Invisible Without Ink:
The Last Brooklyn Bartender Without Tattoos
Dear Brooklyn Bar Scene,
I can’t handle the sideways looks, the whispers, and the shame anymore. I’m sick of the scoffs. I’m sick of hiding who I am under long sleeves during the summer. I’m valid, and it’s time I speak out for all of us who don’t have a voice. I’m tired of being invisible.
I am a Brooklyn bartender without tattoos, and that’s OK.
I don’t have a sleeve of a steampunk octopus reading poetry. So what? I don’t have Helvetica knuckle letters that spell “fart.” Big deal. I can still make you a hickory smoked margarita with a beautiful garnish. It’s time to stop judging the value of a bartender by how much of his skin is covered in inspirational quotes and inside jokes.
I’m Inkless and proud, and I work in a Brooklyn bar.
Sure, I wear flannel skinny ties and suspenders to blend in. I wear shoes without socks. I’ve even tried to grow a handlebar mustache, but my blonde creeptastrophe isn’t fooling anyone.
Nothing I do can erase the disgusted look on peoples’ faces when they see my bare forearms as I place a prohibition era classic in front of them. It’s lonely.
I see how other bartenders get treated. They point to the cross-hatched illustrations of frigates from the 1st edition of Moby Dick on their inner arm and I hear the delighted gasps from men and women alike.
Peoples’ eyes light up when a bartender lifts his tank top to reveal an anatomically correct heart tattooed just above his belly button. “My heart’s in my stomach,” the bartender declares, and everyone laughs like he’s Louis friggin Anderson. “You’re so groundbreaking,” people say as they slap down $20 tips.
Without ink, you’re invisible.
If people want to know what my life philosophy is, they have to ask me questions. Unprompted. Then they have to listen to my hopes and fears, and even meet my close friends and family. This takes years. Almost no one knows how into Keats I am, which is tough because he’s like, really really important to me.
I’m almost used to the stares, the shock, the rude questions when I go out in Brooklyn — I’ve been Inkless my whole life — and if it ended there I could soldier on in silence. But what hurts the most is how my lack of tattoos affects my work.
I like my profession. I’ve worked hard at it for over a decade. I’ve read Jerry Thomas’ opus The Bon Vivant’s Companion. I’ve practiced working flair. I’ve even amassed a truly douche-worthy amount of bar tools — each one purchased at ludicrous prices.
Gold-plated japanese graduated jiggers. Natural wood swizzle sticks. Teardrop barspoons. Absinthe strainers. Diamond cut Yarai mixing glasses. Half a dozen Boston shakers. I even have an antique silver leaf cobbler shaker.
But no matter how hard I try, people have certain expectations when it comes to Brooklyn artisanal craft cocktails — and the people who serve them. They want exposed brick. They want antique light fixtures that don’t provide any actual light. They want ink and irony by the gallon. And that’s just not me.
When I roll up my sleeves to make drinks, people think I’m from Queens. And it hurts.
So I’m writing this for all the invisible Brooklyn bartenders. The ones who kind of have a cool quote in mind, but haven’t figured out the right font to match their lower back. Mixologists who have a sweet idea for a fish wearing a top hat but are still waiting for their friend to finish sketching it. Barmaids afraid of needles. Heck, I’m even writing this for the baristas out there that kind of like making coffee but not enough to get a tamper stamped on their ribs.
I’m here to be a voice for the invisible, the ignored, the relegated. I’m here for all of the Inkless Brooklyn Bartenders to say, We’re Here, We’re Sheer — Get Used To It. Maybe you’ll see past the bare skin to the person underneath and realize that we don’t need decoration to be beautiful.