Head south down Lakewood Blvd or east down PCH into the east side of Long Beach and you’ll find yourself where both those streets and others meet at Traffic Circle. This is where our next tattoo shop is located and easily spotted. However, finding the ramp into their lot can be a little tricky, and so we found ourselves driving in circles like a scene out of National Lampoon’s Vacation. After finally finding the ramp entrance we pulled into Port City Tattoo, where a wood carved boxer from Thailand stared us down from inside the waiting area.
On this day we found owner Tom Moser tattooing a lovely young girl by the name of Lisa Taz with her own lip print on the front of each of her shoulders. A tattoo that Lisa describes as the moment she’s in the shower on the floor sad, kissing her shoulders. “It’s a comfort thing,” adds Moser while we listen to Sam Cooke’s Cupid playing in the shop.
Moser, the clean cut, mellow, humble tattooist, has been living in Long Beach for the past 15 years, but Port City Tattoo has only been open since April of last year. “We’re the only (tattoo) shop on the east side,” he comments. With no other shops too close to compete with, and the city’s college and university in his vicinity, Moser feels that he’s chosen a perfect spot.
Moser has been tattooing for about 12 years, spending most of his career throughout the OC area. His early days were spent in Sunset Beach under the apprenticeship of Kevin Bellow. Moser also had the opportunity of working in Fullerton’s Classic Tattoo with the late great Eric Maaske as well as Oliver Peck, who was a great influence on Moser’s early career. “He would draw anything, tattoo anything, tattoo it fast and it was solid; he was a machine,” says Moser about Peck, whose skills he aspired to have. Moser also spent some time at San Francisco’s Black Heart tattoo, which he credits as being one of the first to put the west coast on the tattoo map.
Everyone must start somewhere though, and Moser’s first experience tattooing came even before his apprenticeship. He recalls his attempt at a skull and crossed pistons with a banner that was to read, “Faster than you.” However, young inexperienced Moser couldn’t handle the heavy machine and dragged the bottom of the letter “F” making it an “E” and reading “Easter than you.” Fortunately, his experimental canvas was a good friend who laughed with him about it.
Since those days, Moser has not only worked along side great tattooist but has also been a business owner prior to Port City Tattoo. Moser was once partial owner of a well known successful tattoo parlor (which he leaves nameless) in Costa Mesa. “Partnerships run their course,” explains Moser, who decided to go his own way.
Long Beach seems to have been a no brainier for this shop owner. Aside form it’s location and living in the city, Moser points to Long Beach’s role in tattoo history as a reason he wanted to bring his shop to the city. “The Pike was like the Coney Island of the West Coast,” he comments, referring to the old Pike’s Amusement Park which was once located in downtown Long Beach. “Sailors and everyone knew of the tattoo shops in the area; some of the best artists in the world (such as Ed Hardy) worked at the Pike,” he adds, which was also home to the legendary Bert Grimm’s (once the oldest operating tattoo shop in the U.S., 1927-2003).
It’s fitting then that Port City Tattoo specializes in Traditional American and Traditional Japanese tattoos. The shop has seven tattooist that Moser hand picked, with each having a specialty but also being versatile. Moser takes pride in having a friendly welcoming shop that takes time with it’s customers.
This year’s Ink N Iron will be Port City Tattoo’s second, but Moser has attend six previous years with his earlier shop. He describes the event as loud, hectic and badly lit, but it’s nothing he says he can’t get over after his first hour there. For tattooist it is both work and fun, as Moser mentions the perk of getting together with out of town friends to party. Yet, he laughs and remind us, “Don’t drink and drive kids,” after sharing his experience of getting drunk at the festival, wrecking his motorcycle, and breaking his wrist and foot.
Port City Tattoo
4290 E PCH
Long Beach, CA
Ink N Iron takes place June 7th – 9th at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Visit www.ink-n-iron.com for more info.
Written by: Tony “Wolf” Centeno
Photos by: Oscar Gaytan