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Chicago Tattoo Ideas that Are Better than the Flag

…and the L map, and the Mälort logo, and anything Cubs.

A Hot Doug’s tattoo by Mike Dalton, who now works at Great Lakes Tattoo, pictured here at the Chicago Tattoo Company   Photo: William DeShazer/Chicago Tribune

Brace yourselves, folks, because I’m making a wild statement: Chicago is a special city. So special, in fact, that many of its residents feel inclined to commemorate its excellence with permanent body art.

Walk into any local dive bar, and you’ll find at least one Chicago-themed tattoo. That’s great—everyone should do what they want with their bodies—but we’ve been around the block enough times to know there are some deeply clichéd Chicago tats out there. Avoid those all-too-common designs with these alternative ideas.

Instead of: The Chicago flag

How about: The Cook County flag

Yes, our city flag is sexy. But the four-star emblem occupies every other bicep around town. Instead, consider our county flag: a simple circle of stars surrounding a map of the area. No offensive depictions of Native Americans or badly penned eagles here, just some clean-cut shapes.

Instead of: Chicago L map

How about: O’Hare’s United Terminal light display

If you want a tangle of colorful lines on your flesh, why not Michael Hayden’s “Sky’s The Limit,” (1987) a.k.a. the light display in Terminal 1 of O’Hare? The Boomerang-friendly public artwork, comprised of 366 neon tubes, would look great running up your ribcage.

Instead of: Abraham Lincoln

How about: Rahm Emanuel in an Arby’s uniform

If you want to commemorate Illinois politics, why not go contemporary? Abe is great, but one could argue that Rahm losing his finger to a meat slicer while working at Arby’s as a teen continues to shape our city’s political climate.

Instead of: Cubs anything

How about: Javier Baez from the 2017 ESPN “Body Issue”

Cubs “C"? Wrigley scoreboard? Win flag? Yawn. They’ve all been done and done and done. Henceforth, the only acceptable Cubs ink is a recreation of Javy Baez’s bare ass in the 2017 ESPN “Body Issue." That’s some fandom I can get behind.

Instead of: Deep dish/Chicago hot dog

How about: Flaming cheese

There are iconic Chicago foods beyond deep dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs. In fact, saganaki, the Greek cheese dish set on fire tableside, has its roots in Chicago’s Greektown. Leave it to Midwesterners to think dairy fireworks are a good idea.

Instead of: Willis Tower/Hancock Building

How about: Garfield Park Conservatory

Chicago architecture is always a solid choice for body art, but consider structures beyond the skyscrapers, like this massive, early 20th-century greenhouse—designed by Jens Jensen to emulate haystacks and other prairie landscape.

Instead of: Art Institute Lions

How about: Alexander Camelton

Stately, formidable, regal: three words that obviously describe the Lincoln Park Zoo’s youngest humped ungulate, Alexander Camelton. Named for the Founding Father of contemporary Broadway fame, the two-year-old calf is indubitably a Chicago icon in the making.

Instead of: Chance’s “3” hat

How about: Howlin’ Wolf

Chicago is crazy for Chance the Rapper, but our South Side musical prodigies date way further back than Lil Chano. Commemorate Chicago’s rich musical tradition with a design of blues pioneer Howlin’ Wolf, without whom “Sunday Candy” may never have happened.

Instead of: Malört Label

How about: Sign from your favorite dive bar

We know, we know, you want to celebrate your favorite Chicago liquor. But isn’t our love of Malört more about the Chicago dive bar experience than about the shot itself? Signage from your local watering hole would honor those fun, messy nights with a more personalized touch.

Instead of: The Picasso

How about: Ed Paschke art

Picasso wasn’t even from here! Polish-American abstract painter Ed Pashcke, on the other hand, made vibrant, colorful pop art that’s basically begging for real estate on your skin. Paschke himself was a big fan of tattoo art, so he’d be touched by your tribute.

Instead of: The Bean

How about: The Bean

There is no replacement for the Bean, because the Bean is perfect. Get a damn tattoo of the Bean—just don’t expect anyone to see their reflection in it.

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