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Manhattan Avenue's Permanent Markers

Don’t be fooled by the menacing sound of buzzing needles echoing through the parlor of Three Kings Tattoo on Manhattan Avenue—that’s probably the scariest thing about the place. Contemporary tattoos used to serve only as souvenirs gracing the biceps of surly sailors returning from sea, who sought a memento from their travels; or tiny teardrop-shaped warnings etched onto the cheeks of dangerous criminals in notorious prisons, tattooing isn’t what it used to be. As the tattoo-taboo has rapidly transformed itself into relatively widespread cultural and social acceptance, so too has the very practice and attitude of tattooing changed dramatically—as well as the style and environment of the new shops and parlors popping up around the neighborhood. Three Kings Tattoo Parlor is such a shop: In addition to providing customers with high-end custom work, the four owners—Matty No Times, Alex McWatt, Myles Karr and Vincent Signorelli—take just as much care making sure the shop environment is comfortable, friendly and inviting as they do with their artwork.
“We all hand picked each other,” McWatt said. “We all love hanging out together, so we decided to just open a shop together. Here, it’s a family. It’s a whole group of people I care about and who care about me. If one of the guys broke his hand, I’d make sure he could pay his rent on time and vice versa, so that’s what made us want to do this. We want this place to be a community.”
The four owners—all of whom work full-time as tattoo artists on site, with the exception of Signorelli, who tattoos at another parlor in Queens—have known each other for many years, apprenticing and working together at various shops all over Brooklyn and Manhattan, so opening a shop together was ideal—and to do it in Greenpoint was an extra bonus: Two of the four owners live within a ten-block radius from Three Kings, allowing them to keep that North Brooklyn neighborhood vibe alive.
“We are all local. We are four guys who are all, for the most part, from New York and have been here for a long time, and we want to be a part of the community, not just own a shop here and worry about ourselves making a living,” said Matty No Times. “When someone can come by and show you pictures of their new kid, it creates a lot of return revenue. When I walk to work, I usually see four or five people I’ve tattooed and I always say hi. Having those intimate relationships with our customers is so important in modern tattooing, and that’s one thing that we offer, that warmth. We are good at keeping each other happy, we talk and joke around and stay close with our customers. We wanted also to make sure we designed our place so that it’s welcoming, and everyone can work comfortably, and everyone getting tattooed is comfortable too.”

And just as the shops are changing, so too are the clientele—however, in Three Kings case, they maintain that, for every wiry hipster in search of artsy sleeve, there’s a working-class Polish guy asking for a flag on his shoulder.
“That old school vibe is still so great here,” McWatt said. “We’ve got neighborhood people who come in here and ask for huge Polish eagles, and I have just as much respect for them as some kid who comes in asking for an artsy tattoo.”

While the popularity of tattoos has undoubtedly skyrocketed, the economy has subsequently and conversely plummeted—leaving small businesses stuck between a rock and a hard place. However, according to No Times and McWatt, Three Kings losses have been relatively minimal. So, while corners are certainly being cut, customers aren’t so much disappearing as they are downsizing—opting for a small tattoo rather than a large and expensive piece of custom work.

“Two years ago, someone would come in and throw down six hundred bucks like it was going out of style,” McWatt said. “Now, they may not be able to go on vacation but they still want to buy a new pair of sneakers, or get a new tattoo. It’s within their price range, and feels affordable because they aren’t spending the money on the really huge stuff.”

“Tattoos are undoubtedly therapeutic,” No Times added. “It hurts, but it makes people feel good.”

Though the timing may not have been ideal—the shop opened just a few months before the recession took hold—Three Kings seems to be doing just fine, and is riding the wave of the ever-growing popularity of tattoo art—and loving every minute of it.

“When I was a kid I remember being scared to go into tattoo shops, but in the late 80s it was a whole different scene,” No Times said. “This wasn’t a career path people chose. Now, people aspire to be tattoo artists. This is a very important job and I love it. Learning to tattoo was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I learn new things every day, I keep growing all the time. My favorite tattoo artist, Scott Sylvia, said it best: with everything in life, you show up, give it 110 per cent, and that extra little bit of love.”

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