The East Village’s Clash City Tattoo is more than a tattoo parlor for many of its customers; it’s also an artist’s hangout that personifies the neighborhood’s rich culture.
Founder and head artist Barry Shailes, known locally as Baz, can be found inside the storefront most days, the sound of his tattoo device a constant buzz through the open door and into the fall air. Akin to a vestige of the past, the parlor keeps an open-door policy for everyone, regardless of if they are planning on soaking ink into their skin.
Many passersby follow the low, tattoo hum and stroll into the parlor. “Hi, Baz, how are you?” several locals ask, poking their head inside to just greet a man who has become a staple of the East Village experience.
“Just talking with people and interacting with the neighbors is a really good thing. If you’re part of a community, then you should be part of the community,” Baz told amNewYork Metro. “From a tattooing point of view, getting a tattoo is a very personal thing, because you are going to be sitting there with an artist, a stranger and they’re going to be hurting you. It’s almost like therapy people want — they need to talk when they get a tattoo.”
Although Baz has been using the human body as his canvas for over two decades, he is not native to the Big Apple. Born in Liverpool, England, the artist grew up a lover of movie monsters and comic books, and it was this love that set him on a journey stateside.
“Things like Evel Knievel, Planet of the Apes, Elvis, Marvel Comics–Iron Man especially, these are all things that kind of modeled me. I remember specifically when the Planet of the Apes TV series finished, I asked my mom why don’t they keep making it? She said they don’t want to make it anymore so I asked why don’t they make it over here and she said they only make decent things in America. I was like, I’ve got to get to this magical place called America,” Baz recalled.
Baz’s path to the United States was not an easy one. He worked long years on various cruise ships before meeting his beloved wife, also from the UK. The pair visited New York City, fell in love with the culture and never left.
Always an artist, Baz took up tattooing before eventually opening up his own location in the East Village.
Clash City Tattoo, on 273 East 10th St., has been in business for about seven years and during that time has drawn many of Baz’s old and new customers alike. During his tenure, Baz has tattooed the likes of WWE wrestler and commentator Corey Graves, bass player from the rock band Muse Chris Wolstenholme, actor Tyson Beckford, and more.
Still, Baz insists he treats every customer the same.
“I apply the same kind of discipline to someone who’s getting their first little flower tattoo, as, you know, a rockstar because I mean everyone is that important to me. And yeah, there’s no favoritism,” Baz said.
While Baz says he does not show favoritism, there are many tattoos he will refuse outright. The artist revealed that one of the most infuriating things for him is when someone will try and ask him to tattoo something synonymous with racism, such as various Nazi paraphernalia. He says he will ask them to leave his store each and every time.
“No Nazi stuff, we will just send them packing — it’s ridiculous. I had this English guy come in actually and he wanted the SS letters tattooed on his neck and I told him to f**k off. He was like no I want to get it. I told him, ‘Well, I am not f**king doing it, so f**k off,’” Baz said. “They just go down the street and someone will do it for 50 bucks, 100 bucks, but I won’t do it.”
Despite knowing he will lose money; he also discourages his clients from having the names of a partner tattooed on them. Clash City Tattoo also suffered financially during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, having to be shuttered for several months. Still, Baz explained that he is forever thankful for customers who helped support the parlor from around the world.
“People were buying gift certificates like out in Australia, who, you know, they’ll never come and get tattooed but they wanted to give us 100 bucks,” Baz said.
Despite the hardships of the pandemic and while things are not perfect, Baz reports that business has improved since that time. Baz tells amNewYork Metro that he is just thankful to be in the city with his wife, doing what he loves after growing up yearning to live in the United States.
“The most important thing if it wasn’t for my wife? I wouldn’t be here. Because she’s like the most important thing in the world,” Baz said. “It’s nice. I never thought when I was a kid watching, Planet of Apes and Evil Knievel that’d be living in New York, as a tattoo artist.”
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.