Tony Polito is a Brooklyn tattooer that has been tattooing since 1959. Tony was at one point during the early 70’s, the only operating tattooer in all of NYC. For those of you not familiar with the history of tattooing in NYC, tattooing was banned in the early 1960’s until 1997.

While many of the tattooers of the era left for the outskirts of NYC, Tony remained in Brooklyn. Other than a short stint tattooing on State St. in Chicago in the mid 1960’s, Tony has been continuously tattooing in Brooklyn for the better part of 50 years. Tony Polito is Brooklyn.

He started tattooing in 1959 out of a supply shed in a public Brooklyn park. His first official shop was at 646 Lefferts Ave in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. In 1980 he moved to 742 Lefferts Ave where he tattooed daily until 2010 when he officially retired. In 2013 Tony decided that he would return to the shop on Saturdays only and do some appointments on select clients.

Tony Polito, Watercolour by Pepe
Tony Polito, Watercolour by Pepe

The original shop at 646 was affectionately called “Old Calcutta“. He carried the name over to 742. Here’s the story behind the name: “Old Calcutta is in India. It’s a bad place, and this was a bad place. This wasn’t a good name!”. Tony listened to his friend and built a sturdy little shop in the basement of a house built in the early 20th century. He opened every day after 5pm. He opened at 5pm because the NYC Health Dept closed at 5pm and he wanted to avoid them becoming aware of his illegal activity of tattooing.

The tattoo flash he used to tattoo were all standard designs, but they were made famous by Tony’s knack for packing in color. The “Brooklyn Style” of tattoo which he describes as “Heavy Tattoos” are the brightest & boldest tattoos you could imagine. Parrots, snakes and even eagles saturated with every color imaginable. It is the standard Coleman approach to tattooing: bold lines, smooth black shading and bright colors but with that Polito twist and flair.

Tony routinely did 40 tattoos a day, every day. He was built for a different era, the “who’s next?” style of tattooing that he mastered has become obsolete, replaced with a much more artistic driven, custom tattoo approach. The words “appointment” and “consultation” were foreign words to him. He tattooed behind bulletproof glass. He tattooed in “Old New York”. In a neighborhood nick-named “PigTown“.

The New York he describes sounds more like the NY in Martin Scorsese’s films than the gentrified version we live in today. On September 6th 2014 Tony Polito “Old Calcutta” opened his door for the last time. Anthony “Tony” Polito, age 71, passed away on September 2, 2017.