April 30th, 2014 was an unseasonably hot day in San Francisco, the kind of day where the warm sea air fills you nose and sticks to your skin as soon as you cross over the bridge. The city was brimming with the wild, restless energy of impending change that was all too palpable on every street corner and back alley. We arrived at Henry Goldfield’s Tattoo Studio at 404 Broadway in the late afternoon, and already the street corner and small North Beach shop was packed wall to wall with friends, patrons, and well-wishers. People from all walks of life, from seasoned veterans and legends of the tattoo scene to curious onlookers had gathered upon this place to pay it one last visit and give their best to San Francisco’s oldest continuously running tattoo shop. Change was indeed in the air; after 35 years Goldfield’s was closing it’s doors for the last time.
When Rob Merrill had announced a few weeks earlier that on the last day they would be hosting an “all day all night get-what-you-want” going away party, I knew that we had to be there for it. This would be our last chance to see this amazing place as I remembered it, and like every visit to Goldfield’s, I knew it would be an incredible experience. Goldfield’s is an integral part of modern tattoo history; almost every event, character, and chapter in the San Francisco tattoo story involves or revolves around this shop in one way or another. It’s the sort of shop that exudes character, purpose, and culture; it feels like it’s been around forever, and it’s difficult to imagine a world without it.
When we got to the decorated stoop some of the first wave of visitors were already heading out and leaving this stagnant city that was woefully unprepared for the first heat of the year. After saying our hellos and goodbyes we squeezed our way inside the doorway to the shop floor under the hand painted signs and bright tattoo flash to take in the scene. Goldfield’s was full of best-friends and strangers sharing laughs and drinks while reliving and retelling the great times they’ve had at this amazing place. Every wall, every corner, and every bit of the floor and ceiling of Goldfield’s has a story, and even if you had spent years there you’d always find something new and intriguing to hold your attention. The carpet was (as the story goes, at least) given to Henry by some crooked carpet layers that had taken it from an old movie theater, a fact revealed when they first rolled it out and it still had bits of popcorn in it. The water-damaged spots in the ceiling were either from a time when some junkie flooded their room in a dramatic suicide upstairs in the hotel or maybe from one of the fires over the years, it depends on the mood of the storyteller. The greatest thing about Goldfield’s (aside from the amazing talent of the tattooers, of course) is the caliber and volume of stories Henry could recant at the tip of a hat that would keep you entertained for hours.
All night long, artists from all over the place and with all sorts of interesting and unique attachments to this shop were tattooing custom pieces as well as flash from Goldfield’s incredible collection in the back of the shop put together in one sheet for the evening by Adrian Sanchez. This night was everyone’s last chance to come to the shop to get a tattoo and great memory from this place, and I couldn’t put my name on the list fast enough. Henry’s warmth and sense of humor could be felt everywhere and through everyone. It was an amazing scene to be a part of on this last day on Broadway, and it could not have gone out on a more bittersweet note. One of the greatest things about the day was the wide range of people that would stop in to wish Henry luck. Everyone from people living in the neighborhood to bikers, strippers, and the local homeless would come in and give Henry a smile, a handshake, and a heart-felt “good luck” as they paid their respects to his shop one last time and wished him luck on his next adventure. I didn’t end up getting tattooed until about ten o’clock, and the night was still picking up and moving on after mine was finished close to midnight. I heard that people were still going until about 5am the next morning, tirelessly working so that everyone who wanted to could get one last piece from this incredible shop. As we said our final goodbyes, thanked Henry again for everything and made our way onto the still hot midnight sidewalk of Broadway, I had a tough time accepting that this would be our final night here. Even though the little shop at 404 Broadway was just a building, made of wood and plaster, it felt like we were leaving an old friend behind.
Goldfield’s Tattoo studio on Broadway may be closed now, but my tattoos and memories from there will last a lifetime. Henry is still going strong, and will be brightening the days and skin of fortunate people for years to come. The memory and the spirit of Goldfield’s Tattoo Studio will have to be carried on by each of us lucky enough to see it and participate in this chapter in tattoo history. I cherish my days spent there getting tattooed and listening to Henry’s stories of a life well-lived, shared over the electric buzzing and whirring of a tattoo machine, and I’m fortunate to have been a part of this last day celebration. Thank you to all the great artists and wonderful people that came out and joined us in saying goodbye to this historic Bay Area landmark, and thank you Henry for all the work and effort that you put into keeping this place open for all those years. We look forward to seeing you on your next adventure and next chapter in your life.
Henry Goldfield will be doing several guest spots in the near future, be sure to follow him on Facebook to see where he’s headed next. Rob Merrill will be tattooing at One Shot Tattoo at 555 Irving St in San Francisco.