Growing up in Saddle Brook, NJ, the only place we knew of to get tattoos was Shotsie’s in Wayne, NJ or Screamin’ Ink in Fair Lawn, NJ. Not in a million years did I ever think that I would see a tattoo shop in my hometown. Well, I guess a million years has come sooner than I expected because now there are two tattoo shops in town and my bud, Russell Kelley, from the band Hollywood Kills, owns one of them. I was always a fan of Russell’s singing and his tattoo work when he was at Silk City Tattoos in Hawthorne, NJ. So of course, visiting his very own shop was a no-brainer. Plus, he’s a fellow Saddle Brook boy; although, he really depressed me when he said graduated in 1999 and I told him I graduated in 1991. You do the math! Anyway, the name of the shop is Handsome Devil Tattoo Company, and this time I remembered to bring a recording device!
So, Handsome Devil is conveniently located on Market Street in Saddle Brook right across from the 7-Eleven that we used to hang out in front of when we were kids. According to Russell, his dad actually called him, as he was walking out of the famed 7- Eleven for a cup of coffee, to let him know that this shop across the street, a former hair salon, was available to be rented, and suggested that he take a look at it for a possible future site for his own shop. Russ told me that at the time, he was complacent where he was because he made his bones there. He did his apprenticeship there and he felt it was home, but something told him that he needed to leave the mothership and branch out. Needless to say, he followed his father’s suggestion and saw the potential in the shop. One thing led to another and on September 7, 2013, Russell Kelley opened the doors to Handsome Devil Tattoo Company.
When you pull up to the shop, you kind of have to pull around the back where there is ample parking. Upon entering the shop, you’ll feel like you’re walking into a time machine. The shop has such a retro “Sailor Jerry”-type of feel and I loved it. Russell said that he designed the décor of the whole shop, while his dad helped with the construction of it. Customers walk into a small waiting room that has a very rustic feel with absolutely no flash on the walls like your typical tattoo shop. Russell told me that he chose to keep the flash art off the walls to show his customers that they are a custom shop. If you want a tattoo at Handsome Devil, you have to come to the table with your idea and Russell and his artists will customize it for you. Besides, why would you want the same artwork that someone else has? Wouldn’t you want something that was your own?
So, separating the waiting room and the tattooing area is a short wall. On the right is where the shop’s front desk is located, which kind of reminded me of an Old Western bank teller or post office. One of my favorite parts of the shop is once you walk behind the short wall into the tattooing area, there were three tattooing stations set up for the three artists at the shop: Russell, Dan Kennedy, who followed Russell over from Silk City, and Georgia Grey, who was kind of a free agent when Russ asked her to join his crew. Handsome Devil also had their own apprentice in Darci Ray Garvie. But back to the tattooing stations; they were these old desks that Russ restored for the shop. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I found these desks to be so unique and cool for a tattoo shop. What I also found to me unique was the Whiskey Bar set up in the corner of the shop. I definitely have never seen that before in a tattoo shop. Russ assured me that the drinking is done after the shop is closed.
When I asked Russell about the traffic into the shop since they’re located on the busiest street in Saddle Brook, he said that they say walk-ins are welcome, but they are all so busy that it’s really not the case. He says if they could fit it in, that’s great, but to give you an idea of how busy they are, Russ says he is booked up until March. He says, “For the most part, nowadays, people don’t want a walk-in tattoo anyway.” When I asked him how the word gets out about the new shop since I never see ads, Russ told me that he hasn’t really put money into advertising yet because he hasn’t really needed to. Most of his clientele came from word of mouth from returning customers, but he mostly said that social media sites like Facebook and mainly Instagram have been a huge help in getting the Handsome Devil Tattoo Company name out there.
Since we were both Saddle Brook natives, I asked Russell how many hoops he had to jump through just to get this shop opened. He rolled his eyes and told me that he had to present his case in front of a Chamber of Commerce, where he had to get a passing vote of five out of the seven members to allow the opening of the shop. He then told me that in the Township of Saddle Brook, tattooing is considered a sexually-oriented business. My eyes almost popped out of my head in shock when he told me this. Needless to say after pleading his case explaining that he wanted to make this an upscale establishment and the support of the community, Russ received a passing vote of seven out of seven members. The story is truly amazing!
In keeping his promise to make it an upscale establishment, Russ and his artists do their tattooing in shirts and ties, which is another thing I’ve never seen before in all of the shops I’ve visited in all my years. When we talked about prices, he gave me some fair and comparable prices to other shops in the area. They have a $75 minimum, which is pretty standard, and then they charge $150 an hour, but he tells me that customers come in saying that they don’t only pay for the tattoo, they also pay for the experience. Handsome Devil abides by all “age” laws as well as sanitation laws. Trust me when I tell you, this shop is clean!
We also talked for a bit about the thorn in the industry: home tattoo parties and repairing tattoo nightmares that “scratchers” leave on people. Russ told me that it seemed like these scratcher parties have come to a halt, for now, and that the cover-ups that have been coming in lately have been coming in because of scratcher artists that are working in various other nearby shops, which he, obviously, chose not to mention out of respect.
If you’re ever in my hometown of Saddle Brook, NJ, visit Russell Kelley’s shop Handsome Devil Tattoo Company at 201 Market Street or visit them online at facebook.com/handsomedeviltattoocompany. The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday from 12 p.m. till 8 p.m. If you have question, call them at (201) 820-4035.
By the way, Russell is still singing for Hollywood Kills. Unfortunately, they succumbed to the cover band bug and now he’s singing cover songs from the ’90s, but hey, he’s a business owner who gets to sing for fun now. He also owns a clothing line with another North Jersey Notes, alum James Di Gangi, former guitarist of Thro and Will Killmore. The name of the t-shirt clothing line is Seven Vices Clothing and for now has an Etsy storefront. And that’s not all! Like I told Russell, he should change his name to Paul because he does it ALL! Handsome Devil Tattoo has also released a pinup calendar for 2015. Proceeds from the calendar go to the family of fallen Waldwick police officer Chris Goodell and also to the Green Beret Foundation in the name of Staff Sargent Timothy McGill, a Marine from Ramsey who was killed in Afghanistan in September 2013. Kelly was a friend of McGill and his family and the fallen Marine’s sister is also one of the models in the calendar. This whole story surrounding this shop is just amazing. You heard about it here first!
Well, I’m off to check out my next tattoo spot! Who knows what state it will be in! If you have a tattoo shop that you want to suggest, please e-mail me the name of the place and whom I should ask for at email@example.com.