Tattoo parlors were buzzing on Friday the 13th, when ink-slingers across the borough gave $13 body art in honor of the supposedly unlucky day. And as a measure of skin-depth reporting, I got some work done at Gnostic Tattoo in Bushwick — and live-streamed the 6-minute procedure. Here’s what else I learned:
Most places running Friday-the-13th specials are first-come, first-served, and lines can snake out of the shop and down the block, so staking out a place early is a must if you want to get lucky.
“You gotta get a good spot, because if you’re don’t, then you get screwed and you don’t get a tattoo,” said Manhattanite Chris Hynds, who was 10th on line when he showed up at 10:30 am, an hour and a half before Gnostic opened.
By comparison, I got there just after the shutters went up at noon and waited for four hours. Gnostic’s five tattooists aimed to mark 150 people before hanging up their irons, and around 4 pm, I was just shy of the 50th, the studio’s owner told me. At that rate, the shop was looking at a 12-hour day. They eventually wrapped up at 10:30 pm after doing 130 clients.
Churning out hundreds of tattoos a day is a real pain for artists, and shops don’t make any more money than a normal day — still, Friday the 13th is a tradition and a not-to-be-missed marketing opportunity, according to Gnostic’s owner.
“There’s usually two a year — if we’re unlucky, there’s three,” said owner Leaf Chang, who opened the Flushing Avenue shop four year ago and has seen about 10 unlucky Fridays since. “I do it because it’s tradition and it’s great advertising, but it is kinda a pain in the ass.”
Shops typically charge $13 for spooky “flash” (simple, generic designs) that would otherwise cost around $80 — but a lucky, $7 tip is de rigueur, bringing the typical “$13 tattoo” up to an actual price of $20.
Gnostic charged $31 rather than $13, which helps Chang and crew do their bookkeeping in black ink rather than red, the owner said.
Similarly, Greenpoint’s Evil and Love had flash starting at $30 and discounts on more ornate designs, Gristle in Williamsburg had larger Friday-themed pieces for $130, and Three Kings in Greenpoint did full-color Japanese oni masks for $130.
When my editor heard about the $13 tradition, he called it “gateway tattoos,” and the comparison is apt, according to the folks at Gnostic, but Friday the 13th may not be the best day for you to get your first one.
“We definitely do not have the time to be as patient and explain everything as thoroughly. You’re gonna get a little less service on Friday the 13th than a regular day,” Mike Kirchoff told me as he expertly inked my third tattoo, a talon, onto the inside of my bicep.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t make a Friday-the-13th tattoo your first — just know it’s a different experience, he said.
Ahead of the marathon, artists vie for space on the store’s Friday-the-13th flash sheet. And drawing the day’s most popular design confers some bragging rights. Gnostic’s hottest on Jan. 13, a skull inside of a heart, was designed by apprentice Lina Hsiao — lucky her!
But the real contest is who can lay down the most ink, my tattoer said.
“It breaks down more to about who does the most tattoos in a day. I’m in the lead. I win every year,” said Kirchoff, who eventually won the contest again this go-round.
I was his 13th canvas of the day.