Perhaps this means that a significant proportion of my friends have reached that age where they feel a tattoo is something they should have; or maybe it’s just the usual summer phenomenon of seeing so many people revealing their tattoos that they want their own.
In either case the question remains. Where is the best place in the Capital to “get inked” (a phrase I have yet to hear someone with a tattoo say). So I thought I’d give an account of my recent tattoo experience in Wellington to help others make their decision.
First of all let me say that the best tattooists are found in the same way as the best hairdressers: through word of mouth and by looking at their previous work. So ask people with good-looking tattoos where they got them and who did it. Don’t be shy, most people take it as a compliment that you’d like a tat as good as theirs.
As for my story; I’m merely telling you what happened when I went to get a tattoo recently, feel free follow my advice or to ignore it completely if you like. Or, because it is fairly disparaging of one particular parlour, rail against it with a fiery fury in defence of your favourite tattooist. I don’t mind, I just offer it as it is, my experience:
I have a few tattoos and have been to three different parlours and had four different tattooists (including my regular and most trusted tattooist, Liesje at The Tattooed Heart in Auckland). So I’m not a newbie, though most parlours have their own systems for booking, consultation etc. So when I decided one day to get a quick heart tat on my shoulder I rang the place that most people recommended: Tattoo City.
Here’s how the phone call went:
“Hi, I want to come in and get a really small tat on my shoulder. It probably won’t take long, do I have to make a booking?”
“Yeah you’ll need to come in a talk to a tattooist, they need to look at your skin and talk to you about it, before making a booking”
“Oh, ok. It’s just a small outline so I won’t need a consult but…”
“Just come in”
“Ah cool, when are you open till tonight?”
“Sweet, I’ll see you before then”
It was an oddly brusque conversation. But even though I’ve been tattooed eight times, I’ve never actually phoned in for an appointment, and I’ve only once done a walk-in (getting some basic stars done on my arm on a whim) and that went simply. So I thought, maybe this is how it works.
Tiny tattoos (simple outlines etc) are a bit like fringe cuts; you can usually just walk in and get them done between other appointments. But it always pays to check with a quick phone call just in case.
With Tattoo City I figured they would just prefer me to come in, rather than talk over the phone, or maybe they thought I wanted something more elaborate than I described. In either case I popped in at 5pm.
I walked up the stairs and in to quite a dark waiting area, where a guy was leafing through portfolios (something you must ALWAYS look through before picking a tattooist for anything significant!). Behind the counter was a bored looking guy texting.
I walked straight to the counter and… nothing. The guy kept texting. He glanced up briefly and said “Hey” and then kept dicking about on his phone. This is the 21st century; I can handle it if you need to send a message. I understand how important the lines of communication are. But you know what? Fuckin just tell me that you’re going to keep texting! I’ll live with it, but dude, you seriously have to acknowledge me and that you aren’t just dicking about. Otherwise I’ll just assume you’re a fuckwit.
So I stood there waiting, until he finished texting and asked me what I was after. I explained about the basic-heart outline I wanted on my shoulder, and asked if there was a time soon when they could fit me in. He said that I needed to make a booking with a tattooist and that none of the tattooists appointment books were in the shop. There was actually a tattooist working at the time, and I’m unsure why I couldn’t have made a quick appointment with him.
The guy then said I should come back on Saturday around midday. I asked for a rough estimate of how much it might cost me. I was told maybe $140 with a minimum of $120. I was a bit shocked by this, given that I knew the minimum in Auckland was lower (though I had never paid it).
Moreover the attitude I encountered was very rude and dismissive. And frankly, don’t tell me to come in and then tell me to come back on another day; that shit is annoying.
“Thanks” I said, not really meaning it, “I’ll be back on Saturday” not meaning that either. “And $140″ more as a reminder to myself. “That’s not a quote!” bellowed the tattooist.
I walked down the stairs and up the street to ALC and into a completely different atmosphere. The store was open and white and bright. The guys were chatty and friendly, asking about my other tats and asking a few quick questions about what I wanted. And they had ALL of their tattooists books, so, you know, they were able to make me a booking.
A ten-minute between-appointment booking, for the same small, simple-line tattoo I had explained twice to Tattoo City, to no avail. I walked out five minutes later with a booking for Sunday afternoon. Simple as. [EDIT – I totally forgot the price. ALC charged me $100, though I think their minimum charge is ~$80]
A friend later made an appointment with ALC (on my recommendation) over the phone. She wanted a simple star with colour and they did the whole thing over the phone (though they did say they usually take a deposit, but flagged it this time).
When I went in on Sunday, they were awesome with the only hiccup being that I had to pay in cash (the ATM is across the street). My tattooist was Chris, and he was fine. We discussed fonts quickly (I got initials inside the heart), I got my small tat; it took the ten minutes I expected it to and I walked out happy as could be.
Game, set, match, ALC.