“I like to describe it to people as the better and more badass version of bowling.”
Greg DiLullo co-founded Revolution Axe, one of the two axe-throwing bars set to open in the Boston area, and he has no problem justifying the combination of alcohol and sharp objects.
Axe-throwing venues are the latest craze for barhoppers who are fearless or tired of the conventional drinking scene. The pastime has been popular in Canada for almost a decade, but only made it to the United States in 2016, with the opening of Stumpy’s in New Jersey. Agawam Axe House became the first Massachusetts axe-throwing institution this last month, and will be joined later in 2018 by Revolution Axe and Urban Axes.
According to Revolution Axe’s co-founder, Tom C. Vieth, he and DiLullo threw their first axes in December of 2016, and they’ve wanted to open Revolution Axe ever since.
“You rent out one or two lanes for your group and you’ll be standing there next to your friend, both of you throwing an axe at a target at the same time,” says DiLullo. “You get to egg each other on a little bit—all in good fun, of course.”
How does DiLullo rationalize mixing the seemingly-dangerous activity with drinking? “The focus of the venue is going to be axe throwing, but when people think about that, they think: Grab some friends, get a beer, throw some axes, that’d be a great time. We don’t wanna quash that dream.”
If axe throwing is your dream, you have options. Urban Axes, another axe-throwing bar chain with existing locations in Philadelphia and Austin, is also coming to Massachusetts this year. While Revolution Axe is aiming for an April opening in Everett, Urban Axes plans to open their doors this summer in Somerville.
Urban Axes representative Courtney K. Osgood says the founders developed a taste for axe throwing after attending a party in such a venue in Canada. It seemed like “something that Americans would love,” Osgood says. They chose Boston more specifically because two of their co-founders had lived there and “fell in love with the city,” according to Osgood. “The culture in Boston is so vibrant and exciting and full of life, and the experience of Urban Axes is very similar: It’s something different, it’s something unique.”
The appeal of axe throwing, says Osgood, is this uniqueness. “There’s really something satisfying about being able to do an activity that is sort of taboo. Can I throw this axe and it’s going to be okay? Yes, it’s going to be okay.”
And although it may sound like a pastime drenched in toxic masculinity, modern-day axe throwing is egalitarian. “I think there’s a misconception that you have to be super strong, fit and burly to be able to throw an axe really well. It’s not necessarily about the strength: It’s about the angle that you are throwing,” says Osgood.
The founders of Revolution Axe also emphasize the activity’s accessibility. “The handle is 12 inches and the axe sits on top of that. The whole thing is under two pounds. It takes a little bit of finesse to throw them the right way and get them to stick, and that’s why we have coaches there to help the people,” says DiLullo.
Alongside a few other safety measures, the venues provide coaches who turn what one might imagine to be a drunken “free-for-all,” as Vieth puts it, into a safe and fun group activity. At Urban Axes, the proper term for these coaches is “axperts.”
How does one become an axpert? “We’re really open. You don’t necessarily need to have prior experience throwing axes—we’ll train everybody who’s interested,” says Osgood.
“I wouldn’t say it’s dangerous. It’s not that different from bowling, and people have always had a couple of drinks when they bowl,” says Anneliese Townsend, the owner of Agawam Axe House—which, however, does not currently allow alcohol on its premises. That hasn’t stopped them from hosting Super Bowl pregame games, and Townsend says that they’re looking forward to “a Valentine's Day event and an anti-Valentine’s Day for singles.”
Some axe throwers are serious about the sport. Although axe throwing might not have made it to the big league yet, all of the Massachusetts venues have a competitive element, offering contests and even a chance to compete on an international level. This month, for example, Urban Axes will be sending 20 local league winners to Toronto for the National Axe Throwing Championship.
Would the spirit of competition ever affect the two new axe-throwing venues in Boston?
“We definitely have to have a Revolution Axe vs. Urban Axe league showdown for sure. That’d be fun,” laughs Vieth.—Magazine writer Nuriya Saifulina can be reached at Nuriya.firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SaifulinaNuriya.