Axes first, barbecue second, booze third.
Casting Iron Axes’ planned business model seemed straightforward to owners Isaiah and Riely Harris when they first applied for a liquor license last fall — knowing the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board was on the hook. the point of approving the combination of axes and alcohol. This was already the case for dozens of destinations across the country where customers can grab nachos and a beer between chops on a target wall, much like a game of darts.
The liquor board began receiving requests as early as 2018 from ax throwing businesses and those already licensed, such as a brewery, who “wanted to add ax throwing as entertainment,” it said. spokesperson Julie Graham. But he was considered high risk, posing a threat to the safety of staff and customers, and so all applications were turned down.
According to Riely Harris, the agency said it would approve Casting Iron for a liquor license on one condition: don’t throw axes.
“Of course, that won’t work!” she called back in June.
Frustrated, the couple regroup and decide to open the business in phases. They launched ax throwing in February and introduced the restaurant in May, serving hand pies filled with brisket, barbecue chicken or pulled pork and macaroni and cheese with burnt ends. Customers kept asking: when will the bar open?
“The bar has been part of the design the whole time,” Harris said. “It’s here with bar stools waiting.”
Meanwhile, Bellingham Ax got around the hurdle by opening The Ax Bar upstairs above his ax throwing establishment. Guests can order beer and cider from the can, with live music often playing in an adjacent room.
After nearly three years of hand twisting sparked by an outbreak with a national ax throwing chain, LCB will allow Casting Iron — and one of about 15 venues that have popped up in the state in recent years – to acquire alcohol permitted as of July 9, under certain conditions.
The lanes, as the industry calls the batting cage-shaped area where people throw, must be barricaded from drinking areas. You cannot throw an ax and take a sip in the same space – they must be separated by some sort of wall, cage or net.
Applications must also include a floor plan as well as a “safety operating plan” detailing how staff – who must be certified by the state alcohol service program, MAST, and present when channels are used – “will mitigate security issues”. The steps range from monitoring the amount of alcohol consumed to banning the pitching of apparently intoxicated patrons.
Casting Iron already has a cage at each lane, with a high table at the back. Staff often deliver food directly to this area, Riely Harris said, and many guests eat between throws. Under the new liquor rules, the biggest difference for them will be drink tracking.
They’re considering giving pitchers a punch-through bracelet and limiting the number of glasses to two or three.
Isaiah Harris believes the additional revenue from alcohol sales “will play a big part in our revenue picture”, adding that they are keen to hold typical pub activities like trivial parties. “Were excited. Our staff are ready to go and trained. I think the public is ready for that.
Axes and liquor
Casting Iron is one of the newest ax throwing venues in Washington state, but it’s one of the few whose business model involves a full-service restaurant.
Others, like Sea Axe, which opened in downtown Auburn in February, and Ax Kickers in South Seattle lean toward the small side, with room for a counter service area. They both plan to apply for snack bar or tavern licenses, which allow the sale of beer and wine without hot food, a requirement to sell liquor in Washington state.
At Arrowhead Ranch, a multi-purpose “destination adventure center” on Camano Island, the site’s outdoor ax throwing portion doesn’t plan to add alcohol in part because they don’t have no cooking, spokesperson Katie Shrock said by email.
Blade & Timber opened its Seattle location in 2019 without food or drink — offered at its other five locations in three states — because the liquor board denied its request. They too were frustrated, having worked with local planning and development departments to ensure they had “what we would need to serve alcohol”, according to Matt Baysinger, CEO of parent company Swell Spark. brand which also operates escape rooms and mini-golf. Notions.
Expectations differed from those in other markets, including Kansas and Tennessee, he told the News Tribune in early July. Nonetheless, the company is committed to providing an 80-page plan for safe liquor service upfront.
“We arrived with data. We served hundreds and thousands of guests, and we served a lot of booze, but they wanted more,” he said.
The company appealed and, as part of a settlement in April 2021, LCB granted a one-year “pilot” license with certain parameters such as lane barricades, a safety plan and reports on alcohol sales.
“I understand the hesitation of people who aren’t familiar with our concept, who might be a bit afraid to combine those two things,” Baysinger said. Like each of the five other business owners interviewed for this story, he pointed to a dearth of accidents at ax throwing sites as part of this evidence. “It can be done in a really safe way for guests and the public.”
Despite the drawn-out process, he added, “We’ve come to what I would call a very happy conclusion that all of Washington State can do both of these things.”
The Harrises, who actively participated in the rule-making process that began last fall and were anticipating a decision in January, want their license approved today.
“Summer in the Northwest is really important to your business,” said Riely Harris.
LCB says it “has followed a fairly standard timeline and process for an activity that is new and requires research and input from a range of stakeholders.” By law, changes to the agency’s rules must begin with an investigation phase before moving to a formal proposal with public comment periods and then, if approved, to adoption.
“The rule-making process can take several months to a few years,” Graham said. It depends on resources, complexity of the problem, availability of data and public interest.
That last notion – does the average Washingtonian care about ax throwing? — may be to blame, postulated Blade & Timber’s Baysinger.
Compared to broad support, for example, for the legalization of recreational cannabis, he said, “With ax throwing, there’s like seven people across the state who think it’s important.”
A booming sport in WA
Throughout the country, there are hundreds of ax throwing outposts. Including those from Canada, around 300 have joined the World Ax Throwing League, founded in 2017 as one of two main membership groups formed to “unify” the sport. The International Ax Throwing Federation was founded in 2016, working with 150 member sites and over 20,000 league members.
The goal: to professionalize the sport by standardizing rules, scoring, safety and etiquette.
Casting Iron and Bellingham Ax are official member sites of WATL. Ax Kickers is an affiliate of the IATF, whose owner Keith Mulligan said the standards make it a fun and safe activity and an organized sport, especially when it comes to leagues.
Ax throwing in the 2020s, say the sport’s enthusiasts and entrepreneurs, is bowling in the 1980s.
“Some see it as a sport, others as an activity,” Baysinger said. “They’re both right. There are professional bowlers and there are professional ax throwers, and there are people who just want to do something.
Miguel Tamburini, founder of Jumping Jackelope with locations in Coeur d’Alene, Spokane and Seattle and himself a champion thrower, helped write IATF rules and also trains WATL coaches. He describes ax throwing as “an invaluable skill”, an affordable activity, a stress reliever, a confidence builder and an inclusive sport.
“We don’t have weight, age, gender divisions,” he said. “People say, ‘Hey, that was easier than I thought. The instructors were helpful. I didn’t think I could do this, but I did.
The sport took off in Canada in the mid-2000s, he said, gaining traction in the Eastern and Midwestern United States in the 2010s. last years that it has spread to the West.
In his experience, nearly every state except Washington — even notoriously picky states like Utah — has allowed ax throwing venues to sell alcohol. He emphasized that coaches are an integral part of the experience.
At Sea Ax in Auburn, co-owners Duke Managhan and Vance Olsen give every guest a safety briefing, regardless of their stated experience level.
“We don’t mean to be patronizing, but you can always learn something new,” Managhan told the News Tribune in a phone interview. They also follow up: “I’m going to give them some unsolicited ax throwing advice,” he laughed.
They tapped into their more than six years of experience as iFly instructors — “another potentially dangerous sport,” Managhan said. “You have to teach people how to make it safe and fun.”
In fact, he jokes that ax throwing, usually $25-30 to rent a lane for an hour, is “everyone’s iFly.” It nurtures a more community spirit, though, and being able to decompress with friends after a throwing session feels pretty normal to him.
“The liquor license is not a fundamental principle of our business; however, it can directly impact your business if you are the only one without a liquor license,” he said.
Zach Kortage of the Bellingham Herald contributed to this report.