As far as tattoo artists go, there are not a lot of household names. However, over the past 30 years, Mark Mahoney, owner of Shamrock Social Club, has built a reputation as one of the best artists not only in L.A., but the world. Without the aid of any pandering reality show, Mahoney is revered by clients and peers for his old school tattoo values and a tradition of letting his work speak for itself. With Shamrock’s yearly St. Patrick’s Day Bash taking place tonight at The Roxy Theatre, get to know this pillar of The Sunset Strip a little better…
How long have you been a tattoo artist?
I’ve been tattooing for 32 or 33 years now. I started full time in 1977. I first started in Boston, then went to New York and came out here in 1980.
How did you get started tattooing?
I always could draw… Then when I was in high school I joined a little gang, so I would hang out with the older guys and we would go to -- at the time tattooing was illegal in Massachusetts so we would go to Rhode Island -- to a tattoo shop, where one of the guys was going to get tattooed. And as soon as I walked in, that’s when I knew that this is what I wanted to do. It was an epiphany!
What year did Shamrock open?
I was working for Gill Montie (Tattoo Mania) who was on The Strip at the time. I worked for him for about nine years before he moved to Texas…and that’s when I opened Shamrock in 2001.
What has changed on The Sunset Strip during the past 10 years?
It seems like The Strip was kinda going through a hard time for a while, trying to keep things going… Seems like the live music venues were having a harder time and bands having a harder time [with competition from other areas], and maybe there was a bit of a backlash with The Strip having been so associated with the ’80s hair metal thing, that it had to go undercover and reinvent itself to come out anew… But I think things are looking better.
What about the stigma associated with tattoos? How has society’s attitude towards tattoos/tattooing changed?
I mean if you wanna scare a little old lady in the super market now, you have to have like a swastika tattooed on your nose. Ya know [tattoos are] pretty socially acceptable now. I’m surprised actually. In some ways I miss that [stigma]. When people came through the door before, chances were they had some kind of outlaw history or one foot in the netherworlds of society… But I think it’s great. Everyone should get tattooed because it makes everybody feel better about themselves. It shouldn’t just be us outlaws getting to have that fun.
I guess ya know, it’s kind of a cyclical thing. There was a similar period in London, to the way things are now, in the early part of the 1900s where European royalty was getting tattooed -- people like Winston Churchill’s mother. There was a guy with a tattoo shop in London who had a business card that said, “Where the elite and the underworld meet,” and that’s kind of the tradition that we’re carrying on here 100 years later.
How would you describe your tattooing style? What’s your specialty?
I guess I would say that my style is a fine line between Southern California low-rider style but with maybe a little more classical influence.
What are your thoughts on all the recent reality-based tattoo shows that have been popping up over the last few years?
As long as you view them as entertainment and don’t think you’re getting any sort of glimpse into the real world of what tattooing is really like. I think people kind of know that about reality shows now, that there isn’t much reality there…but they’re ok I guess.
They’re probably good for business in the long run…and one thing I’ve noticed is lots of older people that maybe have watched those shows, that have never thought about getting tattoos, are a little more likely to come in and get their first tattoo at 50 or 60. So I think those shows have probably had a hand in that, and that’s a good thing.
What do you think those shows are not portraying, or leaving out, as far as being realistic?
Like I said before, it’s still a gritty business… It’s still, you have to struggle to pay the rent and you have your good weeks and your bad weeks. I think the one major thing is that it shows most of the people coming in to get tattooed…that they have to have some kind of story or reason to get tattooed, and I kind of think that’s a bunch of bullshit. You can get tattooed because you want to get tattooed, it’s perfectly fine.
For years now Shamrock Social Club has hosted a St. Patrick’s Day show on The Strip. How did that get started?
Since the very beginning we’ve been trying to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Any reason to celebrate on The Strip is a good one, and to help bring The Strip together. A lot of times it’s in the middle of the week, and it’s just a great reason to come out.
We started the tradition of doing $25 shamrock [tattoos], and ya know, lots of the guys that work here are booked months in advance and cost a lot more than that…so if you can sneak in and get a tattoo by these famous guys, that’s pretty cool to get a $25 tattoo. After that, you can go see great music at a reasonable price and support The Strip. And you know with their history, there’s no better place than The Roxy.
You’ve tattooed countless celebs/musicians. Care to share your brag sheet?
Well, over the course of the last month we’ve had Johnny Depp and Slash, and pretty much everybody in between. It’s constantly like that. Anne Hathaway was just in, Lady Gaga… It’s ongoing. All my artists have their own followings and that includes celebrities.
Everyone has at least one story about a crazy night out on The Sunset Strip. Anything you’re legally allowed to share?
That’s a tough one! When I got here almost 20 years ago, it was wild in a different way then. Those were some pretty wild days. Gill Montie was a wild guy…so it was probably in those days that there was the most debauchery. Nothing in particular sticks out. During that time it was pretty much always wild!
Mark Mahoney and the Shamrock Social Club's St. Patrick’s Day Bash at The Roxy features old school punk legends including, TSOL, D.I., The Stains, Agression and Cold Blue Rebels. Doors open at 8 p.m. and tickets are $15 at the door. This event is 18+.
For more information about Mark Mahoney and Shamrock Tattoo, visit www.shamrocktattoo.com
--Brent X Mendoza