In 1949, Tahitian artist Felix Lynch opened up what is now San Diego’s oldest tattoo shop, at 317 F Street, catering to sailors who landed in port just blocks away. Six location changes and two generations of owners later, Tahiti Felix’s Master Tattoo now resides at 924 Fifth Avenue, home to San Diego’s only tattoo museum.
Six months ago, owner Gil Taimana and former shop artist Chino Rodriguez (a Buenos Aires native who has tattooed his way around the world) took the concept south of the border and — thanks to Tijuana being a lawless, hedonistic wonderland — combined it with a tiki lounge to create the only place I’ve ever been where you can go deep into a Zombie and Hurricane stupor long before your ink begins to scab over.
“We could never have something like this in the states,” Gil tells me during one of his weekly visits. “We’ve got Cuban rums like Havana Club here that you can’t get in the U.S.”
Not to mention it might be the only bar in Baja to stock Sailor Jerry, which goes for a smooth 30 pesos (about $2.50) a shot.
“A lot of things in here I’ve been collecting for years,” Gil says as the metallic, insectoid buzz of a needle interrupts a surf-rock rendition of “Sheila Is a Punk Rocker.”
With just the right amount of South Pacific kitsch, Tahiti Felix’s establishes an ambiance unlike anything else in Tijuana. Everything boils down to the details: custom-carved barstools, a handmade tiki god fountain, precision needlework (which costs a fraction of the price you’ll pay up north) by Chino and visiting international artists, the tropical alchemy of rum and punch cocktails, skateboard deck art, and a choice selection of punk and rockabilly bands on weekends.
There’s no sign out front, so take a $5 cab from the border to Septima (Seventh) and Negrete and look for a bamboo-lined doorway opposite the Oxxo. Or drive across and park in a secure lot across the street for $3 all night. The bilingual bartenders can arrange taxi service back to the border, so you won’t have to wave down a Libre once you’ve gone cross-eyed on Mai Tais. There’s even a hotel next door if you end up staying later than expected, which, speaking from experience, is very easy to do.
Members of Suicidal Tendencies play as Luicidal on Friday, February 28.
- Attire: Pork pie hat and a fresh tat
- Prices: Beers, about $2; Tiki drinks, about $5; shots $2.50+
- Hours: Weekdays, noon to midnight; weekends, noon to 2ish; closed Mondays
- Happy: Hangover Sunday and Crappy Hour Tuesday specials
- Capacity: About 100
- The Deal: Knockout Mai Tai’s for about $6
- Food: Not yet
- Cards: Cash only