If you’re walking south on Third Avenue, and don’t look carefully, you might miss Brooklyn Made Tattoo (312 93rd Street), one of the neighborhood’s five tattoo parlors, 50 yards off the avenue. This hidden gem has been serving the southside of Bay Ridge for seven years, but in the community, its roots run deep. The owner, Michael McLeer, aka Mr. Kaves, is a modern-day Renaissance man. He’s a Bay Ridge native who cut his teeth as a graffiti artist, became a successful musician with the hip hop group Lordz of Brooklyn, and has been tattooing for 15 years.
Mr. Kaves first opened up Brooklyn Ink, on 86th Street, at the beginning of the last decade. After moving it to its current location, on 87th, he sold the business a few years later to go on tour. In 2008, he opened Made in Brooklyn, which was more of a clothing and art store, in the space currently occupied by Mantello (9303 Third Avenue), next to Navarro’s Hardware. “The deal was, everybody was asking, when you gonna start tattooing again? And the demand for the tattooing was there for me,” Kaves says, adding, “It was like a lot of people from the neighborhood that were coming to me for years were like, you gotta tattoo my son now…the demand was too great for me not to reopen a spot, so I started tattooing again.”
When the space around the corner opened, he built out Brooklyn Made Tattoo. The place had previously been “an old social club, just four walls and two card tables,” Kaves says, “and I came in and remodeled it like a social club I went to as a kid with my father…I treated it like an art installation. I opened up and exposed the brick; we did all the woodwork here and made it feel like more of a social club, for people to come and hang out.”
Kaves has two artists working with him, Bella Kozyreva and Busta. Kaves describes the shop as “an all-around well-versed tattoo shop.” A lot of people go to Kaves for their first Brooklyn scripts or Brooklyn landscapes. “I’ve kind of made a niche in a sense for myself with the landscapes that I do, black and gray, Brooklyn-style, graffiti-style” tattoos.
Bella’s more into realism and Busta’s an all-around a great tattooist (but he likes the American Traditional style). Occasionally, they’re visited by guest artists like Freddy Negrete, one of the pioneers of black and gray fine-line tattooing in California.
I ask Kaves where he sees the shop in five years. “Servicing the community since I always have been, since Day One,” he says. “I’m a Brooklyn, Bay Ridge-raised artist, and it’s just pushing the boundaries of creating great artwork…this is where we spin our story.” Brooklyn Made is a little off the beaten path, away from the hustle and bustle of 86th Street, but Kaves doesn’t mind. “I’m pretty happy here,” he says. “We’re pretty cool, tucked away, kinda like Bay Ridge’s best kept secret.”
What about the changing face of the neighborhood? Kaves seems unfazed. “I’ve been living in this neighborhood a long time,” he says. “I always say, the neighborhood doesn’t change, you do…and I think different immigrants come in, and different people come in, different social backgrounds and whatever, and I think it’s still a great family neighborhood.” He adds, “Years ago Bay Ridge was more of a hot spot, it was definitely a hot spot in the 70s and the 80s, and my uncle said the 60s and 50s as well, and it kinda died off a little bit…but I feel like it could have a renaissance and a rebirth.”
Mr. Kaves is Brooklyn Made and Bay Ridge Made. He’s an icon in the neighborhood, and he continues to leave his mark through the stylized tattoos that have that southern Brooklyn authenticity. “My kids went to the same school I went to,” he says. “The tradition carries on.”
Bill Cohen lives in Bay Ridge and runs the tattoo-appreciation site Tattoosday.