Beers and axes: a recipe for disaster or a brilliant business venture?
Urban Axes is betting on the latter. The Philadelphia-based company plans to open its third ax-throwing facility — with a bar serving beer and wine — in a Highlandtown warehouse at 1 N. Haven St. next year.
"Totally agree it sounds dangerous," said Krista Poll, one of the company's four co-founders. "Once you do it, you realize it's not that dangerous."
Dangerous or not, competitive and recreational ax-throwing is gaining popularity in the United States.
A concept that originated in Canada, ax-throwing facilities are popping up in cities like Pittsburgh, Denver and Chicago. And the National Axe Throwing Federation, founded in 2016, now boasts 2,200 league members in 31 cities and four countries.
A founding member of the national federation, Urban Axes is growing quickly. It opened its flagship Philadelphia facility in 2016, recently expanded to Austin, Texas, and has plans to open in at least eight more cities in the coming year.
Baltimore seemed like a natural fit for ax-throwing, said co-founder Krista Poll.
"It's a city with an ax to grind," Poll said.
The 10,000-square-foot Baltimore facility will have six throwing areas, similar to batting cages, with a painted wood target at the end of each 14-foot-long aisle.
Groups will be able to sign up for 2½-hour sessions, where they learn how to throw properly and take turns tossing 14-inch hatchets under an instructors' supervision.
The facility allows two people in a group to throw at once, while the rest watch from behind a bar-height counter.
Poll and her husband decided to bring the activity to the U.S. after attending a friend's birthday party at an ax-throwing facility in Canada.
"This is so amazing," she recalled thinking. "America would love this."
The activity has broad appeal, drawing bachelorette parties, corporate groups and thrill-seekers alike, Poll said.
"We always thought it had a broad appeal but thought it might take longer to convince people it's for everyone," she said.
In addition to its group sessions, Urban Axes accepts walk-ins for one-hour rounds and will run an eight-week ax-throwing league in Highlandtown.
Like serious bowlers, league ax-throwers can bring their own hatchets, so long as they comply with the National Axe Throwing Federation's standards.
Despite the implicit danger of combining alcohol with a potentially deadly weapon — and the waiver all participants must sign — Poll insists it's safe.
"Once people start throwing, they get good at it and they're competitive," Poll said. "They're not sitting around drinking for two hours. They want to throw and do well."