East Colfax in Denver may not be the most obvious place to open a business. Empty store fronts and rundown businesses litter that stretch of highway. But one place, next door to a barbershop and underneath a giant billboard, is buzzing.
Ryane Rose opened The Wolf Den Tattoo studio out of necessity — not out of a need to make money, but to work at a place that they could feel wanted. It hasn’t always been that way for them.
“For example, they'd be like, you're an apprentice. Show up in a tutu at 2 a.m.,” Rose said. “Clean the wheels, the hubcaps of my car, or I could find someone else who will gladly do it.”
It was an emotionally abusive time in their career, according to Rose. For years, they pushed aside their pride in order to advance in the industry — one that can be described as masculine and unwelcoming.
“I would have queer men come into my chair and sit there and tell me ‘Oh, my gosh, I'm so glad I found you. Because I feel like some other artists would mess up my tattoo on purpose because they found out I was gay.’” explained Rose.
So, Rose thought it was necessary to create a space that’s welcoming and open to those in the LGBTQIA+ community. The space is affectionately known as The Wolf Den.
Decorated to match the name, forest-scape wallpaper covers the walls of one side of the studio. The rest is painted in a kind of forest green color, giving off a calming vibe. The “den” doesn’t feel like other tattoo studios.
“I want a safe space to work, more and more clients being like, ‘I'd like a safe space to just feel pain,’” Rose stated. “I love it too because I don't feel alone. I get just as much comfort with those connections.”
It’s about connecting with customers and employees. Employees like Meghan Donohue, who moved from Massachusetts to work here.
“I've never really like found my people, but now it feels like home,” Donohue says.
When you walk in The Wolf Den, you’ll notice all the employees have one thing in common. It’s not their tattoos or style, it’s that they’re all women or non-binary, which adds to the welcoming environment Rose created and helps the tattoo studio stand out from others.
“They can come in and feel like, you know, they don't have to be a specific person with us,” said Donohue. “They can be whoever they want to be.”
After nearly an hour of working with her client, Donohue is finally tattooing. It’s that touch, that care and attention to detail, that helps customers feel welcome. And it all starts with Rose. As they like to say: “if it’s not a hell yes, it’s not happening.”
“I'd like to think that they chose this place because they know that we're going to adjust our pronouns, and we're going to just be there to support their journey,” says Rose.
They are creating a so-called wolf pack in the process — welcoming in those who want to be heard and seen, not just for the ink on their skin, but for who they are and want to be.
“Community. I think that that's probably the word that I built it around,” Rose noted. “That's why it's named the wolf den. Because as a wolf pack, when we all work together, we can do great things.”
Editor's Note: Denver7 is a proud sponsor of Denver Pride.