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Midnight Sun Wesley Case covers the city's after-hours scene

Ax-throwing bar Urban Axes prepares for June opening in Highlandtown

Inside a nearly 11,000-square-foot former industrial warehouse in Highlandtown on Thursday morning, the loud thud sound of small axes being thrown into wooden targets filled the room.

Krista Paton, co-founder of the Urban Axes facility, watched as staff members in branded T-shirts brought 14-inch hatchets, weighing about a pound-and-a-half, behind their shoulders and then, in one smooth motion, release the sharp-edged axes toward bullseyes.

“You don’t have to be particularly fit or athletic,” Paton said. “It is something anyone can be good at, which is pretty unusual.”

The Philadelphia-based company Paton, her husband and a couple friends started in 2016 is preparing to open the doors in Baltimore, their third location and largest yet. (After opening in Philadelphia, they opened in Austin, Texas.) Scheduled to open in April, Urban Axes now plans to open in the second half of June, as they finish a city-permitting process that has taken longer than expected.

“Things that took three days in other cities have taken a couple of months here,” she said. (A delayed fire inspection was the main reason for the hold up, Paton said.)

Paton expects to have completed permits in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, the facility appeared nearly ready to host amateur axe-throwers, with 24 wooden targets set up throughout the building, merchandise and a bar that will serve beer and wine.

Reaction online to last year’s announcement of Urban Axes coming to Baltimore was a mix of excitement, curiosity and skepticism. Those unsure of the concept all seemed to ask a similar question: Alcohol and ax-throwing? Really?

Paton said she’s used to the eyebrow-raising uncertainty.

“It’s like the first question we get,” she said. “Any time you say ‘ax-throwing,’ especially when you start combining it with alcohol, people get a little nervous.”

Since opening the first Urban Axes, the most severe customer injury the company has seen are splinters, Paton said. Urban Axes is a part of the National Axe Throwing Federation, whose safety standards were used to design the building’s layout, from the measurements of the chain-link fencing to the size of the targets, she said.

“Once you do it, you realize it’s a very safe and controlled environment,” she said.

That extends to their approach to alcohol, according to Paton. Each staff member has been trained in the safe service of alcohol, so they’ll be “able to recognize any symptoms of inebriation,” she said. Though they have a full liquor license, Paton said, Urban Axes has chosen not to serve spirits as another way to not over-serve customers.

“No one is allowed to throw drunk,” Paton said. “We will definitely tell people they need to sit down and have some water, or go outside, or leave if necessary.”

Yet alcohol was always a part of Urban Axes’ model. (In Philadelphia and Austin, customers bring their own beer. Baltimore is their first to have its own bar.) The bar will feature wine and beer, including some domestic options and an emphasis on local craft beer. Next-door neighbor Monument City Brewing Co. will be represented.

“We’re adults,” said Paton, who pointed out anyone entering the building has to be at least 21 and sign a waiver. “We want to be able to have a beer if we want to have a beer.”

Urban Axes is intended as a group activity ($35/person), though they will accept walk-ins ($20 for one hour). A group of a dozen gets two targets, while a group of 24 throws at four. The Baltimore facility can accommodate groups up to 200, she said. There will also be eight-week leagues ($120/person) that run three nights per week, Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Staff members monitor and work with groups on the proper ways to throw the entire time, Paton said.

“You’re never throwing unsupervised,” she said.

Closed on Mondays, the facility will be open for registered groups from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Walk-in hours will be during evenings and weekends, and the company is still finalizing those hours, Paton said.

Paton said opening later than expected is frustrating, mainly because she believes the demand for Urban Axes is palpable. They’ve received many calls, Paton said, and have heard on social media locals are anxious to try their hand at throwing. She’s confident they’ll be impressed once they finally experience it.

“One thing we say is everyone loves throwing axes,” Paton said, “they just don’t know it yet.”

wesley.case@baltsun.com

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