TATTOO ROAD TRIP
13 ROSES TATTOO PARLOUR
ATLANTA, GEORGIA
BY BOB BAXTER
WITH PHOTOS BY BERNARD CLARK

The 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.

I 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.

"I've been 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."

Yes, Hollywood is clearly artistic. After all, he has conceptualized, designed and built one of the most beautiful tattoo shops we've ever seen.

"Besides 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.

"I did 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.

"I've been 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 about."

Hollywood 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 things.

"I selected 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."

Hollywood reminds 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 just ridiculous."

Even though 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, great experience.

Thank you, Johnny Hollywood.

13 Roses Tattoo Parlour
524 Flat Shoals Avenue, SE
Atlanta, Georgia 30316
(404) 880-0713
thirteenroses.squarespace.com