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Bad Axe Throwing Opens Up

Reporter Nick Upton throws an ax really, really fast (as evidenced by the blurred hatchet).

You know that feeling of landing the game-winning bull’s-eye with a deftly thrown axe? Oh, you don’t? Lucky for you, Bad Axe Throwing, a Canadian chain, is now open, giving every hopeful Viking warrior a chance to hone his or her axe skills without freaking out the neighbors. 

You might call the group-based axe throwing bar a part of the new wave of experiential concepts drawing market share by bringing visceral group activities front and center. What Punch Bowl Social does with bowling or Top Golf does with golfing, Bad Axe Throwing does with axe throwing. But most call it "(expletive) sweet,” as one of Foodservice News’ guest models and axe enthusiast Adam Brinkman said. 

Proving he doesn’t have an ax to grind, Ax Master Nic Sable poses in front of the target at Bad Ax Throwing. He doesn’t have a fierce expression, he confessed.

With the calm wisdom of Axe Master Nic Sable (yes that’s his real title) to guide us, the Foodservice News group felt like axe masters in the span of about 30 minutes. "You can get pretty good in one event,” said Sable who, despite his magnificent beard, hasn’t been throwing axes all that long. 

Each event starts with the basic axe throwing techniques. It’s less a game of strength than it is hand-eye coordination, a gentle step forward and the momentum of the specialized axe is all that’s necessary to get the satisfying “thwack” of hitting the target. 

“This thing is pretty heavy,” Sable said, referring to the 16-inch axe used for throwing. “It does most of the work for you.”

Judging by the pile of splintered wood in the next stall, a lot of people have been making that sweet sound. “We go through a lot of wood,” said Sable. 

But fret not for the Lorax or the forest. Sable said Bad Axe Throwing is extremely conscious about its environmental impact. And that pile of splinters would become a table for the upcoming bar area and they recycle the target boards until they fall to pieces. 

But back to the axes—the next phase for the session was learning some trick shots. Yes, if just throwing axes wasn’t enough, groups learn a few non-traditional axe throws. Underhand axe throws are very fun, but there’s nothing like the feeling of sinking a pair of axes into a hunk of wood. It’s enough to call forth the instinctive Viking passion in every Sven,

This is where you want the hatachet, not in your foot or in the next lane. 

Thorin and Harry—it’s really, really fun. 

Of course, it’s not just about chucking axes over and over. Once everyone is comfortable hitting the target, it’s all about the games. The most common games are Around the World, where throwers eliminate all the target numbers left to right across the board; there’s Bad Axe, that’s just the game H-O-R-S-E with axes; and dart players will be familiar with an axe version of cricket. But there’s a near endless number of games that the coaches and axe masters will prompt for a group dependent on how well they’re throwing. 

“You just gotta read your crowd,” said Sable. 

A typical event lasts two hours, but that can stretch to three for large groups. An event costs $39.25 per person for group bookings, $35 for groups over 35 and $20 per hour for walk-in business. 

Right now, the venue is basically a big room with 10 axe throwing lanes and not much else, but there has been some significant polish ahead of opening day. And soon, what will be the largest of the 19 locations across the U.S. and Canada will have a bar area (complete with tables made from those splintered targets), lounging spots and room for five to 10 axe-throwing groups depending on the group size. When the Foodservice News team went, Bad Axe was still working through the liquor-license process.

Axes and beer, what could go wrong? 

But this isn’t some backwoods lunatic hour. Safety really is priority No. 1. 

Before anyone touched an axe, Sable talked through safety. Basically, staying out of the throwing lane until all axes have come to a complete stop, remove from the target by pulling up and away from your body and don’t be dumb. 

To ensure that last point and keep the fun going, coaches and Axe Masters like Sable stick with the group for the duration of the throwing event to train, keep score, prompt the next game and make sure nobody is being unsafe or too intoxicated to safely throw an axe. To date, nobody has been hurt at any of the 19 locations. 

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