Generally when a new sport catches on in this country it’s something that was just invented. Snowboarding, rollerblading, Ultimate Frisbee and other games have all emerged over the last few decades from seemingly out of nowhere. But one of the latest trends to catch on has been around for centuries, and it’s pretty safe to say that absolutely nobody expected it to make a big comeback. We’re talking about axe throwing.
What’s fascinating about the trend is that it’s not just being done somewhere in the depths of a snowy forest or enchanted village. This activity has landed in pubs across America. That’s right, drinking alcohol and axe throwing have become unlikely bedfellows over the last few years, and the fad is only gaining momentum.
So where did this idea come from? Well, the popular version stems back to 2013 when Krista Paton brought the concept to Philadelphia, opening up Urban Axes, the country’s first axe-throwing pub. According to a story on NBCNews.com, Paton had first experienced the thrill of throwing axes while working in Canada. “I had an amazing time, felt like I was good enough to compete, and thought that people in the United States needed to experience this,” she said in the 2018 story.
Since then the trend has caught on in a big way, with axe-throwing bars popping up all over the country, including one right at the entrance to Steel Pier in Atlantic City. It’s called AC Axe & Pub, and it’s run by Gary Albano, a former manager at Gallagher’s Steakhouse turned axe-throwing enthusiast.
“I was working at Gallagher’s and Anthony (Catanoso, owner of the Steer Pier) said, ‘I want you to come over and run a bar — with axe throwing.’ I said, ‘alcohol and axes — what could go wrong?’” he laughs.
Albano took a course taught by a team of expert axe throwers and soon acquired the skills needed to run the facility and teach patrons the art of throwing axes.
The space is set up with about a half-dozen rows of axe-throwing lanes, each fenced off from the other to prevent flying axes from landing outside the proper area or accidently killing someone. At the end of each lane is a wooden board with a bull’s-eye. Once you are in the lane the goal is simple: get your axe to stick in the bull’s-eye.
Of course that’s easier said than done.
“We give you all the pointers that you need. It’s really about finding your spot (to throw) on the floor. Once you do that you are good to go,” Albano says.
Ben Rose, director of marketing and public relations at the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Authority was familiar with the concept of axe throwing, as the boardwalk in Wildwood is home to Flying Hatchets (it’s now closed for the season), a space that offers this very activity, but he had not had a chance to actually try his hand at the sport until a recent visit to Steel Pier with friends.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” Rose says. “The axe is heavier than I imagined. I threw the first shot and it just banged against the board and fell down. But the second shot I got a bull’s-eye! We had drinks, threw axes and had a great time. I would absolutely go back.”
After hearing such rave reviews of the sport, we — the team at A.C. Weekly — decided we needed to head down and try our hand at throwing a few axes ourselves. Here’s what we thought.
Ryan Loughlin, Associate Editor, A.C. Weekly: Generally speaking, I have little-to-no interest in bar games. When I go to a bar it’s for cocktails. I don’t throw darts, I don’t play pool, I just hang out with friends and have some laughs. But even I had to admit that throwing axes sounded like fun. And it was.
That’s not to say I was any good at it. I did manage to get a bull’s-eye once, but most of my shots either bounced off the wood or stuck somewhere outside of the center. But it really didn’t matter, as the fun to be had here is in watching everyone struggle and occasionally succeed at this bizarre activity.
I admit that a part of me mused how long a facility such as this could go without a drunk patron trying to kill someone with an axe. I mean fights break out in regular bars all the time, right? Wouldn’t arming everyone with medieval weaponry make the potential for disaster that much higher? And what about the potential for accidentally chopping off your own limb? According to Albano, there is nothing to worry about.
“They have done studies and have determined that bowling is actually more dangerous than axe throwing,” he says. “And you aren’t getting in here if you are wasted. I’m always here and I can tell if you are wobbly. We haven’t had any incidents.”
Pamela Dollak Editor, Atlantic City Weekly: I’m always ready to try the next big thing so I have wanted to check out this bar sport since I first heard about it. We went as a group — aside from Ryan and me, other A.C. Weekly eager axe throwers included our sales manager Daryl Bulthuis and graphic designer Kathy Disbrow.
Kathy and I donned our best plaid, thinking that if we dressed like lumberjacks, maybe we’d ace axing.
Having grown up playing softball, I (mistakenly) believed that I would be a natural at it. I used to throw a mean speed ball with great aim and I’m still (somewhat) athletic.
I’m here to tell you that none of that mattered.
I was terrible at it. OK, not terrible. But not as good as I wanted to be. There is a distinct form that needs to be adhered to. It’s not too dissimilar from throwing a softball, but you do have to keep your arm much straighter.
Though I did hit the target — a couple of times — it wasn’t as many as I, a real competitor at heart, would have preferred.
First I’d throw right-handed, then I’d switch hit, so to speak, to see what it was like, then Gary taught me how to throw with both hands. He even demonstrated how he once got a bull’s-eye by throwing underhanded.
Kathy was the standout axe-throwing employee. She winged one bull’s-eye after another, giggling like an excited schoolgirl each time. “I like this game,” she effused.
Though I was no expert no matter how I threw the axe, I liked it too. I broke a sweat, as well, so I got a bit of a workout. Yet after quite a few choice throws, my arm was about ready to give out. Sure, hatchet throwing is great time and a fantastic outing for a group of friends, but let me tell you, axing is taxing.