Hangover (and Party) Advice from the Guy Who Tattooed Kurt Cobain


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Hangover (and Party) Advice from the Guy Who Tattooed Kurt Cobain

Henk Schiffmacher's worst hangover ever involves an opium den, a prostitute, an STD, and a torn frenulum. Oh, and he vomited bile for two days.

The universe hates drunk people. Hangovers are the ultimate proof—whatever fun you might have had is negated by the feeling you have when you wake up after an evening of heavy drinking. Henk Schiffmacher, seasoned partygoer and patriarch of the Dutch tattoo scene—who says he has inked up an impressive list of people including Kurt Cobain, Lady Gaga, and members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers—is intimately familiar with the morning after.

Henk Schiffmacher. Alle foto's door de aute

All photos by Rebecca Camphens

MUNCHIES: Hey, Henk. Are you currently suffering from a hangover? Henk Schiffmacher: No, are you crazy? I'm an old man. I'll have one drink, and as soon as I make a bit too much noise, my wife takes me by the ears and drags me home so I can get to bed on time. On top of that, I have to travel to Sicily the day after tomorrow, so I'm taking it easy.

And you'll be doing a lot of drinking there? That's definitely a possibility, yes. I'm a pretty regular drinker in general. I have about six large beers a day, usually in the late afternoon, but I don't get drunk. That mostly happens when I go abroad, or when we have foreign visitors. When you get a bunch of tattoo artists together, things can get pretty rough. We're all loudmouths who don't really lead a healthy lifestyle. In Tokyo, about 25 other tattoo artists and I went to Yen Bar. They had a nice collection of all kinds of liquor: vodka, tequila, rum, crème de menthe, whiskey. We emptied everything out, bottle by bottle, by taking shots. That night, I got married for the fourth time. After that, I had a pretty bad hangover (laughs).

What's the worst hangover you've ever had? I can remember one terrible hangover. I was still young and traveling through Asia. I was in Pineng, Malaysia, waiting for a paycheque that was due after doing an assignment for [Dutch magazine] Nieuwe Revue. Our equipment, all of our cameras, were safely stored in a locker while I went to a bar and broke all the rules of the Muslim regime by getting incredibly—and I'm not exaggerating—really, incredibly drunk. I ended up going to an opium den with an Asian woman, where I used opium.


The next morning I woke up with the worst hangover I'd ever had, mentally, because I had my [identification] papers on me, the only money I had left, and the keys to the locker that held all of our equipment. So stupid! The prostitute had left. At first I thought she had stolen everything, but then I found all of my stuff in my shoe. Apparently I had hidden everything there. Those are the worst hangovers: waking up feeling like you did something really dumb or said something horrible to somebody. Anyway, the hangover wasn't over: I had an STD, a torn frenulum that got infected, and I ended up vomiting bile for two days straight.

When you wake up in The Netherlands with a hangover, this is where you have breakfast. Tell me, where are we? At Ysbreeker, around the corner from my house.

And this is where they serve the best hangover breakfast? I'm just being realistic. When I have a hangover, I don't want to walk all the way to the other side of town. I can walk or ride my scooter to this place on my way to work. And they do serve a great breakfast.


What do you usually order? An uitsmijter (an open-faced sandwich with meat, cheese and a fried egg). The bread is multigrain from Hartog, the best bakery in Amsterdam. That, in combination with a delicious fried egg and bacon, makes for a hearty sandwich—a breakfast of champions. Also, a fried egg is the perfect reward for a man after he's really done his best the night before. If your woman fries you an egg, you know you've done well. And of course, it's also important to treat yourself with a good meal after a night of heavy drinking.


[The waitress approaches]

I'll have an uitsmijter, and can you make a good Bloody Mary? That's what I want, with a double vodka. And could you ask your co-worker in the kitchen to put a few pieces of fried bacon in there?

Bacon in the Bloody Mary? Yes, fried bacon. You have to put meat in there—it's an excellent way to improve the taste.


Damn, this is delicious! It's true what they say: the best way to get over a hangover is with the hair of the dog that bit you. You have to keep drinking what you were drinking the night before. I often drink vodka—easily a bottle a day when I was younger—so Bloody Marys are perfect for me. I order the bacon with it, because I found it in the best anti-hangover drink I've ever had. That was in Texas, after a wild party with a bunch of tattoo artists thrown by Oliver Peck, and it was called "Fuck You Hangover." Somebody should launch that [drink] here. Wait, I'll draw it for you.


This was the ultimate Bloody Mary. It was huge and contained a double shot of vodka and all sorts of stuff on skewers: a small hamburger, a piece of cheese, a piece of meat, grapes, celery, and bacon. It was breakfast and anti-hangover medicine in one.

READ MORE: This Cheeseburger-Garnished Bloody Mary is a Work Of Art

Did it help? Yes, of course. It helps, but it also immediately ruins you, because the day has only just begun.

Last time you were nursing a hangover, what kind of night did you have before? Jesus, really nothing all that bad. My life now is very different from the way it used to be. When I was younger, things would get crazy. We always used to drink very much in Amsterdam. I used to have this huge, steel boat, which was about 26 feet long. We'd go out with that boat [through the canals] stopping at clubs along the way. We'd try to snort [cocaine] off the front deck while cutting through the big waves created by the boats around us on the river. It's a miracle that our boat never hit one of the other ships, and that we never got arrested.


You have some egg in your beard. Isn't it annoying to have a beard when you eat? I compare my beard to the bushes growing along the wall of an old house. Birds build their nests there. [My beard] collects bits and pieces of my day along the way. There are things I can't eat very well, like bouillabaisse. I do eat it, but very carefully. When something is very tasty, a kind of passion emerges—a sense of losing control. Everything has to go [into my mouth], even if I have to use my hands and feet to do it. By the way, eating with my hands is my absolute favourite thing. In Singapore, I ate rice with curry and it was so delicious, I was covered in it all the way to my ears. My beard was yellow for days!

Wait, do you have a tattoo of this very breakfast on your arm? Yes. A fried egg. I got it in the United States, when all of a sudden it was prohibited to eat runny egg yolks, due to a salmonella outbreak. I was like, "Really? A country where you can buy semi-automatic weapons tells me how I should eat breakfast?" Tattoo artists aren't keen on following rules. I thought it would be funny to record that moment on my arm.


Did you ever find a tattoo on your body after a drunk night, without remembering how it got there? When we pull an all-nighter, we get all-nighter tattoos. Look at this one. A few other tattoo artists and I got drunk and founded the "Eat My Pussy Club," so we all got a vagina accompanied by the words "eat more pussy." People regularly do stuff like this. Recently, a few guys came into the shop with these weird-looking dancing penises on their arm. They had gotten those tattoos at a party. These days, people think long and hard about what they want imprinted on their bodies. But in the old days, a bunch of guys would go out in Schipperkwartier [a neighborhood] in Antwerp, and they'd come back with a tattoo without knowing how they got it or why.


Does failing to remember things from the night before happen to you a lot? There were times when I went missing for three days. I have no idea where I was. And I've also found a half empty frying pan with dog food on the kitchen counter after I woke up. I was wasted and had apparently decided that I wanted to put a meal together after I got home. I probably thought I was making a côte de boeuf or something like that.

So you ate dog food? Apparently. But I'm pretty resilient.


As a seasoned drinker, do you have tips and tricks you can share with people about staying safe while being drunk? Don't give up when you don't get your keys into the door. I once looked too deep into a bottle of mezcal, trying to find the worm, and woke up in broad daylight when someone tapped me on my shoulder. He asked if I could move my legs, because he needed to park his car. I was laying on the sidewalk in front of my own house. I didn't feel like trying to open the door anymore, so I went to sleep right there. In the summer that's not a big problem, but in winter those situations are dangerous, [because] you don't feel the cold. And another thing: don't put any cutlery in the dishwasher with the sharp side facing up. My wife once fell into it while we were wasted, and when she got up she had a fork sticking out of her ass. Don't clean while you're drunk, change any light bulbs, or get on step stools. Same for anything using a hammer, a saw, or electricity. And don't climb anything. I've never done that myself, but I've seen a lot of accidents happen that way.


This last piece of advice is also important: you can snort and drink everything and do as you please, as long as you can still: One, buy food. Two, pay your bills. And three, can go to work on time and function at a basic level. Once one of those three goes, you're an addict.


What kind of a drunk are you? I think I'm really funny, but other people might disagree. I'll easily take my scooter and drive a lap around the bar when I'm drunk. I also have the impression that I get drunk in a different way than the people around me. Many Dutch people will start the evening in a corner of the bar, looking around, and after they have some alcohol they get what I call "Dutch courage." All of a sudden they're all over you, slapping you on the shoulders and calling you by your first name. I don't mind that, as long as you were already like that when you were sober. If you need a drink before you have the guts to talk to me, I don't like you.

I'm curious: do hangovers get worse when you get older? Yes and no. These days, I rarely have a hangover, but it's because my drinking has changed. When you get older, you can't handle that kind of excess anymore, it's too exhausting. If I were still drinking now the way I did when I was 25, I would need the rest of the week to recover. So it's not so much a matter of hangovers getting worse, more so the fact that the debauchery lessens. These days, I drink mostly Belgian beers, genever, and when I really want to get drunk, I switch to vodka. Unlike stuff such as cocktails, sangria, or Ricard, which has tons of sugar, those are all pretty clean beverages so they don't cause a hangover. Jesus, after I used to have Ricard, I felt like someone hit me on my head in the middle of the night and the axe was still there in the morning. And in Asia you could pour the stuff I was drinking into a shallow dish, light it, and it would keep going all night. That's how intense it was.

I'm 65 now, so I've gotten a lot better at handling alcohol. I only have a light hangover every now and then—nothing too excruciating, just a slight discomfort in your stomach and a need for a cup of coffee or a glass of water. And that (feeling) works well for me artistically, especially when I do things that require a certain amount of focus, like drawing or painting.

Thank you, Henk!


This story was originally published in Dutch on MUNCHIES NL.