The Oldest Tattoo Shop in America

The Oldest Tattoo Shop in America

“It makes me kind of get the chills when I think about it.”

That’s what legendary artist Kari Barba told us. And as we listened to her from inside the oldest running tattoo shop in the United States — we also got chills.

Known today as “Outer Limits Tattoo & Museum”, the location at 22 Chestnut Place in Long Beach, California, is truly one of tattooing’s mecca. With a history dating back to “The Pike” days of the late 1920s — when it was called Bert Grimm’s World Famous Tattoo — this place has served as a foundation for the tattoo community and has played a major role into what tattooing is today.

Kari Barba, who is widely considered a trailblazer for female artists in the once male-dominated tattoo industry, became one of America’s first recognizable female tattoo artists and premier shop owners.

As the current owner since 2002, Kari is here to give us a little insight into the beautiful history and energy that exists at 22 Chestnut Place.

With photos of Bert Grimm, Bob Shaw, Col. Todd, Rick Walters, and Kari Barba (just to name a few) up on the walls, every artist should stop by and pay homage and their respects to the craft that has provided so many blessings to us all.

I'm Kari Barba and this is Outer Limits Tattoo.

So it's Outer Limits now, but prior to being Outer Limits it was called Bert Grimm's World Famous Tattoo.

So the other owners I know of after Bert were Bob Shaw and then Bob Shaw's wife took it over after that and then his kids Larry and Bobby.

So it kind of got around that they were trying to sell the shop.

And Rick Walters came to me and said, "Kari, I think you should buy the shop."

I said, "Oh my gosh Rick", you know. I was already running 3 shops at the time and I didn't really want to get into 4 shops.

It just seemed like too much. But that said, that progression was happening anyway, and this shop started to close down.

When Rick told me the shop was closing down, that was when panic set in and I was like that can't happen. This is the oldest continuously running shop in the nation, and second oldest in the whole world.

We got to keep it open.

There's too much history in this location and too many artists who have come out of here that are too important for people to lose it.

We get visitors from all over the world who hear about the shop and they want to come and they want to walk on the same floor.

They just want to look at the things that we have, the old photos of the people that were tattooed here over time and the people who did work here before.

And the feeling you get sometimes when you grab the doorknob and you just think about how many people have grabbed this same doorknob. How many people got their tattoo, walked in here, walked on the same floor.

It makes me kind of get the chills when I think about it, you know, it's so amazing.

And the visitors that come in, sometimes they'll talk about when their granddad came and got his first tattoo and he went to the pike, you know, and he used to go and they were kids.

And we try to take pictures of those people because that little piece of history and they're like, "Look at my first Bert Grim tattoo" and they are like showing us their Panther, you know, or whatever they have and it's really fun when they come in.

We love that.

What I would like is for people to always be able to come here and recognize where they came from and where their roots started.

Because the tattoo industry is growing and changing every day and there are a lot of small individual, you know, personal studios out there, but this is the old school way of having a studio.

I mean, granted we do things a little bit different and it's become very appointment-based and people get booked out and things like that.

But in the old day, you know, you'd walk in and you'd just pick it off the wall.

You'd sit down with whoever was available and you get that tattoo.

So being able to come here and talk about that and recognize where tattooing came from at least in this area.

We know it came from much much further back than in Long Beach, of course, but in this area we want people to be able to come in and have a little touch of history here and for the future, you know, we want to continue to grow.

We want all the artists here to be the best that they can be.

So we all work together as a family trying to always make sure that each other are doing the best work and we try to talk about and help each other all the time.

And I think that that atmosphere of tattoo is really important, you know, not to worry about me or myself but to worry about everybody you're working with. We're all getting better together.

Let's all do it.

Leave a comment