13 ROSES TATTOO PARLOUR
WITH PHOTOS BY BERNARD CLARK
two-story structure housing Atlanta's 13 Roses Tattoo Parlour reminds
me of the Flatiron Building at the intersection of Fifth Avenue
and Broadway at 23rd Street in New York City. It's like the prow
of a ship, is what it is. Very unique, and the same Flatiron ambiance
(the Manhattan version was built in 1902) echoes throughout the
architecture. All the accoutrements reflect a time past. While the
current trend is to make tattoo shops look like dentist offices?sterile,
fluorescent lights, commercial-grade rugs on the floor?no such vision
for 13 Roses. Everything here is turn-of-the-century (the twentieth),
from the mahogany woodwork to the milk-glass door panels with perfectly
executed lettering a la a Mickey Spillane detective office, complete
with vintage light fixtures, ceiling fans and a pool table. Even
the hand-lettering on the stair steps (each in a different script)
recalls an era long past. Padded-leather benches are reminiscent
of yesteryear's tonsorial parlours (note the old-time spelling),
the barber shops where my dad and his dad got a trim a shave and
a shine. Even the windows overlooking the tree-lined street are
replete with fancy, curlicue script and historic signage.
When I first
climbed the stairs to the second floor, I was enthralled by the
concept?the high ceilings, the hardwood floors and the perfectly
framed artwork. Nothing is haphazardly tacked to the wall. Every
painting, every sheet of historic flash is elegantly mounted and
ready for a professional photo session, whether it be with SKIN&INK
or, for that matter, Architectural Digest.
What with all
this attention to detail, I wondered aloud where everybody was.
Sure, Johnny Hollywood and Joe Vegas were an energetic and courteous
welcoming committee, but where were the customers to photograph?
Had Johnny forgotten? We always ask shops to have a couple dozen
live models for us to shoot. It was already half past the hour,
the cameras were set up and no one was waiting.
should have known better, because, downstairs in the first-floor
pub was the crowd, everyone having a free lunch and partaking of
the giant spread of sandwiches, salads and tempting deserts, all
courtesy of Johnny Hollywood and 13 Roses. As opposed to some shops
that don't seem to have time or interest, 13 Roses was ready and
organized. It was clear that a very talented someone was in control
of every aspect of the proceedings. Someone who wanted to put his
best foot forward. No doubt about it, the waiting area, the pub,
the picture-postcard shop was the brainchild of someone with an
educated eye, someone who loves tattooing, someone who stepped back
and simply decided to do things right.
The owner, Johnny
Hollywood, has never been a tattoo artist. He knows how to tattoo
and has done it on friends, but never made a living as a tattooist
per se. But he's been involved in the scene since 1981, when he
got his first tattoo in Europe. Johnny got serious about getting
ink in 1986 at Sunset Strip Tattoo in Los Angeles, mostly from Greg
James and a small piece by Robert Benedetti. There's a standard
phrase in the tattoo world that someone who doesn't tattoo shouldn't
be involved in it, shouldn't promote conventions and shouldn't have
shops. The word on Johnny Hollywood is that he's got a bye. Why?
Because he's heavily tattooed, heavily involved in the tattoo world
and consistently cares about and supports it.
involved in tattooing for thirty years," says Hollywood. "I
know there is that rap about those who go out and buy a shop, don't
even have tattoos and don't have the passion for it. But this is
something I have been involved in my entire life. It has been extremely
meaningful to me, and owning a tattoo shop is another way for me
to be involved and share what I really enjoy. And I love promoting
the art and my artists. I enjoy being involved at that level. I'm
somewhat of a frustrated artist myself. I paint, I draw. I would
like to tattoo more. Maybe if I have more time it might be something
that I'll be able to do."
is clearly artistic. After all, he has conceptualized, designed
and built one of the most beautiful tattoo shops we've ever seen.
tattooing, there's another skill set involved in managing and running
a tattoo shop," says Johnny. "And, frankly, it takes a
lot of work to do it. Plus we have another shop in Athens. A lot
of my time is involved in designing, management, running the advertising
and dealing with various shop issues. It would be very difficult
to do all that and also tattoo."
13 Roses is
Hollywood's first shop. He has been at the helm for five years,
but it took him twenty-five years to pull it off, because of his
busy other life as a lawyer.
corporate securities, mergers and acquisitions for twenty-five years
in Silicon Valley. I still do some consulting, but I'm kind of semi-retired.
Actually, I built this shop from the ground up. It's completely
my own creation. It's something I've always wanted to do. I was
a smart kid. I went to college. I went to law school. And there's
always this path that you should follow to be successful and make
a lot of money, and then there's this other path that is fun. It's
exciting and I love it. But it's not a typical career path for someone
who excels at academics. So it took a little bit to have the financial
freedom and maybe the maturity?and getting old and deciding I wanted
to actually do it, to open a tattoo shop.
collecting artwork for more than twenty years, and I was always
thinking, Maybe one of these days I'll do it and do it according
to my vision of what it should be. I always thought a tattoo shop
should be eye candy, it should be fun, a creative environment where
people are coming to get tattooed. A place that people will talk
spent twenty-one years in California?eleven in Los Angeles and ten
in San Francisco. After the stock market crash of 2001, things were
getting more difficult and he began thinking, Do I want to be stuck
here another twenty years? He considered his old hometown, St. Louis,
but started visiting Atlanta and liked the geography, the layout
of the city and the moderate climate. Plus, it had a stronger economic
base than St. Louis and there was better opportunity for growth.
"Atlanta," he said, "seemed like a city on the upswing,
and you can live in Atlanta so much more cheaply than you can on
the West Coast. And with the airport, it's easy to go wherever you
want. Putting down roots in Atlanta was a combination of all those
my artists by putting the word out, talking to people and finding
artists who I thought would be a good fit. Tattooists that are talented,
good with people and have the same values about tattooing that I
do. People that are concerned about art, customer service, a desire
to educate people as to what good tattooing is. There are a lot
of customers that come in to get a first tattoo, and they don't
know what a good tattoo is. There are people who come in every day
who need information, and you try to help them along and explain
to them why their original idea might not work well as a tattoo,
and how they might improve it. I'm just down the street, so I duck
in from time to time, hang out, talk with clients. I try not to
be the kind of owner who hovers over the artists, it makes them
nervous. But it's in my nature not to hold back, if I have ideas."
Most folks think
that the significant tattoo work is being done in major cities on
the West and East Coasts, but Hollywood pointed out that Atlanta
has an enormous tattoo culture. "I was somewhat surprised when
I first started coming to Atlanta. This is also the center of hip-hop
culture and there is a lot of tattooing related to that. Tattoo
art has exploded so much that, between TV, celebrities and athletes,
the acceptance has just gone through the roof."
us that 13 Roses caters to customers of all ages. "Joe Vegas,
for example, is currently working on a sixty-year-old man from Tampa,
and there are local college students, music celebrities like Jennifer
Nettles from Sugarland, Brett from Mastadon, rock and roll types,
bikers. But there's no tattoo conventions in Atlanta, because the
licensing process for artists takes sixty to ninety days, which
makes it virtually impossible. If you want to have a tattoo event
in Atlanta, they will not allow any exceptions," says Hollywood.
"The process involves an interview with the Atlanta police
department and sometimes they call you back for a second personal
appearance. There's blood tests and a one-hundred-fifty-dollar health
certificate. Tony Olivas and I have talked to them about changing
those requirements, but the city of Atlanta has been resistant."
It's squelched any plans to hold a convention and it also keeps
guest artists from visiting and working in local shops. And even
if they did go through the process, it only applies to a particular
shop. So, if someone did a guest shot at 13 Roses, for example,
and wanted to come back and do one at Sacred Heart, no dice. They'd
have to apply over again, pay the fee and, as Johnny says, "that's
there are certain restrictions, it doesn't curtail Hollywood's priorities.
"To me," he says, "the important things are customer
service, attention to detail and knowing that your are producing
a result to make people happy. Running a tattoo shop and being a
lawyer are not as dissimilar as you may think."
Hey, if it works
don't fix it.
The shop artists
include "Lil D" Vickrey, Tim McGrath, Joe Vegas, Sergio
Lindop, Lance Bates and, just recently, Jay Chastain from Asheville,
North Carolina (Skin&Ink, August 2008), where he had his own
shop, Empire Tattoo, for eleven years. Great shop, great staff,
Thank you, Johnny
13 Roses Tattoo
524 Flat Shoals Avenue, SE
Atlanta, Georgia 30316