It started out as a crazy, harebrained idea of veteran tattoo artist Randy Janson: What if he opened a 1940s-inspired tattoo parlor, barber shop, café and community space all under one roof?
Twenty years later, Janson is realizing that vision in Two Roses Inc.—the only barber / coffee / tattoo combo in San Diego.
“Anybody can make sense of a crazy idea if you really want to,” Janson says, as he begins inking a young lady with cat-eye glasses and a black bob haircut. “I wanted to make a place that all my friends would be comfortable hanging out in—like if I was tattooing in my living room and we were having a house party.”
Janson has spent roughly 17 years of his life tattooing in three of San Diego's tattoo hubs: Downtown, Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. His last business was housed in a tiny storefront in Pacific Beach, but after a decade of dealing with drunken frat boys, busybody cops and street brawls, Janson packed up and moved to a neighborhood that was off the beaten path.
“The beach area wasn't a place for me anymore,” says Janson. “It turned into a new Tijuana. I just felt like it was time to go to Barrio Logan.”
Two Roses Inc. is the only tattoo shop in the largely Latino Barrio Logan. The business takes up almost an entire city block and is located across the street from Porkyland's Taco Shop and next to the neighborhood dulceria, or Mexican candy store.
Janson's new business is one of the most aesthetically pleasing storefronts in Barrio Logan, featuring a maroon-colored exterior and black-and-white striped awnings, which frame the large windows. Classic cars are often parked curbside.
Once inside, customers enjoy another visual treat: The ceiling is lined with a decorative silver-tin molding, recreating the elegance of a 1940s social club. Green-and-white checkered tiles cover the floors, custom-built mahogany cabinets line the walls and a jukebox is situated prominently in the middle of the work space. Vintage photos of a young Frank Sinatra decorate the walls.
“We're into the old style of doing things,” says Nicholai Martinez, general manager of Two Roses Inc. “We're locked into this weird time warp. We're into the old cars, old clothing, the tattoos and old barbers.”
The loft-style shop is sectioned into three distinct work spaces to accommodate the full-service gentlemen's barber shop, tattoo parlor and coffee bar, where customers can get a taste of real Italian java.
A large parking lot behind the building is used for outdoor movie nights, car and scooter shows and musical performances. Martinez admits that managing all four aspects of the business can be a “logistical nightmare,” but it's worth the extra effort because there's no other business in San Diego offering this kind of experience.
Janson and Martinez believe too many tattoo shops today boast an intimidating or elitist attitude that drives many customers away. They believe some veteran artists are more concerned with their egos than forming relationships with their customers and their community.
Two Roses Inc. seeks to break that mold by offering a community space where anyone is welcome—even if they don't want a tattoo. “It's like spectator sport here,” Martinez says. “You can come here and just watch people getting tattooed. We want it to be more of a social scene.”
In doing so, the business is also confronting a social stigma that lumps tattoo shops with sometimes seamier businesses such as head shops that sell pipes and bongs. Janson says an increasing number of tattoo shops are getting chased out of their communities in the name of revitalization.
Tattoo shops “are still an off-beat business that society doesn't accept all that well,” Janson says. “I've always known tattoo shops are not seedy places. They're entertainment. It's where you get a huge mix of people from all walks of life hanging out together.”
It took Janson and his business partner Gino Galofaro more than a year to renovate the building, which was a rundown bar. They kept the name but gave the facility a massive overhaul. Galofaro, who has a deep respect for his Italian roots, wanted to create a space that harkened back to America's Golden Era, with a slight European twist.
“I've traveled to Italy every summer since I was a kid. So I've always appreciated the interior design and architecture in Italy,” Galofaro says. “This was a vision I had in my head. Me and my fiancée would sit up all night and look on the Internet. We did the entire interior design ourselves from every little detail. It was pretty crazy.”
The intense focus on design also extends to the old-school barbershop, which features refurbished chairs and marble countertops. Carlos “Exit” Landeros is the primary barber, who takes pride in what he calls “the lost the art” of cutting men's hair. Customers who book an appointment don't get just a quick trim. Landeros says the one- to two-hour experience involves getting a hot-towel straight-razor shave and neck massage along with a new 'do.
Landeros, who is also part of the Viejitos lowrider car club, says haircuts, tattoos and classic cars go hand-in-hand because they demand attention.
“Usually guys fix up their cars to attract girls or get attention,” Landeros says. “It's the same thing with haircuts and tattoos. People get half-sleeves and other pieces of artwork either for themselves or to catch attention. Guys get a nice haircut to either impress a girl, keep the wife happy or look good in the office.”
Part of Two Roses' clientele mirrors that love for all things vintage. Guys with slicked-back hair and horn-rimmed glasses stop by for tattoos or a hot-towel shave. Girls with short bangs and red lips also get inked or order-up espressos as their boyfriends get primped.
But Landeros insists the business doesn't cater only to white rockabilly kids. In fact, he says the owners have developed a good rapport with their Latino neighbors, extending an open invitation to the business and its parking-lot events.
“The neighborhood is real old-school, just like the way we are, just like the way my haircuts are,” Landeros said. “There's no drama, no politics.”
The guys at Two Roses Inc. say their challenge now is to change the mindset that Barrio Logan is a dangerous place. In fact, they say this community is safer and more respectful than most of the neighborhoods where they've worked.Janson says his challenge will continue to be convincing a skeptical public to take a chance and step inside.
“People have to wake up to the idea that we're not just a tattoo shop,” he says. “It's a weird sell, but once you come here, it all makes sense. At least it does to me.”
At 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, Two Roses Inc. (2181 Logan Ave.) will host the meet-and-greet for the annual Rockers vs. Mods motorcycle-scooter rally. The bands Meatwagon and Dead as Dillinger will perform. All ages. www.tworosesinc.com, 619-702-4822
Photo by Gabriel Salcedo