New Orleans Inspired Tattoo Gallery
When Spirit Gallery Tattoo moved to its new space at 377 Colman Street in New London in 2019, owner Lari Mostro was excited to build the shop around his vision of a spa-like atmosphere, his love for the art of tattooing, and decorating with a New Orleans vibe, giving a nod to one of his favorite places and cultures.
COVID-19 then challenged every industry, though Spirit Gallery Tattoo moved through the pandemic mostly unscathed. Just as it seemed the pandemic was moving into the rearview, though, came the most devastating blow yet when Mostro suddenly passed away early in 2022.
“There was never a question of if we’d keep it going,” said Michael Dodd, Mostro’s longtime partner who has since taken over with Mostro’s husband Frank Kucienski. “There’s so much evidence of him still being around and I really think he’s finishing this work from the other side. It could be crazy, but that’s how I feel and there’s ample evidence and a lot of signs we are going in the right direction.”
Dodd and Kucienski are now forging ahead as a duo, after spending the last 32 years with Mostro. Dodd remembers them encouraging Mostro to take over the tattoo shop where he was working as a body piercer.
“Lari was a body piercer for 20 years before getting into the management of the tattoo shop—he’s always been obsessed with body art and 95 percent of his body was covered in ink,” said Dodd. “He’d made a decision a long time ago that he wanted to have his own tattoo shop. We purchased Spirit Gallery together in 2014, but it was his dream.”
The space on Colman Street was a former medical office and the exam rooms provided the perfect setup for Mostro’s vision of a spa-like atmosphere. In addition to creating a welcoming atmosphere, Mostro wanted the shop to have a high level of customer service.
“He saw a way that he could make a tattoo shop more mainstream and have more curb appeal, so everyone felt welcome to come for services,” said Dodd. “It was also very important to him that there was a level of customer service you don’t get at most tattoo shops. The vibe is a lot more spa than tattoo shop.”
Unlike many tattoo shops, there are no flash sheets on the wall. Every tattoo done at Spirit Gallery Tattoo is custom designed by the tattoo artist. Customers can bring in photos or sketches for inspiration and then the artist will work through the process with them in designing the tattoo so that it is original and personalized.
Each of the shop’s eight artists—who specialize in tattooing, piercing, and permanent makeup—have their own room, giving clients privacy and the artists the opportunity to show their personality and skills.
“We have a really good crew of talented artists and since Lari’s passing, everyone has really stepped up to help,” said Dodd. “Everyone has put their personal spin on their rooms—one artist is really good at woodburning and his walls showcase that and different paintings; another has decorated with comic book action figures.”
While the individual, personalized rooms helped to fulfill Mostro’s vision, they also proved to be beneficial during the pandemic. The shop has always operated by appointment as every tattoo is custom designed, but during COVID, the separate rooms allowed for social distancing between clients, allowing Spirit Gallery to continue to operate.
With the artists putting their personality into their rooms, Mostro put his stamp on the lobby. Mostro, Dodd, and Kucienski fell in love with New Orleans after they traveled there for the first time several years ago and when they moved to their new location, the decor was inspired by ‘The Big Easy.’
Because Spirit Gallery had started to garner a following at the time Mostro purchased it, they decided not to change the name. As the years went by, the name began to fit the space and the vibe of the shop more and more, especially with the many nods to New Orleans, including a portrait of Marie Laveau, who is known as voodoo queen of New Orleans.
“Lari just fell in love with the city and the culture, and the lobby of the shop is more like your grandma’s living room with whorehouse chic thrown in,” said Dodd, noting they continued to travel to the city at least once a year. “There are a lot of spirits in voodoo so with the New Orleans connection, it’s something we focus on even more now.”
The personal touches don’t stop inside the shop. Dodd was a florist for several years and when they decided to buy the property the shop is located on, Dodd took over the landscaping and gardens.
“We put in gardens and all kinds of stone so it’s a park-like setting,” said Dodd. “We did it because we wanted to, but it’s set a new standard for the community and the New London Beautification Committee gave us an award for our gardens.”
With the new location gaining traction, there were plans to expand the business. Spirit Gallery Tattoo was looking at creating a retail space, Spirit Gallery Esoterica, with a focus on occult goods.
“He was building that shop for me to run—an occult goods store with a focus on people who work with spirits in any capacity, and with a small chapel dedicated to the Santa Muerte in the back,” said Dodd. “At the time of his passing, we were deep in the planning and early execution of a retail space, but it is now on hold for at least a year.”
Dodd notes that while Mostro loved tattoos, he wasn’t artistic and not a tattoo artist himself—and both Dodd and Kucienski supported the shop in the background, helping with paperwork, policies, and more. With Mostro’s passing, both Dodd and Kucienski have stepped in to help run the shop with help from Alex Williams, who works at the front desk.
“She’s a very close and old friend of ours,” said Dodd. “She loved Lari so much and understood his vision for Spirit Gallery and really stepped up to help in the wake of his passing.”
They are also planning to continue an annual event called Honor Ink, which is a fundraiser for Guardians of the Purple Heart. Dodd noted that “it was Lari’s favorite event to host with the veterans being a cause dear to his heart.” Mostro was also involved with various business organizations and sponsored New London pride.
When Mostro wasn’t working, Dodd said his favorite way to relax was cooking. He often made huge batches of gumbo or chili and would bring it to work to share. Now with Mostro gone, Dodd is seeing his spirit live on.
“He did a lot of things over the years but was most proud of the work he did with his tattoo shop,” said Dodd. “He was so larger than life all the time and had a big personality and his loss left a much bigger hole than it would’ve otherwise. Now we’re honoring his memory by carrying on the vision that he had and keeping up his standards.”
Spirit Gallery Tattoo
377 Colman Street, New London, CT