Fifteen years isn’t very long. You still can't legally drive a car or do any fun adult things. Unless, of course, you’re a tattoo shop, and more specifically, a tattoo shop on Calle Ocho.
“After the Furious Dudes show at Sidebar back in December, I talked to Raul about doing more parties and shows there in the future, and then in January it suddenly hit me one day that it was our 15th year in business,” says John Vale of Ocho Placas Tattoo Co. “It just made sense to put the two together. We had no idea this would work when it started back in 2001, and now we have some of the city's most gifted tattooers, guest artists from around the world, and a devoted following that gets bigger by the minute.”
Vale is the singer of the local band Furious Dudes and an early member of the tattoo shop, which was founded by the late Jose Carreras, who passed away two months after he was profiled by New Times in 2009. Since Carreras' passing, Vale has continued as torch-bearer of Ocho Placas along with Javier Betancourt. The principles and work ethic that Carreras instilled in his crew have been a continuous source of energy for the small store. As Vale says, “Ocho Placas wouldn't be here without him, as a business or as a creative presence.”
Ocho Placas, built on Carreras’ reputation as a highly skilled tattooer, has continued to grow, and while their clientele boasts an impressive roster of highly paid athletes and musicians like Lil Wayne and Birdman, the shop is still, at heart, a neighborhood tattoo shop. "We want to be the best shop in Miami without losing that hometown vibe of a place you can walk into and have a good laugh with everyone in the room while a colada gets passed around,” Vale says.
In tandem with their ink work, Vale and Betancourt have also maintained a presence within the art world, first with a short-lived warehouse gallery in Allapattah and most recently with Betancourt’s ambitious multidisciplinary project, This Is Meant to Hurt You.
For Ocho Placas' upcoming birthday celebration at Sidebar, Vale has designed a limited-edition T-shirt, which is available at the shop now and will be for sale at the party. Rounding out the crew at Ocho Placas this Saturday will be old friends Gordie Jones, currently at Jacksonville’s Inksmith & Rogers; Matt Bivetto from Greenpoint Tattoo in Brooklyn; and Jason Boyer of Atlanta’s Southern Star Tattoo. American Traditional tattooer Chris Fernandez, a recent transplant to D.C. and former apprentice at the shop, will also be in town. DJ Jessica Who will be spinning throughout the night.
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While Vale and crew might be in a rightly earned celebratory mood, it’s not an unreasonable expectation that the shop will continue to enjoy many more years to come, a debt to Carreras’ early leadership. “We have clearer goals than just getting bodies in the door and taking their money,” says Vale. “We're constantly honing our skills, and we get together regularly and have honest conversations about artistic direction.”
The teens are a terrible age, but for Ocho Placas, the little tattoo shop on Calle Ocho that has soldiered on and continued to better itself, 15 is looking good.
Ocho Placas Tattoo Co.’s Celebrates Quinces with Jessica Who. 8 p.m. Saturday, March 12, at Sidebar, 337 SW Eighth St., Miami; 786-703-6973; sidebarmiami.com. Admission is free.