Here’s what it’s like to have a drink and throw axes in the West Bottoms
With an ax in my hands held high above my head, I’m aiming for that Foxy Brown-with-a-hatchet feeling.
But all I keep thinking is what if this thing ricochets back toward me? Then again, if Lizzie Borden can take an ax, so can I. Or at least I think I can. The closest to woodsman swag I’ve come is Timberland boots, flannel and reciting Biggie lyrics like “Way back, when I had the red and black lumberjack. With the hat to match.”
But at Blade & Timber, Kansas City’s new ax-throwing club, anyone can hurl a hatchet. And yes, ax-throwing clubs are a thing.
Matt Baysinger and Ryan Henrich, the masterminds behind the Breakout KC escape rooms, saw the concept in Canada, where it’s as trendy as adult arcades are in America.
In the West Bottoms — where you expect dive bars, artisanal eateries and haunted houses — Blade & Timber fits right in.
Me and my sister-friend Pam used to always joke about late nights in the Bottoms feeling somewhere between fun and that creepy moment in serial killer movies where Jason Voorhees, Jack Torrance or Patrick Bateman might pop out.
But from the moment you pull the ax handle on the wooden doors of the club, you realize the joint is more hipster than horror show.
I never thought I’d utter the words ax-throwing community, but that is what I witnessed. It’s a bunch of young professionals casually kicking it with cleavers. The warehouse has been transformed into an urban, folksy mash-up like Justin Timberlake’s new album. There’s TVs on the walls. Sometimes they air ax-throwing competitions. A lot of times it’s whatever sport is in season. There’s a fridge for sodas and water, but you can bring your own food and drinks. The music? Think “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
The feel? Think bowling alley with way better lighting and a lot more wood. Each lane has its own seating area with tables and chairs. A wood-and-chain wall divides the lanes so no one is in danger of losing a limb. The ax, about 3 feet long and a few pounds, rests on a tree stump. When you step in the lane, it’s you, the ax, your target and a coach if you’re a rookie.
Thank God for Zach Watkins, the manager and our teacher for the hour. He keeps telling us it’s easy. Most people get the hang of things within their first 15 throws, he says.
Standing about 12 to 15 feet away from the target, you hold the ax a lot like you hold a golf club: One hand above the other, dominant hand leading. Aim a little higher than your target. And then you bring it back behind your head, dominant leg forward, work your core, lean in and swing that ax overhead and release.
Zach nails it. But he’s a former member of the Breakout KC team so he was there when the owners decided they were going to get into the ax-throwing business. They built a mini version at the company’s Kansas City, Kan., headquarters a year ago, for practicing.
You might think someone who tosses axes for a living is big, burly and intimidating. Stereotype busted. He’s equal parts coach and cheerleader. Even when you don’t land your target, he’s encouraging you to keep at it.
And I wasn’t at all surprised to hear he was once a “Dance, Dance Revolution” guy.
“I like doing new things and like bowling or darts, this harnesses camraderie but with the catharses of smashing something,” he told me. “It’s great for watching football. When the Chiefs lost, I picked up the ax.”
They’re making targets into enemy team logos next season. But right now, they are working on a Valentine’s Day target. Because an ax through the heart and Cupid’s to blame. Or maybe you give love a bad name.
Either way, it’s an adventure. Our party of five had fun and had exactly one natural. Aaron must have been a lumberjack in his former life and no one can tell me different. He was landing targets like a sniper. It only took Keish about five throws before she landed one, but when she did, we cheered.
“You just feel like you have a big ax in your hand,” she said. “But when you land one, you feel a little successful and happy. Like who would have thought you could throw an ax?”
Molly O’Donnell. That’s who. The 33-year-old got introduced to knife-throwing at a Renaissance Festival and had been craving for an outlet. She was one of Blade & Timber’s first customers and is now a regular. Her two-person league was among the 20 competing on Thursday night. She’s been known to nail trick shots, like landing two axes at once.
“It’s so much fun,” she says. “It’s badass. I’m kind of a badass anyways but it’s a natural high.”
After an hour of throwing, I never hit that bulls-eye. My inner Foxy Brown never showed up. But I mustered up enough Beatrix Kiddo swag to chop a limb or two if the “heart” is the center.
Honestly, hatchet-hurling doesn’t make you feel violent. It delivers the same zen feeling yoga brings that makes you feel liberated from your worries. That’s right. The ax-thrower in me sees the love, the light and the ax-thrower in you. Namaste, slayers.
Jeneé Osterheldt is a Kansas City Star culture columnist, @jeneeinkc.
Visit Blade & Timber
Blade & Timber, 1101 Mulberry St., is open 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday; 4 to 11 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m Saturday; and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday. Shared lanes are $20 per person per hour. Private lanes are $120 an hour and that includes up to a party of 6. Punch cards start at $130 for 10 hours of play plus a free guest. Reserve online and sign waivers at bladeandtimber.com.