Appetite: Celebrating Sailor Jerry, tattooist and rum

Pub date June 7, 2010
SectionFood & Drink

What do tatooing and rum have to with each other? Well, there’s a rum named after one of the most legendary tattoo artists of all time, Sailor Jerry. It’s his own personal recipe, distilled in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and is truly a beaut. Bracingly strong at 92 proof, it’s got a spiced, caramel burn that goes down smooth on its own as it does in a cocktail (Dark & Stormy, anyone?) It lingers pleasantly while also delivering a punch. Kind of like the colorful Jerry himself?

This Saturday, June 12, marks the anniversary of Sailor Jerry’s death, a Northern California native (Ukiah, to be exact), born in 1911, making his name as a tattoo artist in Honolulu post-WWII, influenced by and fascinated with all things Asian. (He also harbored some extreme right-wing, libertarian leanings.) American flags mix with dragons and naked women in what a colleague describes as his “balls-forward, old school” tattoo style.

Celebrations for Sailor Jerry’s life are going on this week in four cities: Portland, Austin, LA and our own. RSVP for free screenings of the award-winning documentary, Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry, at the Roxie on June 9th or 10th, written and directed by Erich Weiss. Watching the 73 minute film is certainly entertaining, intriguing, and often hilarious. With rare interviews of many legendary tattoo artists, protégés and contemporaries, you witness not only the history of tattooing, but a different kind of elderly crowd: foul-mouthed, rough-and-tumble, covered in tats, full of lively stories of early days in tattooing’s U.S. popularity. Particularly engaging is the uber-crusty Eddie Funk, who’s scratchy voice and incessant swearing represent the kind of crowd that knew the paradoxical Sailor Jerry (aka Norman K. Collins) best.

Collins was ahead of his time, wandering the country pre-Beatnik, pre-Keroauc, finding his bliss in Hawaii by creating innovative tattoo art, closely mirroring Japanese tattoo masters (called Horis), earning him the moniker ‘Hori Smoku’. No surprise such a unique character created his own rum, the bottle embellished with his artwork (a hula girl strumming on a ukulele)… and it’s a fine rum at that.

Free but must RSVP at:
Wed, 6/9; 6:45pm and 10pm
Thu, 6/10; 6:45pm and 10pm
ROXIE THEATER, 3117 16th Street