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Manhattan's Oldest Tattoo Shop Celebrates 40th Anniversary in East Village

By Allegra Hobbs | August 16, 2016 6:49pm
 Mehai Bakaty took over Fineline Tattoo two years ago, after his father's passing.
Mehai Bakaty took over Fineline Tattoo two years ago, after his father's passing.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

EAST VILLAGE — Manhattan’s oldest tattoo shop this Friday will celebrate 40 years in the ink business — a business that only became legal in New York City 19 years ago.

Fineline Tattoo first unfurled its storefront at 21 First Ave. in 1997, when City Council passed a bill legalizing the practice.

But Fineline founder Mike Bakaty had been secretly inking clients out of a loft on the Bowery near Houston Street since 1976, according to his son and successor Mehai Bakaty, who has watched in amazement as tattooing went from taboo to mainstream in those few decades. 

“The rate of change in the tattooing business equals the rate of change in Manhattan and the Lower East Side  — I’m still spinning,” said Bakaty, who took over the business two years ago in the wake of his father’s death. “It’s hard to keep up with everything."

“I’ve had some of dad’s older clients tell me they haven’t come by because it doesn’t feel the same.”

The neighborhood has transformed around him into a “hotel district” that seems more an extension of Midtown than the once-gritty Village where his father ran an underground tattoo parlor, he said. Bakaty himself has been priced out of the area, and now commutes to the shop from Gowanus. 

The landmark anniversary, first reported by Bowery Boogie, will be celebrated with a blowout at new neighborhood bar Lucky on B at 168 Avenue B. Bakaty is encouraging loyal customers to come out, raise a glass to the long-lasting business and reminisce about its early days.

The venue will serve up Sailor Jerry Rum specials, while Bakaty will treat guests to a slideshow of photos of his father’s shop in the old days.

“Basically it’s sort of a ‘thank you’ to give back to our customers and friends,” said Bakaty.