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Meet San Diego’s Oldest Tattoo Parlor

Tahiti Felix has been inking the old-school way since 1949
Photo Credit: Matthew Moisant

There’s history in this ink. Tahiti Felix Master Tattoo Parlor inspires enthusiasts to make a pilgrimage to the Gaslamp to get scratched—not just because of its longevity as one of the oldest continually running tattoo shops in the country, but because of its reputation. Legends have drawn blood here. Their original art still hangs on the walls some seven decades later.

Everything at Tahiti Felix is old-school, from the Americana style the shop specializes in to the 1940s-era tattoo guns and artifacts kept under glass.“

The whole place is like a museum to tattooing,” artist Gil Taimana says. “It’s full of history. If you’re into classic tattoos, this is a time capsule.”

Tahiti Felix Master Tattoo Parlor Interior Gaslamp

Photo Credit: Matthew Moisant

Taimana, 56, is Tahiti Felix’s third owner. Born in Tahiti and raised in LA, Taimana came into the family business kind of through the side door. His sister married “Tahiti” Maurice Lynch, one of the sons of “Tahiti” Felix Lynch—the original owner.“

Felix was a white guy from Iowa or Idaho,” Taimana says. “He stowed away on a merchant ship.” When Felix got off that boat in Tahiti, he fell in love with the place. He learned the language, married a Tahitian woman named Nui, and landed back in LA, picking up the tattoo trade at the legendary Long Beach Pike shop. He moved south and opened the flagship Tahiti Felix location at 317 F Street in 1949.

Now in its seventh location (924 5th Avenue, where it has dwelt for nearly a decade), the shop remains rooted to the original. Taimana himself has now been tattooing for more than 30 years, since apprenticing at Tahiti Felix after his departure from the Navy. “When I started in the ’90s, there were fewer than five [tattoo] shops in the area,” he says. “We were so busy we had Marines sleeping on the floor.”

The style he learned is the same Tahiti Felix was offering back in 1949. “These tattoos are timeless,” he says. “They look great, and they’re going to look great 20 years down the line. These guys knew what they were doing.”

By Mateo Hoke

Mateo Hoke is San Diego Magazine’s executive editor. His books include Six by Ten: Stories from Solitary, and Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation.

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