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Tattoo Ranch: Rustling up Custom Ink in the Fort Worth Stockyards

Reading Time: 5 minutes read

“My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.”
― Johnny Depp

I’m sitting at The Lion & Crown, listening to some awesome stories about the crazy things people say and do in bars. Which is as good a bit of inspiration as any to do some writing.

Tattoo Ranch, Fort Worth Stockyards
“What can I do for you?” the woman behind the counter has a warm and genuine smile, and the best blue-teal-purple dye job I’ve seen.

I introduce myself, mentioning that I’ve been emailing with Erica, the manager, about visiting today. “That’s me,” she says, shaking my hand. Camera in hand, Ben starts doing his thing, and Erica and I sit down to shoot the breeze in what was once a vintage teddy bear shop.

Tattoo Ranch decor is atmospheric, and very Texas. --Photo by Benjamin Wilson
Tattoo Ranch decor is atmospheric, and very Texas.
–Photo by Benjamin Wilson

No longer. In place of a coffee table, I’m staring over a coffin. Across the room, a 14’ croc glares hungrily at the counter. He hails from a taxidermy shop in Stephenville, and makes a great addition to the considerable charm of Tattoo Ranch.

Erica has been there since the shop opened, and she runs a crew of five tattoo artists. Most of them have their own specialty. She doesn’t do the tattooing herself, but the ink adorning her fair skin speaks to her passion for the art form. Tattoos are intensely personal; for some, they’re just cool art. For many, getting ink is a deeply emotional experience. Either way, as Erica notes, “A tattoo is gonna be on you forever…” so it pays to get the best, the first time.

Custom Art
Tattoo Ranch is a full custom shop, capable of “doing anything and everything.” Though Erica is cool with Ben wandering around and taking pictures of nearly everything, they don’t allow folks to take pictures of the work displayed in their books. Each design is unique to the person for whom it was created; if you pay top dollar for an original work of art, you shouldn’t have to worry that someone else is going to copy it. And make no mistake, this is art we’re discussing, as surely as oil on canvas.

Though they have an hourly rate, the shop mostly charges per piece. And the best way to get that quote is to go in and talk to an artist. Some shops, Erica notes, treat folks like they’re dumb for not knowing much about tattoos. Tattoo Ranch, she says, is not like that. I have an opportunity to see this, when a young woman comes in, asking for a quote on a tattoo (she shows Erica a design on Pinterest) she and a friend want to get. For that, Erica is able to give her an estimate, and a time to come back.

“We get people wanting something they saw on Pinterest,” Erica tells me, “and we can do that.” But if you take them such an idea, the artist is very likely to ask if he can customize the design, give it a more unique spin.

Cowboys drive longhorns down Exchange Avenue in the Fort Worth Stockyards. –Photo by Benjamin Wilson

Welcome to Texas
Tattoo Ranch is a scant handful of blocks from where we watched the cattle drive earlier—a short but entertaining affair performed twice daily on Exchange Avenue—but if you’re expecting either ten-gallon hats and cowboy boots, or a Sons of Anarchy-esque biker hangout, don’t. The shop is as Texas as they come; a faded Old Glory hangs on the wall above the counter, and memorabilia from various big name rock n’ roll bands sit comfortably below white-painted, old-school tin ceiling tiles.

The most Texas thing about Tattoo Ranch? Their friendly, welcoming attitude. The shop door is closed today, in an effort to stave off the heat of high summer in North Texas, but most of the time, it stays open to admit paying customers, curious tourists, and children fascinated by the stuffed crocodile. Apparently, they get a high number of Australian customers, who love Texas-related tattoos. I wouldn’t have guessed that, but it makes a certain amount of sense, I suppose.

Beware of Dog…Not
A medium-sized dog jumps up and makes himself comfortable beside Erica. Cujo is a xoloitzcuintli—a rare breed, with large ears, resembling those of a desert fox—and the shop mascot. Unlike the usually hyper, smaller breed I initially mistook him for, Cujo seems pretty chill. The phrase “pretty chill” could be used to describe Tattoo Ranch as a whole; despite the busy-ness of running one of the area’s most popular tattoo parlors (the Dallas Observer named Tattoo Ranch #6 in the 2015 edition of their article on the 13 best DFW tattoo shops), Erica seems relaxed as she takes time out of her Saturday to chat about what is, for her, far more than a job.

We’re Family
“This is my heart and my soul; I’ve put everything into this place,” Erica says. Born and raised in Fort Worth, she is as local as it gets. The historic Stockyards district of Fort Worth may be a tourist attraction (or trap, depending on your perspective), but it’s also a close-knit community. “It’s a really, really neat place,” Erica says, describing the people who work nearby as “one big family,” and explaining that they all funnel business toward one another. On that note, Johnny, who owns Tattoo Ranch, also owns Basement Bar, across the street (reportedly, they stock a selection of craft beers; a claim I’ll have to investigate for myself).

An artist gives his client some fresh ink. --Photo by Benjamin Wilson
An artist gives his client some fresh ink.
–Photo by Benjamin Wilson

Likewise, the crew at Tattoo Ranch are close; “we’re family,” Erica states matter-of-factly. When the youngest member of the team, John, walks in to start his evening shift, I note the motorcycle helmet in his hand, and ask what he’s riding. In this state where helmet wearing is optional, I’m gratified to see any rider who cares enough about his head to protect it.

Did you say Versailles?
Fun fact: Tattoo Ranch has a second location, in Versailles, France. Phil Van Roy visited Tattoo Ranch a few years ago, hitting it off quite well with the folks there. And a bit later, they granted him rights to have a Tattoo Ranch in France (he was already running his own shop there). The artists guest spot between the two locations quite often. Now, if you get a hankerin’ for a tattoo while you’re hanging out in the Île-de-France region, you’ll know where to go.

Update 8-16-16:
The first version of this post referred to Cujo as a Chihuahua. That was incorrect. He is a xoloitzcuintli; according to the American Kennel Club, this breed is typically “loyal, alert, calm.” A good choice of mascot for Tattoo Ranch.

Depp, Johnny. “Quotes About Tattoos (82 Quotes).” Accessed August 15, 2016.
McPhate, Christian. “13 Best Tattoo Shops in DFW, 2015 Edition.” May 28, 2015. Accessed August 15, 2016.

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Pacific Northwest native, travel and craft beverage writer. Exploring the intersections where beer (and coffee and spirits), food, travel and culture meet.

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