skip to Main Content
a sign on the side of a building

Key West OKs Tattoos After 40 Years

August 23, 2007

KEY WEST — The tourist town that hosts the decadent Fantasy Fest but ironically turns its nose up at tattooing is in for a change.

After a 40-year ban on the inky adornments, Key West allowed two tattoo parlors to open Wednesday as part of a legal settlement over the island city’s rules. The now-accepted activity was banned on the island in 1966 when a Navy commander decided it was too accessible for drunken sailors.

“What’s the big deal of a tattoo studio when you have a place on Southard Street that offers private dancers with a big sign in the window that says: ‘We get naked. You get naked, too’?” said Wayne LaRue Smith, attorney for Key West Ink co-owner Jim McAlhany.

Key West Ink and Paradise Tattoo and Body Piercing sued the city, claiming the prohibition on their opening shops there violated their constitutional rights.

City attorney Shawn Smith recommended Key West settle because municipalities generally can’t ban what the state allows. Cities can, however, regulate where tattoo parlors can open, and a proposed ordinance would limit them to commercial zones.

Clayton Lopez, a Key West native and city commissioner, said he was surprised to hear some people say the tattoo shops would “ruin the neighborhood.” Nearby stalls include a store that sells T-shirts with raunchy sayings and a nightclub where a drag queen performs. Inga the Swedish Bombshell, who was born Roger Hultman, was among Key West Ink’s first customers.

“I’m in drag at 10 in the morning, so yeah, I’ve been looking forward to it,” Inga said as a tattoo artist prepared to poke her arm, creating the design of a dragon, flames, birds and a conch shell.


Information from: The Miami Herald,

Back To Top