Culture

Booze Tattoos: Daniel de Oliveira and Gin Lane

Bartender measuring with a jigger
Daniel de Oliveira of High Proof Chicago.

At an industry seminar several years ago, Daniel de Oliveira first saw “Gin Lane,” one of English painter and engraver William Hogarth’s most famous etchings from the year 1751. It depicts London in the late 17th century, amidst the utter chaos that many people of the era believed gin brought about. The disturbing imagery features the likes of alcoholic mothers pouring gin down the throats of babies, a child competing with a dog for a bone to gnaw on, corpses, and a lunatic dancing a jig while holding a spike with an impaled baby on it—you know, just your average uplifting piece of bucolic pastoral artwork. For Leblon Cachaça Brand Ambassador and High Proof Chicago’s Daniel de Oliveira, however, it was captivating. “The minute I saw the image,” he recalls, “I was obsessed with it.”

Like a regular work commute, de Oliveira found himself regularly revisiting the piece in his mind for the following eight years. He thought it would make a great tattoo, so he studied and contemplated it, growing increasingly fascinated by the relationship between politics and booze that fueled and contextualized the piece. “It’s a companion piece to ‘Beer Street,’ where, in contrast to ‘Gin Lane,’ people are civilized; they’re drinking beer and painting, reading,” he says. “Hogarth lived across from a brewery, and his piece was used as propaganda to glamorize beer and make gin look evil.” Its publication was even used to support the Gin Act of 1751, which aimed to reduce gin consumption and distribution. Compelling history aside, the painting speaks to de Oliveira’s lifelong ambition to bartend professionally and the fact that he counts gin among his top three favorite spirits.

When the time came for de Oliveira to get inked with Hogarth’s masterpiece, he knew he needed ample space. “It’s a big piece of real estate,” he laughs, “so I went with my ribcage. And initially, I planned on getting ‘Beer Street’ on my other rib cage--the yin and yang of it made it perfect.” After more than 20 hours’ of work required for his “Gin Lane” tattoo, de Oliveira says he no longer wants “Beer Street” on his person. “It really f—ing hurt, and it was well worth it, but I don’t need another.”

With many bartenders like de Oliveira across the country rocking killer body art, we couldn’t resist asking him if he thought there was a special relationship between booze and tattoos-- other than sometimes fueling the decision to get one, obviously. “To permanently brand yourself, to get a stamp on your body like a logo or an alcohol-related one like mine may be easier for bartenders, because we align ourselves with spirits and brands more easily than regular people,” he offers. “We have the opportunity to do things like go to distilleries, which only strengthens our engagement of products and dedication to service. It’s what we do.” Meaningful, captivating boozy tattoos? We’ll drink to that ink.

Tattoo of "Gin Lane," an engraving showing various forms of debaucheryDaniel de Oliveira's "Gin Lane" ribcage tattoo, a tribute to William Hogarth's famous etching.

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