Almost 20 years ago, I owned a very Bohemian style clothing, art, and record store in downtown San Diego, CA. Back then, I trusted the best tattoo shop in the most tattooed city in America (San Diego) to get my second tattoo. At the time, it was simply known as Master Tattoo and my artist Bob (an elderly man who didn’t have a single tattoo), unfortunately passed away a few years after adding my ink. Today the shop is still called Master Tattoo – but Tahiti Felix has been added to the front of the marquee and it’s location has moved just 3 doors down. It’s now also owned and run by the traditional style master, Tahiti Gil, who took time out of his busy schedule to talk with me about Tahiti Felix’s Master Tattoo, Gil’s style, and ShipRocked….
Hey Gil, Rockwell Anderson here – good to talk with you today down in San Diego. We’ll start with the easy questions… where is your shop located?
We are in downtown San Diego(California) – the Gaslamp Quarter.
And tell our readers, what is the name of your shop?
Tahiti Felix Master Tattoo.
I got a tattoo there, my second in 1997 I believe, maybe ’98. Somewhere around that time… a long time ago, but I am very familiar with that shop. It has changed a lot. I just stopped in there a week ago. We were in San Diego picking up our print magazine shipment (ROCKwell UnScene Magazine). We have it printed in San Diego so we went to the Gaslamp to hang out. We saw the shop so we peeked in. You have a beautiful spot there right in the historic Gaslamp in Downtown San Diego. How long have you been there?
We are going on our 7th year. Before that we were just around the corner on Broadway. We were there about 3 years. And before that, we were just 3 doors up from where we currently are. So almost 20 years in the Gaslamp. We have not been more than a 2 block radius from our first location on 5th.
You were on 5th back in the 90‘s when I got my ink. I was trying to figure if it was the original location where I got my tattoo done. I know it was damn close to it.
If you got it in the 90‘s you were a few doors up at our 944 location. We are at 922 (5th Ave.) now.
You guys have a very well established place. It is a great name and has been a great name for a long time. So, Tahiti Gil, I am sure that is not your given birth name. So why do they call you Tahiti Gil? How do you become Tahiti Gil?
You know my brother-in-law gave me the name. My brother-in-law was the owner before myself. Before that the original owner, Tahiti Felix was the father. So he just passed it onto me. He started calling me Tahiti Gil. I said “Alright, I’ll take it”
Do you have a particular style or do you cross over into all different ones? What are you known for?
We are a street shop. We do a little bit of everything. But… “HEY!!!”… Sorry. I just had a homeless lady pee in front of the store.
Yeah that happens. I had a store down there in the 90‘s, between 4th & 5th on Market, and Mardi Gras ’98 was bad. I had a drunk guy who starting peeing in my record store and I chased him out of my store with a golf club. He just started peeing… and I had a bathroom he could’ve used.
Ah yeah… Mardi Gras. Anyway, my style is traditional and pin-ups. I love doing pinup gals. And all the Sailor Jerry as well as the Tahiti Felix flash as well as all the greats. That is what I like doing. We get the infinity symbol a lot. I have been doing those too.
So how did you get involved and on ShipRocked? We will be seeing you on the boat. We are covering it for us and Tattoo.com. You are 1 of the 2 featured artists on the cruise. How did that happen and have you done ShipRocked before?
I have not done it before. My good friend SouthBay Mike, who used to work with us here, brought me on board. So that is how it happened. I am excited to go. I am a big fan of heavy metal so it is going to be awesome.
Are you booked up?
No I am not totally booked up. I am doing a lot of the walk-ins. The smaller stuff that Mike is not going to be doing. He is doing a lot of larger pieces. So I am doing the walk-ins for everybody.
Are you looking forward to seeing any particular band? Are there any bands playing the cruise that you are hoping to tattoo and see?
I am only familiar with a few of the names. I listen to some of them and they sound good. But I am there to work… that is what they got me there for so that is my priority.
Ahhh…. you got to have some fun. We are working it too doing band interviews and media. But we don’t consider it work because we love it. We are looking forward to seeing Sonny Sandoval from P.O.D. I believe he is going to be playing with the Stowaways. We are also stoked about seeing Jacoby from Papa Roach. I hope you get to sneak off and enjoy some of the shows. Speaking of that, Do you get many musicians popping into your shop?
We get a lot during Comic Con. Yeah, we get a lot of celebrities coming in here. Ahh, we had the drummer for Motley Crue… Tommy Lee. I actually tattooed Rob Halford (Judas Priest), back at the 944 location.
Rob used to live in the Hillcrest area next to downtown San Diego. How was that (tattooing Rob Halford)?
That was pretty Awesome. He was actually next door at Subway grabbing a bite. He was in town for his band Fight. I just went next door for a soda and I am in line and I look and “Oh My God, it is Rob Halford”. I ran next door and grabbed a cd and brought it in for him to sign. He said, “Oh… you’re the tattoo shop? I will come in after my sandwich”. So he came in and said, “You know I want to get a little something from San Diego.” So I tattooed his stomach.
That is a sensitive part. How did he handle it?
He handled it great. In fact, the day he was getting tattooed was the day of the OJ chase. He was sitting on the floor and after he got tattooed we watched the whole car chase live on tv.
That is a day to remember. That is awesome. That dates you a little bit. How long have you been tattooing?
I have been at the shop since 1990. and I have been tattooing since ’92.
So you have been for awhile. So as you have grown through the years of tattooing do you see any styles that have been developing or inks that you are curious to try, or are you sticking to the traditional Sailor Jerry type stuff.
We have artists at the shop that do everything. We have one that does black and gray and beautiful portraits. We have one that does Japanese… another one still only does traditional. So we have a really good crew here.
That is good you have something for everybody.
No one has an ego here. Anyone who walks through the door is going to walk out with a good tattoo.
Being in a Navy town I have to ask what is the most common sailor tattoo. Do they go more traditional or Japanese or what?
Traditional. They love Sailor Jerry stuff. I am super stoked to put it on them. I was a sailor before I was a tattoo artist.
Has sailor’s love for Sailor Jerry stayed constant the past 25 years or so, or has it ebbed and flowed?
It has gotten better now. I think the sailors are going back to tradition, so that is awesome. The Navy just cut loose on the rules on tattoos in the Navy so that helps a lot.
Yes, that used to be very taboo in the military. My father was in the Navy and got tattoos in the ’50’s and the Navy frowned upon that back then. For people to make appointments with you on ShipRocked, how do they book you?
You can go to my Facebook or you can go to SouthBay Mike because he is in charge. I can help you out too. I am used to being a street shop so that is how it is. I am happy to do whatever I can on the cruise. You can check me out on Facebook, Instagram @GILTHETATTOOER, and at my shop – 922 5th Ave., San Diego, CA 92101.