If you ask enough St. Louisans where they got their tattoos, eventually you might get the answer "Ragtime."
The shop is one of St. Louis' hidden gems: a specialty parlor that operates off the grid with no phone, no email, no advertising, by appointment and referral only. It's hard to find, but owner Matt Hodel likes to keep it that way: there's something about having to work for your tattoo — hunting down the perfect place, choosing the perfect artist, creating the perfect design — that reminds him of when he first began getting tattooed at sixteen or seventeen, decades ago.
"There is a place for people who just want to get that one memento," Hodel says — and that's not Ragtime Tattoo. He likes to tell his clients, "When you're ready to go from having tattoos to being tattooed, then we need to sit down and figure out the direction you wanna go." He works in bright colors and bold lines, in a particularly St. Louis style popularized in part by the old-guard tattoo artist Mitch Mitchell when he worked at Trader Bob's Tattoo Shop.
Ragtime Tattoo's current iteration came about thanks to Hodel's conviction that he couldn't focus on creating large, complicated tattoos at a normal shop. On a trip to Austria, he saw a friend's parlor; it worked by appointment only, booking weeks in advance, and allowed for a kind of in-depth work that just isn't possible when your day is full of walk-ins. Since Hodel ambiguously inherited Ragtime around 2012, it's grown (to his mind, somewhat unexpectedly), gaining artists, workspaces and clientele.
Because it's a specialty shop, prices typically run higher than many other St. Louis parlors. Ragtime starts at $100 for its consultation fee. After that, patrons work with an artist to plan and budget for a long-term project.
For the uninitiated who don't want to commit dozens of hours (or an entire limb) to the chair, Ragtime's not the only shop doing great work in the St. Louis area. Hodel calls the city "a mecca of tattooing," with a number of excellent shops that each have several top artists.
The ever-popular Enigma Tattoos & Body Piercing (6635 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-863-8288) and Iron Age Studios (6309 Delmar Boulevard, University City; 314-725-1499), fixtures on the Loop, do smaller tattoos in addition to big custom projects. (That said, a few of the more established folks at Iron Age — including Brad Fink, a well-regarded St. Louis artist — work by appointment only.)
If you're looking for something a little more off the beaten path but aren't feeling Ragtime, Art Monster Tattoo Shop (2627 Cherokee Street, 314-258-1775), TRX Tattoo & Piercing (3207 S. Grand Boulevard, 314-664-4011), Trader Bob's Tattoo Shop (2529 S. Jefferson Avenue, 314-776-2307), Tower Classic Tattooing (4146 Manchester Avenue, 314-875-9995) and Thunderdome Tattoo (1558 S. Broadway, 314-241-1441) all have excellent reputations and numerous artists.
That's just a sampling of some of the well-regarded shops in the city. Don't forget to keep an eye out as well for visiting artists from around the globe.