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Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins honored with specialty Sailor Jerry beer cocktail

Houston Hall in Soho hosted Sailor Jerry Day in honor of the legendary American tattoo artist, Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins
Houston Hall in Soho hosted Sailor Jerry Day in honor of the legendary American tattoo artist, Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins
Linda Covello

It isn't often that you hear a bartender talk about the "romance" of a particular spirit, but that is how Matty Meyers describes his feelings about Sailor Jerry, the 92 proof spiced rum that was created in the memory of American tattoo legend, Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins. "Sailor Jerry is always my recommended rum," states Meyers, who tends bar at 9th & Coles Tavern, the popular Jersey City neighborhood bar/tavern that comes highly recommended by the locals there for the "lovely staff" and "great neighborhood vibe". When asked why he would use that particular rum, Meyers replied "because Sailor Jerry tells a story of someone doing exactly what they want, when they want, and letting the consequences decide themselves." He added "You can just jump on the back of a train and find something to do with your life."

Bartender Matty Meyers shows off his first Sailor Jerry tattoo
Linda Covello Photography

If Meyers sounds a bit poetic when talking about his love of Sailor Jerry Rum, it may be due to the fact that he is also a musician in the band Test Tube Casanova, and, in addition to playing rhythm guitar, he also contributes to the songwriting. He is keenly aware of Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins' early history as a "hobo", when, as a youth, he rode the rails of this country before becoming the standard by which all tattoo art is measured. Collins learned the art of "stick and poke" tattooing in Chicago from Tatts Thomas, who also taught him how to use his first tattoo machine, before becoming influenced by the art of Irezumi, the Japanese style of tattooing, while sailing the seas of Southeast Asia after enlisting in the Navy.

June 12th is nationally recognized as "Sailor Jerry Day", which is also the anniversary of Collins' death in 1973. In true bawdy fashion, Sailor Jerry threw celebratory parties on both coasts, and Houston Hall in Soho was the spot for NYC's big bash. Three Kings Tattoo was on hand to ink "First Come First To Deserve" guests with free Sailor Jerry flash art tattoos, and the specialty "Loch, Stock and Barrel" beer cocktail was unveiled. For the past nine months, the crew at Houston Hall aged Sailor Jerry Rum in bourbon barrels and added Scotch style red ale to create this limited time only specialty cocktail.

Pete Steinkopf, guitarist for the hardcore New Jersey punk band, The Bouncing Souls, teamed up with Jake Casualty of the punk band The Casualties for DJ duties, spinning actual vinyl through the night, burlesque girls entertained the drinking troops, and there was even a snake charmer babe who was a Sailor Jerry tattoo come to life. Members of the vintage auto club, The Tiki Kings, parked a couple of gorgeous old time jalopies outside on Houston Street, and revelers shot selfies with the cars all night long. Sailor Jerry Limited's National Brand Ambassador on the East coast, Daniel "Gravy" Thomas, handled MC duties for the night, making sure everyone had Sailor Jerry cocktails and shared stories about Collins and his salty history with the audience. He even obliged one happy guest, pouring the last swig down his throat from the final drops of a bottle of Sailor Jerry rum himself.

Thomas had to take off early the next day for a Sailor Jerry celebration taking place that weekend in South Carolina, but he took a few moments from his busy MC duties to talk about the allure of Sailor Jerry Rum and his own passion for the brand. "Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum is an homage to all sailors worldwide. Its 92 proof is bold, and it is quick and strong, like the life of the man it symbolizes." Thomas fits right in with the brand, and says the biggest inspiration on his life was his father, who was "an old school greaser, from the South" who liked to tinker with old cars. Thomas himself drives a '79 El Camino and sports tattoos up and down both arms, in true Sailor Jerry style.

For a deeper appreciation of the life of Norman "Sailor Jerry" Collins, there is an in-depth documentary that includes first-hand accounts of the man from some of the other legends of American tattooing, like Ed Hardy, Mike Malone and Zeke Owen. "Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry: The Life of Norman K. Collins" was directed by Erich Weiss and released in 2008. Sailor Jerry Limited released a companion book in 2010 entitled "Homeward Bound: The Life and Times of Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry", a collection of photographs, ephemera and essays from the film. "Hori" is the surname or moniker of Japanese tattoo artists, and Collins took the title "Hori Smoku" as a wry twist on the term "Holy Smoke". From the book, Hori Smoku Sailor Jerry is described thus: "A world-worn roughneck with a fascination for Eastern philosophy and art, he chased adventure from the California foothills to the gangster-run streets of Chicago and across the wide open China Sea to Asia before settling in the remote Hawaiian islands. There, from his tiny tattoo shop in Honolulu's gritty Chinatown, he shaped and cussed it all into a pure, American folk art that redefined tattooing forever."

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