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Imperial Tattoo

Posted by Ryan Bolton / Posted on December 26, 2010

Imperial TattooImperial Tattoo is found in an unassuming black building directly across from CAMH on Queen, just a smidgen north on Ossington. Like most of the city's top custom tattoo joints, a simple folded sign with the words "Imperial Tattoo" is chained to the side of the building. I've seen this before and I know what I'm in for as I climb a couple flights of stairs.

Imperial TattooToronto's best tattoo spots, not to mention its top artists, have changed over to mainly custom shops. In the '90s it was all storefront shops. But now there's a widening gap between storefront spots and custom joints. The storefront guys, with prime location and abundant signage, typically have a solid returning clientele, but also fully embrace the walk-in customer base (see: Tattoo Rock Parlour). The custom guys are, for better or worse, hidden. They have a simple sign and a hearty reputation that bring customers in through referrals. The latter is Imperial Tattoo.

Imperial TattooTransitioning its current locale from lofty art gallery on Queen West to open-concept ink den in 2008, Imperial has been running strong based off of word-of-mouth. The store's head honcho, Ronan, who is considered one of the city's best - in the same category as Bill Baker at Pearl Harbour and Jay Decator at Passage Tattoo - can book up to six months in advance. And when Imperial first opened, he was.

Imperial Tattoo"It was ridiculous," Rob, Imperial's manager, explains to me in the shop's kitchen. "No one knows their schedule six months in advance." Imperial now only books a maximum of two months in advance, for all of its four tattoo artists. (And if you have over five years of experience, they are looking to take on another full-time artist).

Imperial TattooAs a custom shop, they cover a variety of styles, but they also have their respected areas of expertise. Ronan is a master of black and grey realism, and partial to comic-book styling. Chris does script and old school works. Joe is apt to flowers and colourful pieces. Maru, the shop's newest member, joining only in July, who came over from Japan, knows his stuff when it comes to traditional Japanese, obviously. (He does a mean koi fish, and is known for doing body suits back in native Japan.) He's also not to be confused with this little YouTube sensation of the same name.

Imperial TattooWhen the topic of tattoo TV shows comes up (see: Miami Ink or any of its many offspring), Rob scoffs. He doesn't want to pay them any credence. He laughs when customers come in and expect they can get a full back piece in one sitting. Or that they want to blend 20 different concepts into one.

"Someone is going to look at that and go, 'What? What does that even mean?' And it's not going to mean anything. Stick to one idea. One at a time," Rob offers as sage advice. But he notes that it's because of said TV shows that people realize you don't have to just get stock, flash tattoos. That custom means you can get whatever you want, that you can work with the artist to create something original - Imperial's, and most of the city's custom shop's, specialty.

Imperial Tattoo"There's a lot of tattooing going on in the city, it's a saturated market," mentions Rob, alluding to the fact that the city, and especially Queen West is rife with tattoo shops. But at the same time, there's a wicked amount of talent coming out. "It's a good time to be in Toronto for tattooing. There's a lot of big, crazy work coming out and it's great to be a part of it."

He looks back into the open building where a few artists are busying themselves, and you can hear the buzz of the tattoo machines. "At one time it was badass to get tattoos. Now everyone has tattoos. It's almost cooler not to have tattoos anymore," he chuckles, his neck tattoos visible under his hoodie.

Imperial TattooWriting by Ryan Bolton / Photography by Dennis Marciniak



b. / December 28, 2010 at 04:09 pm
i just had a custom tattoo done at imperial on the 22nd. joe was amazing - accommodating, friendly, at very talented! my tattoo is exactly what i wanted.

Sonny / December 29, 2010 at 10:30 am
Xris did my first tattoo back in September and the entire experience was amazing! Great service, a super nice and clean working space, and my tattoo looks bad ass! I can't recommend this place enough.

Sonny / December 29, 2010 at 10:31 am
Xris did an awesome job with my first tattoo back in September! I can't recommend this place enough.
Sonny / December 29, 2010 at 10:37 am
Xris did an awesome job on my first tattoo back in September! I can't recommend him and Imperial Tattoo enough.
JerkInTheCorner / December 29, 2010 at 12:02 pm
I was hoping blogto would do a top 10 Tattoo piece...they do everything from Perogies to Pancakes, Hopefully they can pull one together for Tattoos. I'm starting to do some research for an upcoming sleeve I want to get done and a top 10 would really help me find the ideal artist for my needs.
I heart this place / December 29, 2010 at 12:06 pm
I treat every new tattoo artist like a doctor. If you don't get the right feeling, you just leave the office and find another.

This is the only place I will get ink from. I trust every artist. It's clean, professional, and they put their heart into their work.
kat replying to a comment from JerkInTheCorner / December 29, 2010 at 02:36 pm
The guys at Imperial are definitely some of the best in the city. Other than them, I wouldn't trust anyone besides the guys at TCB - and the two shops have tattoo artists who have worked together throughout the years and loads of experience.

My husband goes to Imperial, and I go to TCB. He's been to my artist (Andres Merril) but I have yet to try out the guys at his shop, especially since his artist left earlier this year.
Ashley Patterson / December 30, 2010 at 03:48 pm
I have yet to check this place out - but I feel it's premature to discount the other great custom shops on queen west, such as Armoured Souls. I am very excited to see the art that can come out of this place.
Keith / January 1, 2011 at 07:30 pm
Xris does superb work. He is bright, professional, creative, and an all around nice guy.
Becca / January 5, 2011 at 03:14 pm
Joe is awesome! She has been working on my half sleeve and I am so pleased! She is very friendly and precise. The whole shop has a great atmosphere and is not the least intimidating like other shops I have been too.

All the staff are professional without being snobby! Joe even sent me a Christmas card!

Much love to Imperial!
Lauren / March 9, 2011 at 12:31 pm
I have been going to Ronan for my sleeve and his work is absolutely mind blowing.
I have seen plenty of artists and gone to many conventions and I have never seen such consistently awesome tattoos. I have had many sittings with him and after every one I am even more pleasantly surprised and impressed.
It also helps that he's super fun to talk to while you're sitting for hours on end.
Highly suggest going to Imperial Tattoo, Ronan surpasses any and all expectations.
kathy / April 10, 2011 at 02:55 pm
Xris is doing my tattoo this Saturday. I have seen his work and he is amazing. I showed him what I wanted. Showed up to see what he came up with and it was better than I could imagine. Can't wait. He's talented, professional and a good guy. Makes you feel at ease.
laura / April 13, 2011 at 06:18 pm
goooo here.
xris is sweet.
and they play the sickest hip hop tunes. let's be serious.
DeadRobot / May 12, 2011 at 10:30 am
Was lucky enough to get Ronan to do a back piece for me when he first moved into the space a couple years back. When we finished my tat he said he was backed up for a while - well worth the wait though!
kathy / May 21, 2011 at 09:02 pm
Xris did my tattoo and it turned out better than I could have imagined. He is an amazing artist and a good guy. It was my first tattoo (definitely not my last) and he made me feel at ease. He was also very patient. I'm definitely going back to Xris! Thank you for such a beautiful tattoo!
Rob Reid / June 8, 2011 at 03:30 pm
Thanks everyone for the kind words! It means a lot to us!

Just to clarify re: Ronan's schedule - We now only book him in 2 month increments. This means that you don't usually have to wait any longer than a month or two to get into see him (tattoo appointment or consultation). We are very proactive in making sure all his current clients get in on a regular basis, and that his perspective clients get in as quickly as possible!
Rob Reid / June 8, 2011 at 05:43 pm
Oh yeah, join our facebook page!

joe berry / June 23, 2011 at 08:59 pm
just want to give a shout out to maru, who does the most wonderful authentic japanese tattoos!

if you are looking to get some japanese tattoo work done, please call imperial and see maru! he's amazing!

p.s. to all our clients, thanks for the kind words!
JimmiJames / September 22, 2011 at 01:39 pm
Can anyone comment about work they've had done by Maru? I'm thinking of getting a rather large piece done and haven't found too much info/reviews/pics of his work online. He seems pretty 'effing awesome but just wanted so honest reviews.

Rob Reid / September 23, 2011 at 03:00 pm
Hi JimmiJames, Please come in for a free consultation, and judge for yourself! You can click the facebook link above, look at his work, and come into the shop review his portfolio and have a chat. 416-531-6666
Elly / November 9, 2011 at 04:34 pm
I found Joe after seeing a friend's incredible tattoo a few years ago; she has now tattooed me three times, and her work is unbelievable. If you are looking for meticulous, detailed work, Joe cannot be beat!
wojo / June 29, 2012 at 01:52 pm
Totally unproffessional, K-mart level of customer service...wanted to speak about design called in twice, was told to expect the call, never happened...
Dropped them, they snached my downpayment in the process...

Arthur and Rob... use this money to get the customer service training... you badly need one
alan / July 19, 2012 at 12:27 am
Professional, friendly, laid back environment. These guys ( I'm dealing with Arthur) put their heart into their work. What you want is taken seriously and they do their best to deliver their artistic vision back to you. Highly recommend
che / September 23, 2012 at 03:27 pm
I have an amazing piece done here a few years ago (crystal blue dragonfly) by Damian with whom I hit it off really well, and loved his work implicitly, but who has moved on from Imperial... I was given a contact number by Imperial but it hasn't worked, does ANYONE know where/how I can reach Damian??? any clue or lead would be great

Many Many thanks!
Chris / November 11, 2012 at 01:19 am
I went there to get a tattoo because the shop had good reviews, I ended up with an horrible tattoo that I'm fixing now, the lines looked like it was done by a child and on top of that I was there for 2,5 hours and they wanted to charge me 3 plus taxes (a lot of other places dont charge taxes as it is allready expansive!) not recommended at all!
Chris / November 11, 2012 at 01:28 am
I meant other places charge 150 taxes included
Bob replying to a comment from Chris / February 12, 2013 at 02:20 pm
Chris... I don't get your math, for 2.5 hours you say they charged you $339 ($300 +tax) but you'd rather have them charge what 'other places' charge which you say is $150 including tax which would be $375.

You're complaining because they charged you less than what 'other places' would charge?
Chris / April 15, 2013 at 07:38 pm
No I meant they wanted to charge me 3 hours plus tax so $450 + 57 so $507
Mike / December 4, 2013 at 12:04 am
blogTo is absolutely correct by having Imperial Tattoo in the top ten tattoo shops in Toronto. I personally have done a half sleeve by Joe and it s awesome and she is great. I have recommended this shop to many people.

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