Welcome back to Ink Spotted, a feature in which Eater talks to DC's tattooed chefs and gets the stories behind their most intriguing ink.[Photo: R. Lopez]
Brabo sommelier Matt Carroll has about a dozen tattoos, though some are interconnected to make up larger works of body art. He was about 25 when he got his first tattoo. "Before that it just wasn't something I was into," he said. "I never disliked them." But like many others, once he had his first, he wasn't about to stop.
Some of Carroll's tattoos are reminiscent of his earlier life as a musician, playing bass for such groups as Baltimore's Kelly Bell Band, including the forte symbols ("loud") on his calves and the fermata symbol ("to hold") on the back of his neck. He spent his time in Baltimore balancing his musical career and a life as a special education teacher before he began getting burned out. A friend lined up a bartending gig for him. "I went in with no intention of being in the restaurant business at all, but I fell in love with it," he said. When he got the opportunity to take sommelier exams with his employer reimbursing the fee, he "ran with it." Since then, Carroll's resume has included stops at the Inn at Little Washington, 2941 and now Brabo.
The tattoos on Carroll's upper arms are recreations of watercolors painted by his sister, a potter by trade who created little characters symbolizing their family. Carroll also has a pin-up girl on his calf who, appropriately for a restaurant industry person, is manning a barbecue. On his lower arms, Carroll wanted an artist to create something that would represent "the dichotomy of romance and chemistry," which is how he views wine. "Just like in music, you have to balance technical skill with emotion, I think the best wines are technically well made, but also have the emotional element." Grapes and molecule-like symbols come together to become a colorful creation.
Carroll doesn't think he's done with tattoos yet. The next one he's likely to get is the symbol for the Chartreuse liquor, because he likes the romantic backstory behind the drink, originally developed by monks. To him, the creators of a drink demonstrate that even if you dedicate your life to something as simple as one particular liquor, if it's something you're passionate about, it really matters.