Bid farewell to the cozy cat cafes of the Obama years. In 2018, America will be all about the ax-throwing bar. That’s right, establishments that pair alcohol with leisurely hurling deadly objects at targets exist, and they’re opening up everywhere.
The practice of chucking a hatchet into wood and hoping it sticks is as old as the lumberjack, but it’s relatively new as a “sport.” Unsurprisingly, its current status as indoor recreational activity began in Canada. Torontonian Matt Wilson, inspired by the fun that occurred when presented with an ax, a tree, some beer, and boredom, founded the Backyard Axe Throwing League (BATL) in 2006. The BATL spread ax-throwing venues throughout Ontario, and in 2016, Wilson established the National Axe Throwing Federation (NATF).
And now, maybe because there’s a lot to admire about Canada these days, America is catching on. Here’s everything you should know about the trend taking over bars and warehouses, and likely coming soon to a city near you.
What is an ax-throwing bar?
It’s an indoor space designed to allow people to throw axes (or hatchets, their smaller counterparts) at wooden targets. Often with drinks and, sometimes, food.
Ax-throwing is a sport with Olympic aspirations (the NATF holds an annual championship with standardized rules and regulations), and so some of America’s new ax-throwing venues are more akin to bowling alleys, complete with recreational leagues, while others are bars or restaurants first with ax-throwing as an added attraction. Detroit Axe, for example, offers 12 ax-throwing lanes along with 1,000 board games and a full-service restaurant, while Philadelphia-based Urban Axes, a BYOB arena dedicated to the sport, has more of an indoor skatepark feel.
All ax-throwing venues have experts on hand to teach newcomers how to throw (there’s more than one correct technique, apparently), and if it’s a part of one of the standardized ax-throwing leagues, they can also learn the formal rules of the game. But ax-throwing is only as competitive as you want to make it. Basically, it’s like darts, but EXTREME.
Who’s it for?
Just about anyone can learn to hurl a hatchet. Kick Axe, an ax-throwing bar in Brooklyn that has the bonus attraction of a lumberjack-themed photo booth, allows throwers as young as 7, as long as they have direct adult supervision. Detroit Axe lets 14-year-olds participate with an adult, but is otherwise 18-plus. Other places, being bars, limit their guests to people 21 and older.
Ax-throwing venues are popular for group events, like bachelorette and bachelor parties and corporate retreats. (“Nothing like working out those workflow kinks with some ax-throwing,” is something people may say in the future.) Ax-throwing venues are also perfect for anyone looking for a new indoor group hobby.
So... is it safe?
By all accounts, yes. In 2015, BATL reported just five or six minor injuries over the course of its nine-year history, most a result of mishandling axes (i.e., picking an ax up by the head instead of the handle).
And although drinking is permitted, many venues take steps to ensure it doesn’t get out of hand. Detroit Axe has a one-drink-per-hour limit in the upstairs ax-throwing portion of the bar, and BYOB venues like Urban Axes don’t permit hard liquor. The ax-throwing community knows that drunk people shouldn’t throw axes, and staff watch out for this. “In every single lane there’s somebody watching over you,” Detroit Axe co-owner Geoff Kretchmer explains. “It’s as safe as you could possibly make it. It’s just as safe as a darts or bowling.” As more than one of these ax-throwing venues puts it, “don’t be an ax-hole” and you’ll be fine.
Where can I find one?
So many places. There are ax-throwing venues opening in Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Detroit; Pittsburgh; Charlotte, North Carolina; Los Angeles; Las Vegas; Houston; Dallas; Baltimore; and, of course, Brooklyn. Massachusetts has at least four. Odds are decent that there will soon be an ax-throwing venue near you, if there isn’t already.
Why are they everywhere?
Many of the new ax-throwing spots are a part of growing ax-throwing leagues or clubs. Bad Axe, “the world’s biggest urban axe throwing club,” started in Canada, and now has locations in 10 U.S. cities. Urban Axes, which is affiliated with with the NATF, originated in Philadelphia and has since expanded to Austin and, soon, Baltimore.
Stumpy’s Hatchet House opened in Eatontown, New Jersey, a year and a half ago, and just became a franchise, leading to quick expansion. This year, five more Stumpy’s locations are expected to open in the U.S.
Still, other ax-throwing bars are one-offs, and according to Kretchmer at Detroit Axe, adding an element of recreation to a bar or restaurant simply makes good business sense. “There’s a million restaurants with great food and great service, and so we just wanted to discover something else that people would visit for — so that we could show off our great food and great service, but they’d have another reason to make it a destination,” he says. In other words, ax-throwing bars are pretty much the new arcade bars.
But why now?
Apparently, America wants to drink and throw sharp things. Makes sense! We have a lot of rage to work out. And if you’re thinking, “But wait, is this really a reaction to the current political/social/environmental situation?” note the trend’s timeline.
Stumpy’s, which bills itself as the country’s first indoor ax-throwing venue, opened in 2016. Co-owner Kelly Josberger says she and her three co-founders initially struggled to find a landlord that got it, but as ax-throwing destinations open with increasing frequency, it seems there’s greater understanding of why people might want to throw some axes.
Of course, ax-throwing is also fun, and Josberger thinks it’s catching on because of a different modern reality. “I think people are looking for something new to do, maybe getting away from electronics and technology and maybe doing something that’s a little more organic and back to the basics,” she says.
“This kind of quick, competitive entertainment is taking off,” Kretchmar says. Arcade games, darts, pool, bowling, and even bocce have had their moments. In 2018, it’s axes.
• Axes and Alcohol: The Rise of Ax-Throwing Bars in Massachusetts [EBOS]
• Brooklyn’s Newest Gimmick Is a Bar With Axe-Throwing [ENY]
• Ax-Throwing Bar Opens in Charlotte [ECHS]
• Inside Ferndale’s New Board Game Bar and Ax-Throwing Venue [ED]