The sport of axe throwing has come to downtown Buffalo. Actually, it’s technically a hatchet that is being thrown. Either way, the act of wielding a wooden handle with a steel blade attached to it, and throwing it through the air at a target, is something that everyone should try at least once. I got my turn a couple of evenings ago when I met up with Dustin Snyder (lead photo – right) and Andrew Piechowicz, owners of Hatchets & Hops, located at 505 Main Street.
Hatchet throwing is a brand new concept for Buffalo. In fact, it’s a brand new concept for the US. If Hatchets & Hops had opened a few weeks earlier than it did, it would have been the first hatchet throwing pub in the US. Alas, I suppose we can’t be overly upset about not being first. There was a time that it would have taken Buffalo three years to catch on to a craze such as this. So three weeks is not a big deal.
According to Dustin and Andrew, the sport has mostly gained in popularity in Ontario, where hatchet throwing pubs are opening like crazy. It all started in a guy’s backyard – friends would come over, drink beer and throw hatchets. It became so popular that the axe enthusiast opened bar. Today he owns and operates six locations. Since first opening in 2006, another Canadian operator has opened an additional dozen hatchet throwing bars. In the US, a throwing club recently opened in Philadelphia and one in Chicago, which means that Buffalo is well ahead of the axe throwing curve.
Dustin and Andrew say that their throwing club is a bit different than the rest, as it’s a bit more polished. They are big on the experience, and more are more sophisticated with the brand. Don’t get me wrong, the place is still rugged, but it’s the type of place that a lumberjack and a business person would both feel comfortable in.
I asked the owners what people thought when they first heard an “axe” throwing bar was opening in Buffalo. They said that it certainly raised some eyebrows at first. They also said that most people, even at the City Hall level, were open to it, which is kind of surprising. The hatchet throwing bar opened this past Friday, bringing with it throngs of people who couldn’t wait to get their hands on a hatchet handle, though not a beer mug handle since they are still waiting for their beer and wine license from the State Liquor Authority.
Before letting me loose onto the floor to throw an axe, I wanted to know how Dustin and Andrew came up with the idea. Simply enough, they walked into a hatchet throwing club in Canada and were immediately hooked. They realized right away that they were looking at an opportunity to bring something back to Buffalo. “So often, people go out for food and drink, and they end up standing around,” said Dustin. “There are not enough activities for people to engage in when they go out at night. We want to take people out of their comfort zones. We felt that Buffalo would be a good fit for a number of reasons. Buffalo was once a big lumber city. Our values also mesh with the people of Buffalo – authenticity, confidence, pride, community, discipline and quality. These values are listed in the front window, for all to see.”
After planning to open for well over a year, Andrew told me that the wait was worth it. “This past Friday every slot was full,” he reflected. “95% of the people had never thrown an axe. It was a very diverse crowd, ages 20 to 60+, and everyone was bonding and cheering each other on. Many of the people stuck around downtown after work to try it out. We had a porter outside who was answering questions from passersby. Everyone was staring in the window, not believing what they were seeing.”
If you think that you can just walk into Hatchets & Hops and throw an axe, think again. In order to participate in the sport, people have to sign up and reserve a spot. As for safety, the owners are strict about capacity, and the instructors are trained to mitigate any potential issue well before a customer even walks through the door. The axes are only sharp enough to stick in the wall. Before throwing the first axe, instructors talk about the history of the sport, and the best techniques used to master the craft. Apparently girls are outperforming the guys because they actually listen to the instructors instead of flexing their machismo during the match. The throwing sessions are based on a round robin bracket style tournament. As for the beers that will eventually be served, the instructors will keep an eagle eye on people to make sure that they are not overdoing it. I am told that there’s not much time to drink when in the midst of a match anyways, and that people head to the bar when their sessions are over.
According to Dustin and Andrew, everyone they come across expresses an interest in throwing. “I talked to a yoga instructor the other day,” said Dustin. “She wants to host a yoga axe throwing class here. So far, everyone loves the idea. From the City being onboard with the idea, to Buffalo Place backing us up, we have been accepted by the community. The City even created a new category for us. Instead of lumping us in with bowling alleys, they added hatchet throwing venues to their application process. The president of Buffalo Place stood up for us and said that if these dulled axe blades were a problem, then ice skating would be just as dangerous. Now we’re waiting for the SLA – they will be monitoring us to make sure that we are abiding by all of the safety regulations. In the meantime, we are serving Snowy Owl Kombucha and Public Espresso + Coffee.”
I must say that after throwing my first hatchet, I was hooked. My fourth throw I almost hit a bullseye. It’s kind of like a zen thing. As long as you don’t over think everything, it’s not as hard as one might expect. It’s more of a state of mind than anything else.
This sport makes for a great date, corporate events, and even bachelorette parties. It’s also a great winter activity. More than anything else, it’s something different. From the throwing of axes, to the variety of beers (when they get the approval), to the music they play, everything about Hatchets & Hops is out of the ordinary.
Who would have thought that this would be the next business to open up in Downtown Buffalo? Not me. That’s what makes it so great. Dustin and Andrew have gone out on a limb to bring something to this city that is cool, fun, and unique. I can’t wait to see video clips of axe throwing added to the marketing efforts of organizations such as Visit Buffalo Niagara. It’s just one more step in the right direction for a city that was recently ranked for its fun factor.
Photos: Seventh Arrow Studio of Photography