Get To Know Big Steve From NYC’s Legendary Fun City Tattoo

The man!

Fun City Tattoo Shop is an institution. Jonathan Shaw started everything back in 1987 in Manhattan’s East Village, a good decade before tattooing even became legal in NYC. All these years later, the shop is now owned by Big Steve and Maxx Starr.

Steve first got his start as Shaw’s ‘shop guy’, but is now the driving force behind everything. Covered in tattoos (obviously), gold and camo — but he’ll most likely rather tell you more about his crystal collection than tattooing per se. He is a four-wheeler guy that lives in Pennsylvania and loves to spend his time riding bikes with his kids and his wife. When he smiles, gold’ll pop out, and I mean that literally!

Steve is a lot of fun. I mean, he even looks like fun, so meeting him and getting a tattoo by him was, sort of, mandatory. The day I asked questions was also the day Steve made me an Angel, literally, yet again. It was time for me to make it official, and he was the guy that made that very clear — front and centre on my ankle.

Steve, how old were you when you got your first tattoo?
I was seventeen, and I got it from a guy in Long Island that would tattoo people that were underage. I went for a skull, but it was fucked up, so I covered it later on.

And at what age did you start working here? This shop has been around for ages and you still work as Shaw’s guy.
I started at eighteen, same time I really also started getting covered in tattoos.

Did you ever tattoo yourself?

Wait that is kind of weird. Almost every tattoo artists I know practiced on themselves at a certain point…
It actually is a bit weird, but I was lucky enough to have friends that were broke who could not pay for proper guys, so they came to me.

Win-win situation. But when you first started, did you ever think you’ll still be doing this and to such extend all these years later?
I really didn’t. The whole thing kind of happened gradually. I first started working here as a rough kid with nothing real to do. I didn’t even know at the beginning tattooing was of my interest. For the first six months here I was just a shop boy, and after some time here I started tattooing and thinking about actually doing this for real.

What did you want to be growing up, though?
A criminal [laughs].

Your parents must be happy as hell you took the higher route, haha. I mean, you are a business owner! How did the whole thing even happened? You’ve been working here for the past 17 years, and last five you are the co-owner.
Well, the original owner and my first boss, Shawn’ first offered me the shop when I was nineteen. I really didn’t know what the fuck I was doing at that time so I said no. I did manage to get the shop into the right hands at the time, and so the whole thing was bought by a shop I was also working with and who kept me in through the entire time. Five years ago they decided to sell, so they offered it to me. My first response was again no as I didn’t want the responsibility that came with it. But after talking with my business partner Maxx, we somehow decided to just go with it, and here we are.

After all this year, you must have seen some crazy shit and got some insane tattoo requests. Did you ever say no to someone?
In the beginning, I felt like I have to except and really do everything. But not after all these years I finally learned how to say no.

Does the no happen when you don’t like the person or the design?
It is the tattoo I won’t do!

Did you ever misspell a tattoo?
Of course, everybody has done that! Usually it’s the customer’s fault though, we just don’t double check!

OK, now a real questions — what besides tattooing is your obsession? Gold?
I do love gold! I like to shoot guns on the weekend, really redneck stuff. I ride a four-wheeler, etc. I hang out with my kids, we go swimming.

Lastly, what is the last book you read?
It was actually The Cauliflower Chronicles: A Grappler’s Tale of Self-Discovery and Island Living. It is about a guy who does jiu-jitsu and travels all around.

Interview: Katja Horvat
Photos: courtesy of Fun City Tattoo.