There are shotgun weddings, but ax-throwing wedding anniversaries are a new one.
To the erratic heartbeat of axes thumping against wooden targets, Greensboro couple Larry and Carrie Pierce celebrated their 10-year anniversary at Winston-Salem’s new ax-throwing bar.
“Beer, axes, yes,” Larry Pierce said. “It’s a lot of fun. Definitely worth trying.”
The bowling alley-style venue, which opened May 23, offers customers a chance to chuck axes at a wooden target in a way that is both cathartic and empowering.
The 5,200-square-foot Winston-Salem bar has seven lanes — one of which is in a room for private events.
Each lane has two targets, two axes and can accommodate up to eight people.
“The first time you throw and stick an ax, it is exhilarating,” owner Scott Gadd said. “Ax throwing is one of the most primal activities you can do with your friends, families or coworkers and we have … trained coaches who are there to teach you, be cheerleaders for you and keep you safe.”
On a Saturday night in June, Axe Club of America, at 109 W. Ninth St., is bustling with electricity and activity, despite having been open for only a week.
Some of the axes slung from 14 feet away find their mark with a satisfying thump, while other axes bounce tauntingly away from the board instead of sticking.
Clemmons resident and ax-throwing newbie Laurie Fitzgerald embedded one of the 1.25-pound axes in the target with formidable accuracy.
“It’s awesome,” said Fitzgerald, who was wearing pink pants. “It’s fun to try new things, so we thought ‘Why not?’”
Fitzgerald and her group took turns learning from the coach on hand and practicing for their upcoming battle, pitting husbands against wives.
“I’ve done darts, but the ax is a little more of a challenge,” her husband, David Fitzgerald, said. “I understand this has been sweeping the country. It’s a lot of fun.”
Ax-throwing bars have exploded in popularity in Canada over the past decade, only recently trickling into the U.S.
Gadd learned about the phenomenon from a YouTube video and, after traveling to Canada to try it out for himself, he decided to abandon the insurance business for life as an ax-throwing bar owner.
When Gadd and his wife, Ashleigh, opened their first Charlotte location in June of 2017, they had one of only 26 ax-throwing bars in the U.S. Now there are well over 200, he said.
After opening a second location in Charlotte to accommodate demand, the Gadds decided to bring their much-coveted venture to Winston-Salem.
“This is something unique. It’s new to the South,” said Sam Carter, a general manager at the Winston-Salem branch. “If you’re looking for something to do, this is really great.”
It may seem like a dangerous combination: beer and sharpened axes.
But strict safety precautions — like no flip-flops, an 18-plus age restriction and floor-to-ceiling chain link fences between each lane — have ensured no injuries for the 40,000 customers who have tried ax-throwing at any of Gadds’ three locations.
All of their employees are trained to recognize potential dangers, like excessive drinking, and are versed in first-aid, Carter said.
Each lane also has a coach on hand to teach proper throwing techniques, ease any anxieties and make you feel like you can throw like a pro.
“We’re here to entertain, but we also want you to leave here the way you came,” said general manager Matt Muti. “I love teaching people, especially the people who really want to learn, and seeing the enjoyment on their faces.”
The ax-throwing itself is both easier and harder than it looks, but the patient coaches are able to make even the least coordinated of us moderately competent.
Step forward with one foot — right foot if you’re right-handed — and raise the ax behind your head. Swing while taking a step forward and voila, hopefully a bulls-eye.
“It’s very basic,” Carter said. “Ninety percent of people get at least 10 sticks.”
The targets are made up of three rings — blue, red and black — and denote different numbers of points from one to five.
Two small green circles, known as “the clutch,” in the upper corners of the board give a chance to sway the score with a seven-point reward.
The boards that make up the wooden targets are soaked in water to make a softer, spongier surface and are changed out every eight hours.
In league play — which is held Mondays and Tuesdays — the boards last only an hour or two before the constant indents from axes and the splintered wood mandate a replacement, Carter said.
Gadd said he is excited to see how the bar is received by the Winston-Salem community.
“(The) grand opening went well,” he said. “Not only did we have people who have been excited for us to open visit, we also had great foot traffic with Earl’s, Wiseman, Ramkat and the Winston Junction market all right there.”
Customers are able to bring in outside food, but not alcohol, Gadd said.
The bar will serve everything except liquor, mostly North Carolina craft beers, along with domestic labels Pabst Blue Ribbon and Bud Light and a selection of ciders and wines.
“We thought ‘Why not try it?’” said Josh Marcellis, who participated with his wife, Vilay. “The atmosphere here is great, very cool, and the ax-throwing is worth it.”