoo from Fredo or one of the other artists. I asked Wes what he would want people to know about coming to Fredo’s, he replied,“You’re welcome to bring your creativity with you here and we will help make your idea your tattoo.” That is a great sentiment for a tattoo shop to have and should put Fredo’s Ink & Co at the top of your possibilities list.
Wes suggested I go talk to Classic Tattoo, which was a few blocks up the street and told me to ask for Ryan Cullen. Ryan was there so this was all working out perfectly. Classic Tattoo is just past Ferg’s on the other side of the road. They’ve been there for the last seven years. It’s very obvious that these guys are patriotic and very veteran-friendly. Ryan said they’ve always had this theme for their shop. They welcome anyone, of course, but this place is sure to make any veteran feel welcome and comfortable. I asked how they built up their reputation, and Ryan said it’s mostly word of mouth advertising that gets their customers in the door. Classic Tattoo will take walk-ins, and there’s rarely a wait. They will also custom design a tattoo for you - no problem - and be happy to discuss any design with you.
Most locals know the Thunderbird Hotel. It’s a big landmark as you head over the Treasure Island causeway to the beach. Just across the street you’ll find a treasure all it’s own: Treasure Island Tattoo Company. Started by Jeff Lee Batt in 2009, his idea was a novel one: a tattoo shop where you could bring the whole family. Although Jeff unfortunately passed away in December 2012, his shop thrives on thanks to Jake Von Hozler, who has owned the shop for the last 3 years and has been a part of things since 2011. Jake filled me in on some more of the background of Treasure Island Tattoo Company, letting me know there were no other tattoo shops beachside at the time. Treasure Island is more family oriented, in contrast to the party atmosphere of DTSP. That is what led Jeff to start his shop where, instead of restricting it to 18 and up, or even 16 and up with parents, you can bring your smaller kids and not have to find a babysitter. They have child-friendly area featuring cartoons and movies for kids to hang out while their folks get a new tattoo. Jake said they used to airbrush tats on the kiddos but these days they refer them to the surf shop up the street who will do that now. Original owner Jeff Lee Bat was a veteran and this shop is definitely tailored to the veteran community. All three artists at the shop are also former veterans. They have art shows and give the proceeds to veterans services. In Jake’s words, they are a “shop on the beach, not a beach shop". They don’t charge extra fees, they don't take advantage of tourists, and they get repeat customers for this integrity. Their minimum price is $60 and they talk price up front so there are no surprises when it’s time to pay. TI Tattoo Company is “a clean place at a fair price".
Finally, I stopped at Black Amethyst Tattoo Gallery. This place also came recommended by several people. Not quite DTSP, it’s also on 9th Street North at 7th Avenue North. Owners J. Michael Taylor and Joanna Coblentz have had this location for about three and a half years. I spoke with Joanna about their unique business, as its atmosphere differs greatly from your average tattoo shop. Previous tenants were a gym and an architectural firm. The mirrors on both walls of the studio were in place already as were partition walls, and they worked well for what the couple had in mind. J. and Joanna chose the name for a several reasons: it’s J.’s birthstone, it’s their favorite color, and the stone itself is actually a healing stone. The front of the shop is its own little boutique with jewelry and clothes for both men and women - custom made by Joanna herself. It allows customers to shop there without making any tattoo customers uncomfortable with onlookers. Their four artists, including J., are usually booked a couple months out, so walk-ins are not usually available.
Jeremy Hulett is a premiere artist who has been working with them for the last two years, but has 22 years experience and his own shop in Atlanta. Jeremy does larger scale pieces. All their artists’ work is on their amazing website which also has blogs and videos and specific information on the healing of your new tattoo. One thing is apparent above all: this shop has a lot of dignity and respect for the art of tattooing. They encourage you to have consultations first and then make an appointment to come back for your tattoo. Some of their advice isn’t always welcome by younger clients as they do not encourage impulse tattoos, especially on younger people. Joanna gave example of a young girl who may want a tattoo on her chest, especially if they want to tattoo a name, and who may not be thinking about the implications and perhaps even repercussions of getting something so permanent in that location on their body. They also don’t do things like knuckle tattoos unless they can see you obviously understand the implications of such a tattoo. This shop also focuses solely on tattooing; no piercing is done here. Joanna told me they were looking for a more upscale vibe than the after-bar scene of downtown St. Pete. That would include the interesting fact that they also carry local artists’ work in the store. There’s a connection to art for J.: he has a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts. He’s not about “flash,” but more about having inspiration to draw custom pieces for his clients. When I made my visit, the artist’s work in the store was an artist originally from a Russian artist, Lana Nonstop. Joanna told me they usually have about three art shows a year with local artists. This year they’re taking a break from that because they have their own showcase coming up: their wedding! We wish them much success in life and business together!