A Cut Above: Two Axe-Throwing Venues Carve Out a Niche in Denver

Hurling hatchets beats tossing darts at Bad Axe Throwing.
Hurling hatchets beats tossing darts at Bad Axe Throwing. c/o Bad Axe Throwing
Ditch your darts and grab an axe next time you're enjoying a beer: The growing trend of axe-throwing has made its way down from the back yards of Canada to two Denver venues.

While the Downtown Art Gallery and Axe Room is a first-time endeavor for founder and Denver transplant Peter Lalor, and Bad Axe Throwing is the sixteenth location for a Canada-based business, both venues sport similar amenities and fun-and-friendly vibes, as well as a rugged, bare-bones ambience. Most important, they each hold several large, caged-off lanes where friends can lob axes at wooden targets.

"You're not going for glow-in-the-dark bowling," says Bad Axe Throwing CEO Mario Zelaya with a laugh. "You're gonna throw some damn axes."

Lalor, who used to live in New York City, first encountered the sport at a bachelor party. It was so much fun that he decided to start a similar business himself, he explains, so he moved to Denver and founded the Downtown Art Gallery and Axe Room, or DAGAR, at 2000 Lawrence Street. The venue's name isn't meant to suggest that you get to throw your axes at pieces of art you don't like. In fact, Lalor thinks the non-traditional nature of an axe-throwing venue makes it exactly the kind of place to help support local and emerging artists.

click to enlarge The interior of DAGAR. - DOWNTOWNAXEROOM.COM
The interior of DAGAR.
"All of my friends who were artists were struggling with their art in New York City," says Lalor. Because finding spaces willing to show their art was so difficult there, he wants DAGAR to serve as a gallery for "primarily local artists without a space to show their work otherwise." He also hopes to build partnerships with students at local art schools.

At DAGAR, which is currently only open by appointment, you can rent out one of three lanes for three hours for a large group, or for an hour and a half for smaller groups. A qualified instructor will teach you the basic techniques of hurling hatchets across a room, and by the end of the session participants, can face off in a competition –– although "face off" may not be the right term.

While DAGAR plans to acquire its own liquor license by mid-August (because what complements an axe in one hand better than a beer in the other?), for now Lalor encourages customers to go downstairs to Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery for refreshments.

While DAGAR's debut has been low key, Bad Axe Throwing quickly made its mark at 845 East 73rd Avenue. The chain got its start in Burlington, Ontario, moved into the United States last September and has already spread to major cities such as Chicago. But Zelaya says that Denver's grand opening, which took place on July 21, was the biggest turnout the chain has had yet, with around 1,200 RSVPs.

click to enlarge A customer reeling up for the bold double-axe throw. - C/O BAD AXE THROWING
A customer reeling up for the bold double-axe throw.
c/o Bad Axe Throwing
"When we first came to the States, we wondered, 'Will our American neighbors love [axe throwing] as much as we do?" Zelaya recalls. "I argue more so." Zelaya says axe-throwing is a fun, inclusive, team-building sport that allows large groups to spend time together in a way that a sport like golf would never allow.

Bad Axe Throwing is now open, and walk-ins are welcome, though Zelaya notes that for big groups, reservations are necessary in order to ensure that there is enough staff present to provide instruction and supervision. This location is also in the process of of acquiring a liquor license, but currently has a BYOB policy.

If the concept of drinking beer while wielding a heavy weapon sounds a bit problematic, Zelaya insists that his customers know axe-throwing is all fun and no danger. "We've never had an injury in any of our locations," he says, adding that as long as proper guidance is given, "it's not a dangerous sport." The staff at Bad Axe is trained to recognize intoxication, and firmly prohibits drunk customers from stepping into a lane, he notes.

Bad Axe Throwing is a registered member of the World Axe Throwing League (yes, that's a thing), and according to Zelaya, joining the league and potentially competing against other cleaver-tossers around the country is one of Bad Axe's main draws. "You can sign up for it like a soccer league," he says.

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Gabe Fine is a fifth-generation Colorado native and a student at Colorado College. He’s written about everything from the environment to housing justice to the postal service as an editorial intern for Westword.
Contact: Gabe Fine