Nickel City Gritty: Jon Mirro


A few weeks ago, I was attending an event at Wrafterbuilt, and Sean (read his NCG interview here!) came up to me and said, "I want to introduce you to someone who I think would be perfect to interview for your blog."  Without even knowing who he was going to introduce me to, I already could tell that this person would indeed be perfect.  Sean is one of the funniest people that I know, so I immediately knew that this mystery person would also give me some incredibly amazing (and hopefully mildly inappropriate) material.  

Well, Sean definitely made the right call.  He introduced me to Jon Mirro, Owner of Hand of Doom Tattoo and Partner of Lockhouse Distillery.  From our initial introduction, he seemed super chill and down to earth, so I was excited to learn more about him and dive deeper into his personality.  

Fast forward to about two weeks ago and I met up with Jon to do a little "pre-interview hangout" at Lockhouse.  What I thought was going to be a simple chat turned into a hilarious almost four hour conversation about the physics of sports, Backstreet Boys, tiny elephants, social media, and everything in between.  It wasn't until our real interview session last week that I found out about his insane hatred of karaoke...that last part hurt my soul a little bit.  #LongLiveKaraoke

For your listening pleasure, Jon provided me with not one, but TWO fabulous playlists.  Give them a listen while you read his interview.  He was a great sport, and I was right, he did give me incredibly amazing and mildly inappropriate material.

This is Nickel City Gritty, and this is Jon Mirro.


Tell me a little bit about how you got started with Hand of Doom and Lockhouse.

I started in about '99.  I had a dream, and it sounds so lame, but I literally woke up and said out loud, "I'm going to tattoo for the rest of my life."  And I know that it sounds made up like some corny thing, but that's literally what happened.  The dream wasn't anything about tattooing, either.  I had enough small experiences in tattoo shops where I just knew that it was what I was going to do.  I spent the next 72 hours drawing what I thought was tattoo flash.  My self awareness in 1999 was minimal, so I did what I thought was correct, and then I went to a friend of mine whose boyfriend was a tattooer.  I asked her if her boyfriend would teach me how to tattoo.  If he wouldn't teach me, I decided that I'm just not gonna learn how to do it.  Luckily, he was enough of an egomaniac that he would teach anybody who told him he was great, which I found out later.  I ended up showing up to his place, and he was like, "Okay, I'm gonna teach you."  What I didn't realize was that he didn't own the place and he didn't have any business telling me any of this stuff, but he was like, "Yeah, just show up and I'll show you everything that I know."  I showed up on Monday and I sat around and talked to him for a couple of hours, I show up on Tuesday and did the same thing, and he didn't tell me that Wednesday was his day off.  But I showed up, and I asked if this dude was there, but it was his day off.  My decision at that moment was, do I leave or do I just stay.  And I stayed.  I took a clipboard and a piece of paper and I sat down and drew pictures all night.  They didn't know what to do with me, because I just wasn't gonna leave. 

For the next three months I kept showing up, and they eventually just gave me more and more stuff to do.  These guys were not, what I would consider today, to be typical tattooers.  They were very avant-garde in the way they wanted to do things.  For the time that they were doing it, I applaud them for making money doing it.  The only flash that they had in the shop was National Geographic, and that's not an exaggeration.  I didn't know any better that this wasn't where I wanted to be, but I stayed there and I refused to take no for an answer.  It eventually got to the point that the other apprentice that was there didn't really ever hold his weight, and I was doing more than he did, so he quit and I got the spot.  Then, this is so arragant of me to say but I will, I started studying so hard that I realized that the guys who I was working with didn't want to do this the way that I did.  They didn't want to do what I thought was the "correct" way.  I started coming in three months into learning how to tattoo and telling these guys what to do.  Some of the guys were like, "Yeah this sounds amazing!" but a couple of the guys were like, "Who the fuck are you?"  From there it turned into this significant animosity.  I got suspended twice in the first year I was working there.  I actually beat the shit out of a kid, but I thought I was doing the right thing because I thought he was disrespecting the shop! 

Eventually, two of the guys that I worked with decided that they were going to leave and open up their own shop.  That didn't end up working out, so I had an idea to pick up where they left off.  They were going to buy an existing shop but they didn't do it.  I made a phone call and went and bought that shop the next day.  The best guy at the shop agreed to come with me and we started what was Hand of Doom in 2001.  From there it was just trying to keep the doors open.  I knew that I could sell, but I didn't know how to tattoo really well, so I spent ten years hustling people.  And I mean that in a pleasant way in the sense that I knew that I could do the bare minimum that tattooing required, I knew that I could make your experience as important as humanly possible, and I knew that I could do something that other people couldn't do.  I made my clients feel like they were my favorite clients, which they are, which is really great.  I love people almost more than I love tattooing.  I think that my career finally did what it was supposed to to at around year ten, which is when we made our final shop move.  I think I finally got my head out of my ass.  I stopped having to pretend like I was so arrogant just to survive. 

In the midst of all this stuff, I was partying my fucking ass off.  I met a group of people while being out and being social.  We sat around and had a conversation one day about how the Lockhouse thing could happen, and what a unique thing it could be.  The guy who put the whole thing together initially, told me that he visually wanted me to make this thing to look good.  And that was my job.  I came in and it was fun, but it was also really interesting.  All my partners had one thought process of what I was going to do, like I was going to do this weird tattoo-y thing, and it wasn't.  I didn't want it to be cliche.  I tried to get back to a design sense of things and make it look proper, and I think we did a good job.  I think it has a very interesting aesthetic to it.  That's how I did it.  So basically, between functioning on impatience and this horrifying inferiority complex, I managed to build a career in tattooing, and do enough in illustration that I could design this bottle for this very unique and very interesting thing.  It worked out really well.  I think about it on a daily basis and it doesn't make me throw up.  My goal in life is to not vomit from what I do.  


"My goal in life is to not vomit from what I do."

-Jon Mirro

Okay, so now for the fun questions!  I would like you to describe to me your personal style.  

Everything has a function.  There's a reason for everything.  I prefer function before fashion, but I think that they still kind of go hand in hand.  I think that goes into my tattooing and into everything that I do creative.  If it doesn't fulfill a need, then it fails.  I don't give a shit how good it is.  If it doesn't do what it's supposed to do, then it's worthless.  I will wear a white tee shirt and jeans all day long, but I will wear a white tee shirt and jeans that cost three thousand dollars, but it better be for a reason.  I don't care how expensive your shoes are, and I don't care how expensive your bag is unless your bag works and unless your shoes work.  So as far as clothing goes, which I think is something very important to me, it has to function first and then be impressive.  If it's just impressive then I don't care.  I mean, fidget spinners were a fuckin thing, but did they do anything?  But somebody made millions of dollars off of that!  Watch, I'll be talking to a guy in the future whose uncle made millions in fidget spinners.  I'll tell him, "Your uncle is an asshole!"  So function is number one, and from there you can develop your aesthetic.  

So you're not into labels?

It's not that I'm not into labels, because listen, I'll wear Gucci all day, but I'll wear Gucci undrstanding that I'm portraying a message that I hope this is made well, but I'm not wearing it because I think that it's quality.  I'm wearing it because I want you to know that I spent $700 on an "insert X stupid thing."  By the way, I also don't own a fuckin single piece of Gucci anything.  Anything that I've ever spent significant money on, clothing wise, has 100% been function first.  I'll spend two thousand dollars on anything, but it has to work.  If you're impressed that I have a Gucci belt on, then you're an idiot.  You're impressed because I overpaid for it, so then you're not the kind of person that I'm trying to impress.  

Would you buy a Gucci fidget spinner?

I would buy it!  In the same regard, I think that excess achieves its goal.  My goal of buying a Gucci fidget spinner would be to say that I spent a thousand dollars on a Gucci fidget spinner.  That's funny to me, so I find that stuff entertaining enough that it achieves its goal.  In that case, it met its purpose.  I bought an Escalade a few years ago, and I put these ridiculous rims on it.  I didn't do it because the rims made the car drive better.  I did it because I wanted everyone to know that I spent four thousand dollars on a pair of wheels.  Just driving down Chippewa at fifteen miles an hour for HOURS just back and forth drunk as hell listening to Waka Flocka all day long...oh, and Young Jeezy.  That was a fun summer!


What is one of the dumbest ways you've been injured?

Oh my god.  Where can I start?  I would say...I broke my ankle in a fight, I broke my hand twice in a fight, and I fell asleep driving and broke my entire face.  So I'd say out of those four, the fights were the worst ones.  The same hand twice.  I've definitely injured myself significantly doing very dumb things.  I think I finally got it under control, but I'm not sure.  I'm at an acceptable level.  

If a theme song played every time you entered the room, what would it be?

I should have some horrifyingly clever answer for this, but I don't.  I will tell you that what I would do is, my friends are in a band and I would literally just pick one of their songs.  I'm a very big fan of supporting people that I know and people that I'm friend with.  So if I had a theme song, it would probably be something that my friends did, because I would love to have the ability to let groups of people know that my idiot friends did that.  Or something by Ghostface.  But probably the first one.  


How would you survive a zombie apocylapse?

Aside from suicide?  

Yes, how would you survive it?

I wouldn't, I'd just be gone!  If I was mildly inconvenienced by a zombie apocalypse, I would just be gone in an instant.  But, having a family now is a little different.  Okay, so how would I survive?  I'm very strategically placed.  My home is kind of built like a fortress.  There's only one way in and one way out, so it would be rather easy for me to defend my home.  So the only way that I would need to survive an apocalypse is to just make sure that, aside from food, water and all of the other things, that my house is the ultimate place to defend from.  There's one staircase, so even if you got through that high ground, there is another high ground, so we could fight from there the entire time.  I would be able to survive as long as I had ammunition.  And even after that, It wouldn't even be a question.  My house would be absolutely impenetrable when it comes to zombies.  I would never be able to lose.  I would just sit at the top of the staircase and just fire bullets all day long.  I would live forever.  People would be clamoring to get into my house prior to the zombie apocalypse.  We could defend it from all angles.  My house is ground zero.  

What is something that people fear but does not scare you at all?

I enjoy a certain level of stress and anxiety.  I enjoy high pressure situations.  I'm good in a situation where there's a crisis.  So when terrible happens, I remain calm.  If something chaotic were to happen now, I would be the least afraid person.  I go into full work mode and I'll get upset about it later.  It doesn't really matter what it is because I can't change what happened, so why worry?  Once everybody's safe, I'll stress out about it later.  


What is your spirit animal?

Mel Brooks?  No, not Mel Brooks.  I was born in the year of the horse, and I really enjoy horses.  I really enjoy horses and I really enjoy elephants as far as animals go, because I enjoy the functionality of them.  Especially elephants.  Elephants would probably be the most impressive animal.  I thought it was tigers for the longest time until I saw...did you know that tigers are the apex predator in every jungle that they exist in?  They don't acknowledge elephants, though.  They know that it's a lost cause.  There's no reason for them to fight them.  Tigers will literally kill anything, but they see elephants and will walk right past each other.  So I was born in the year of the horse, and I find myself to be way more of a tiger, but I would love to be an elephant.  I would love to be able to have that supreme ability and confidence to walk through a room full of tigers and have all of them just go, "Yeah, not that guy."  But I feel like I'm usually on the tiger end of things.  


What accomplishment are you the most proud of?

There are a couple things, I don't know if I can nail it down to one.  The first two are going to be very typical, unfortunately.  I'm very proud of the relationship that I have with my girlfriend.  I feel like me being able to find and maintain something like this for as long as I have, for me, has been something that has been great.  Having a son, in the same regard, has been....well, I don't really know if that's an accomplishment, I didn't really have that much to do with it.  I mean, I had a part to do with the beginning of it, but him being here today is on his mom.  I think being able to take care of my son's mother and making sure that she's taken care of so that he's taken care of is something that I take a lot of pride in.  Making sure that the two of them don't need or want for anything is something that's really important to me.  I think that owning a tattoo shop for sixteen years now has been pretty impressive to me.  That's something that I take a lot of pride in.  I like the fact that we've outlasted a lot of people.  Also, Lockhouse is something very special to me because no one did what we did before we did it.  And I can say that in the history books of this city on all levels.  There was a moment where there was, then there wasn't, and then there was, and I'm a part of the was portion of that.  It's me and a small group of people that are able to say, "Before us, there was not this thing.  And since this thing, there's been multiple."  Hopefully someday, someone will find it impressive that we did this first.  And I just hope that we do it best.  I don't think we've reached our full potential yet.  I think that we've got a lot more to do and that we're going to surprise a lot of people.  


If you had a warning label attached to you, what would it say?

Oh my god, "Just get the fuck away from me!"  I am a very difficult person to get along with.  I'm really just not very nice.  I'm not nice, not because of my own insecurities, but there is just a reasonable level of decency that I believe that people should operate at.  If you don't operate at that level, then I just don't really feel like I should...listen, there's only one thing in this world that I can't get more of and that's time.  So it's like, if I'm sitting with you and just absorbing your fucking garbage, I just can't.  I had somebody tell me one day, "If you want to be a millionaire, hang out with billionaires."  If seven of your friends make eighty dollars a week, you're gonna be the eighth.  I don't feel like I need to hang out with you if I don't think you are worth hanging out with.  

Well, that's true!

Sure, but I have a tendency to tell people that they're not worth hanging out with, because I don't want them to hang out with me anymore!  

What is on your playlist?

The newest Queens of the Stone Age record is absolutely incredible.  The production on that record, the was amazing to me.  It's one of those records that I had a really hard time putting down.  What I really enjoyed about it was if you've listened to a band like that from beginning to end, a lot of times people will do a million things and have one thing that everybody loves, but then go back to doing what they used to do.  I think Queens of the Stone Age were like that.  They wrote all these records, and then they wrote Songs for the Deaf that had a very specific production value, and everyone was like, "Oh that's what this band sounds like."  I would argue that that's the least what this band sounds like.  But that was the most popular thing for them.  So when they came out with this record, it sounded more like their old stuff.  So as far as my playlist will go, there's a couple songs off that which I find really inspiring.  I'm a big fan of anything that makes me not want to sit still.  It doesn't matter what it is, if I can't sit still when I listen to it, then I'm interested.  As long at it invokes an emotion in me, and I think you could take that with business and in art and in life.  If I can't stop thinking about it, then I'm interested.  Oh, and Ghostface.


What is something that you're certain that you'll never experience?

My dad once said to me, "You can do anything you want in life, except be tall."  So, I don't know what that's like, but I think that one of the things that comes with shortcomings, for lack of a better word, is you spend your life wanting things that you can't have.  I think that whatever it is that you don't have is wonderful.  So there are things that I know that I'll never experience that I hope I don't.  I hope that I don't spend my time trying to get to those things.  You know what I hope I experience?  I hope that I will one day be content.  I hope I get to a point where I've done enough and have people around me that are successful and I feel comfortable around them.  I hope there's a day where I can sit and exhale.  And I think that will be nice.  Right now I love the fact that I can be very uptight and very driven about those things, but it bothers me that I don't think that I'm driven or motivated enough.  I think there's a lot of potential for me to do stuff that I'm just not focusing on enough.  So wait, what won't I achieve?  You know what, man?  Nothing!  And I mean that honestly.  If there's anything that I want bad enough, I know that I can do it.  That's never been a question for me.  It's matter of prioritizing it and seeing what's important, and being comfortable with that decision.  


What is your favorite bar/restaurant in Buffalo?

I do have a few favorites.  Obviously my bar, in particular, is my favorite.  And I honestly mean that genuinely.  Also, I like old quiet shit holes, but at the same time I like significant places to go party and see beautiful people.  So what I like about my bar is that you get a little bit of both, and then there are places I know right now that I will get to do both things.  Like, right where we are now in Forty Thieves, I like this place significantly because I feel like I can come in here and watch football and nobody gives a shit.  I'll come in here on a Saturday night and I can watch Oklahoma play, and no one cares.  And no one wants to talk to me and I don't have to hear their horrible garbage opinion on things.  So I'll usually find any bar where the bartender knows what he's talking about, and I'll be able to sit at the end of the bar and talk to him and enjoy my time.  I have a bar in my house, the greatest bar that I've ever been to in my entire life because I have all the best booze imaginable and I can sit on my couch and watch TV all day long.  I would say the three bars that I go to specifically are Frizzy's, Forty Thieves, and Lockhouse.  They all serve their own purpose.  As far as restaurants, Toutant absolutely crushes it right now.  I think that place has been fantastic.  I love Lait Cru, they just started doing the food at Lockhouse too which I think is absolutely wonderful.  I went to Black Sheep the other day, and they did something amazing.  Their menu is exceptional, but my good friend Chris is vegan and he gave them a little bit of a heads up, and not only did they serve us an incredible meal, they made Chris an entire vegan meal.  It was unbelievable.  Everything he had was exceptional.  I like people that care about what they do.  

Do you have any hidden talents?

Aside from being able to recite most of the movie Caddyshack?  I'm not that talented.  I can talk very fast and copy a bunch of things that Kuniyoshi drew in the 1800's by memory.  Did I say I can talk fast?


Also, I know I'm funny.  That's not a hidden talent.  I think I'm a very transparent person.  When people talk about military strategy, you never want your opponent to know your weakness because you don't want them to take advantage of it, but I actually think of the opposite.  I want my opponent to know every weakness.  I want them to know everything that I'm bad at and hope that they think I'm lying.  I don't care if someone knows how bad I am at something, I'm ready for it.  I'm just gonna do what I'm good at, and I'm just gonna do it as big and as bad and as fast as I can and I'm gonna run you over.


What Disney princess do you think is the most attractive? 

Any of the non-white ones!  Oh my god, literally all of the non-white ones.  Absolutely.  I love Disney animation...what was the Native American one's name?


Was it Pocahontas?  I feel like Pocahontas is a derogatory term.  Right?  Like, I actually thought that but I couldn't say it out loud, because I feel like that's not okay to say.  Okay, so yeah, I mean listen.  If you've ever known me in my life, anything Mediterranean or specifically not-white is fantastically attractive to me.  I mean, white girls are great, but meh.  They're fine.  

What would be your go to karaoke song?

I will never sing karaoke ever, not a chance, no way in hell.  It is the lamest.  Karaoke is the wackest white people bullshit of all time.  You have the audacity to sing this stupid song and think I give a shit about how poorly you're gonna fuckin miss these notes?  Why do I fuckin want to listen to you?  You're an awful singer.  You know why you didn't sing this song?  Because you're bad at singing!  So now, because beers are two for one, I have to listen to whatever dumb shit you're gonna sing.  It's the worst when they're singing, like, Queen.  Freddie Mercury was a genius and you don't even remember the fucking words!  And worse than that is this middle of the road, "I'm gonna sing you some Blink 182 song, and I only remember the chorus."  Karaoke is the dumbest fucking thing.  Fucking pretentious assholes.  Fuck that!  The only way you should do karaoke is the way the Japanese do it in a private room.  I wouldn't even sing in front of my fucking friends.  If I sit at a bar and you're singing to me?  Fuck you!  Fuck youuuu.  Get off of that goddamn stage and go home.  Stop it.  I hate it!  It's so stupid.  Why would I want to listen when you're bad at what you're doing?  

Sooooo I feel personally attacked.

You should be!  If you love karaoke, I include you in everything that I've just said.  I am offended by how bad you are at singing.  I'm offended.  Are you good at singing?

I meannn....

No you're not!  Stop that.  Okay...

I'm mediocre!

No you're not!  And I will tell you why you're not.  If five means you are literally passable, as far as singing goes you hit every note or most of the notes, you hit them well and remembered every part of the song.  I will bet a thousand dollars that if you picked a song, you don't do any of those fucking things, so you're well below average!  So now I'm watching this going, "There's my friend embarrassing herself!"  Why don't you just punch yourself in the face for five minutes?  

That wouldn't be as fun!

It would be way funnier than watching you sing karaoke and less of us would have to suffer!  You would just sit in a corner and hit yourself in the face and we would go, "That's hysterical, she does this all the time.  She does it every Thursday for three minutes and we get to watch."  What, do you just enjoy writing your name on a fucking slip of paper?  It's so stupid.  

It's the experience!

The experience of what, embarrassing yourself in front of strangers?  Other strangers who are also bad at this thing you're going to do!  If we were talking about driving cars, right?  And you wanted to drive them with your eyes closed, would you do it?  No?  That's what karaoke is.  I am DYING every time you do it.  Dying!  If I walk into a bar and karaoke is there I'm leaving.  Absolutely 100% serious.  No chance.  Karaoke is so pretentious, unless everybody in the room knows what they're in for.  It's worse for me because I'm in the room!  You're dumb enough to be on the stage and I'm dumber for attending.  

Hey, I literally sang the best rendition of "Bitch Better Have My Money." 

NO YOU DIDN'T!  The person that sang that song did the best job!  It was not, it was a three if it was anything.  I will bet money.  I take scaling 1-10 very seriously.  A five is a minimum, four means you just failed a little, three means you failed more, two means you really failed, and one means you should go straight to hell.  So, think about it in that context.  So you're saying that, professionally as singing goes, you sang "Bitch Better Have My Money" as well as the person that sang it?  No one who has ever sang karaoke in the history of karaoke is getting more than a six.  Never gonna happen.  I was giving you a compliment by giving you a three.


Okay, so with that, I've come to my last question that I always ask.  What do you want to be when you grow up?

I don't ever want to grow up.  I want to be content.  I want to be a good dad.  I'd like my son to not hate me for long.  That would be cool.  I'd like him to be happy.  I'd like to live without a lot of regrets.  I don't want to look back on too much and think that I could have been better.  So going back to what we talked about with karaoke, I'd like to be a five.  I'd like to be a five of a dad.  I don't want him to think that I was the greatest dad of all time but I don't want him to think that I was the worst dad of all time.  I'd like him to think of me as doing a good job and that I did the job that I was supposed to do.  That seems like a lame answer, but it's true.  I don't think that I'm going to be a very typical parent, I'm going to be the only parent that I know how to be.  I think that when you have this opportunity in your life to make "not an asshole," it's very important.  So I think that when i grow up, I'd like to be a successful parent in the fact that my son was never too much of an asshole.  That would be my good accomplishment.  If he could hurt the minimal amount of people that he can, I think that would be nice.  That would be an accomplishment.   

You can find Jon at Hand of Doom Tattoo at 734 Elmwood Ave or Lockhouse Distillery at 41 Columbia Street, both in Buffalo. Thanks so much for the great interview, Jon!  Let's do karaoke sometime  :)

nickelcitypretty1 Comment