America’s Oldest Tattoo Parlor

by on 22/09/11 at 3:30 am

tattoo studios, tattoo artists, In Long Beach California stands an iconic reminder from another era. A leftover relic from a time when the largest wooden roller coaster in the US – the Cyclone Racer – sat on the beach and people came from all over the world to walk the longest sand beach on the western US coast. Built in 1921, the building originally housed a photography studio, but in 1927 it became a tattoo parlor and has been one ever since.

Only one shop in the entire world has a longer history of being a continuous tattoo parlor, and that one is in Sweden. In some ways it isn’t that surprising that Long Beach, once home to a naval base and long a bastion of all things blue-collar, should be home to the longest running tattoo parlor. But then, for so long tattoos were strictly a blue-collar emblem. Cool if you were a sailor, longshoreman or biker – but not to be even considered for the average white-collar office worker. Things have certainly changed.

Newspaper columnist Doug Krikorian was visiting the recently renamed Outer Limits Tattoo & Piercing Parlor and ran across an unexpected fellow visitor. It was as if to prove how mainstream it has become to be getting a tattoo, even in a parlor like this one with a history of the infamous Bonnie & Clyde getting tattoos from former owner and legendary tattoo artist Ben Grimm. Writer Krikorian came upon a local businessman, The Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association’s director Blair Cohen. It seems that Mr. Cohen was in to get his latest, at last count this is his 29th, tattoo.

But this tattoo parlor has stood firm while the world of the tattoo has changed around it. Once the hangout of a very rough trade, Bert Grimm came to the Long Beach area in 1957 when he was already famous in the underground world of tattoos. The business was eventually sold to Grimm’s inheritor of the crown Bob Shaw who ran the parlor until his death.

Kari Barba, who is herself known in the tattoo world as the “Rembrandt of tattoo artists” bought the business from Shaw’s family and has run it ever since. At a time when many businesses in Long Beach and elsewhere in California are struggling to keep the doors open, hers are open until 11PM at night just to handle the flow of work. The occasional rock star such as David Lee Roth has been known to walk in those doors, along with such Hollywood types as James Spader, one of Barba’s personal clients. It seems that for Long Beach, tattoos parlors are just part of the territory, and here to stay.

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