Just west of American Airlines Arena lies a freestanding building. Climb its stairs and you’ll begin to hear throbbing dance music accompanied by the thwack of medieval weaponry. Reach the second floor and you’ll see the sport that’s quickly invading the American Zeitgeist: indoor axe throwing.
For the last year, venues offering the sport have been popping up throughout the United States. In fact, South Florida should have a total of four axe-throwing bars within the next few months. But what are the challenges of a business model that mixes target practice with happy hour? After all, Floridians can turn literally anything into a deadly weapon.
“You have to explain to people what it is, what is involved,” says Irina Henry, co-owner of Extreme Axe Throwing in downtown Miami. “It is a new concept to the insurance world — that is the biggest difficulty.”
The sport is relatively new and therefore doesn’t have the same widespread acceptance as bowling or billiards. In her gentle Russian accent, Henry compares the sport’s struggle for mainstream recognition to that of escape rooms.
“Being a new business model or idea, it’s hard to get insurance,” she says. “People didn’t have an idea what it is. They would think, Is it dangerous?”
Although the sport is relatively young, it has a passionate community that keeps members informed about safety procedures. For example, the staff at Extreme Axe Throwing is required to view all of the World Axe Throwing League’s safety webinars. When it comes to safety procedures, the staff is encouraged to stay sharp.
“It’s dull enough to allow you to manipulate and play with the axe,” says Extreme Axe Throwing employee Quincy Bey on the safe dullness of the axes. “But using momentum and force allows you to pierce the wood.”
He has a point about the safeness of the equipment. Statistically, the sport is surprisingly free from harm. In 2015, the Backyard Axe Throwing League reported only five or six minor injuries out of 70,000 members in its then nine-year history.
The staff makes safety a priority, but how do these bars go about actually handing weapons to people who have been drinking? You’ve never seen a shooting range serve cocktails, have you?
When it comes to alcohol, the distinction between many axe-throwing bars is whether to serve drinks onsite or allow patrons to bring their own.
“We’ve seen more places that are BYOB than having the bars onsite,” says Ryan Lavernia, co-owner of Chops + Hops, which will be opening in Fort Lauderdale in the coming months. “Frankly, it’s a lot more expensive to serve alcohol onsite than it is to just allow people to bring their own, but, for us, the kind of universal truth about the places that were BYOB is that they were less safe than places that weren’t.”
Lavernia believes there’s no way to control how much patrons are drinking or what they are bringing in when it’s BYOB. He found the idea of a BYOB axe-throwing bar was just trouble waiting to happen. That’s why he’s assigning an employee to monitor every party at Chops + Hops.
“Our employees are essentially your coach who’s going to be in the lane with you while you’re throwing and monitoring to make sure everyone is doing everything safely,” Lavernia says. “You’ll order all of your drinks directly through them, so they’ll be able to monitor exactly what everyone has been consuming while they’re throwing and be able to make sure everything is being done safely.”
Just because Lavernia had reservations about BYOB venues doesn’t necessarily mean they are negligent. Extreme Axe Throwing is BYOB, but Henry says there are procedures to keep guests in check, including having her staff constantly on the lookout for potentially drunk patrons and even forbidding hard liquor of any kind.
She says she’s working on securing a liquor license for Extreme Axe Throwing. In the meantime, she’s keeping things flexible but safe.
“Corporate clients, if they want to have an event at our place, we do recommend having a ticket system where they would agree on, say, two tickets per person and that can be two bottles of beer, which is plenty to get,” she says. “Just enough to get a nice atmosphere going.”
Chops + Hops Axe Throwing Lodge. 701 NE First Ave., Fort Lauderdale; chopsandhopsfl.com.
Extreme Axe Throwing Miami. 540 N. Miami Ave., second floor, Miami; 786-708-5811; extremeaxe.com.