Axe Throwing for Stress Relief?

Participants try their hand at hitting the wooden bulls-eye with spinning axes. Photos: Neill Pieper

Participants try their hand at hitting the wooden bulls-eye with spinning axes. Photos: Neill Pieper

Don’t knock it ’til you try it

By Kyle Kirves

What is it about an axe that looms large in the imagination? Sure, the flint knife was likely mankind’s earliest tool, but the axe wasn’t far behind. The first axes date back some 2.5 million years, with simple round stones anchored in the crotch of forked sticks. From there, axes evolved into the stock-in-trade of Vikings, knights, a few executioners, and centuries of woodsmen. An axe is easily pictured in the hands of our pioneer forebears sweeping westward, clearing the vast woodlands of America. We all know what George Washington supposedly did to the cherry tree with his axe. 

The next tale in the history of the axe is literally in your hands when you come to Downtown Art Gallery and Axe Room, or DAGAR (pronounced “dagger”). Owner Peter Lalor is eager to show your crew around the six axe-throwing cages in his rustic confines at 2000 Lawrence Street in Denver. Axe throwing, it seems, speaks to everyone. 

DAGAR owner Peter Lalor, left, and creative director Steve Johnson pose for a photo.

DAGAR owner Peter Lalor, left, and creative director Steve Johnson pose for a photo.

“We have all kinds of groups,” Lalor says. “Bachelor and bachelorette parties. Software shops using our space to kick off new products. Brewery staff. We have a law firm who comes over practically every week. Date nights. You name it.”

When asked why he runs an axe-throwing room, Lalor suggests that it’s a fun, active, authentic stress-reliever — he enjoyed it, so he thought others would too. A fairly common activity in America’s neighbor to the north, axe-throwing is just now taking root in the United States. 

“Enough people tried it in Canada that it got talked about and is now kind of exploding here,” Lalor says.

The DAGAR staff coaches each group on technique and developing good habits, so that each visit builds your skill incrementally. Lalor and the DAGAR team spend as much time as it takes to coach you on both safety and skill so that your experience is rewarding and, to use Peter’s word, “therapeutic.” Before the night’s end, your group of fellow throwers might compete against members of other cages in throwing competitions — which can get serious. 

“It can get pretty loud. Trash-talking, the whole bit,” he says. “It’s fun, though. People have a great, great time regardless of how athletic they might be when they walk in.”

That’s the good news: the learning curve to throw an axe — and do so safely — is relatively gentle. Turns out it is easier to hit a bullseye with an axe than with a dart or arrow.  And when the axe hits the sweet spot of the circular pine targets at cage’s end, the sound is not so much a comic book “THUNK!” but a hard whisper, and a very satisfying one at that.  

Lalor, a native New Yorker, wanted more for his destination than a few axe-throwing cages for people to get their throw on. Instead, he has a grander purpose and wants to use the cavernous space in downtown Denver to showcase unrepresented artists looking for a little “axsposure.” 

“I’ve had artist friends who were unsigned who were just looking for that first place to hang,” Lalor says. “We have a large space here that would be friendly for local artists and would allow them to introduce their work to the public, whether they’re a student or someone doing it part-time, looking to make a career switch that wants art to be a bigger part of their professional life.” 

Wait a second. Art and axes doesn’t sound like a natural combination. Yet it works. The two share the same roof, yes, but not the same cage or stage — no art was harmed in the making of DAGAR. 

Lalor also knows that in Colorado, showing and selling art — hell, any business — goes down a lot easier with a little social lubricant. To that end, DAGAR recently received a beer and wine license, and a hand-picked selection of rotating beer and wine is available for breaks between sessions, or for walk-ins waiting for a cage. The DAGAR website recently listed offerings from Jagged Mountain Craft Brewery, Platt Park Brewing Company, The Infinite Monkey Theorem Urban Winery and Zuni Street Brewing Company.

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Despite alcohol on site, safety is always paramount at DAGAR. Equating the safety protocols with those of a gun range, Lalor is quick to point out that injury is highly unlikely. 

“We always have one staff person per cage. Always,” Lalor says. 

Staff police the cages vigorously. Fun is in the making, but show signs of inebriation or horseplay and you’ll get axed — err, make that tossed.  

“That’s what I want everyone to know before they come in here. Safety is our number one concern,” he says. 

Follow the safety rules at DAGAR and you have a far greater probability of coming down with tennis elbow on the local court than you do getting injured throwing an axe. 

So, if you’re an urban lumberjack, wannabe Viking, or even just a frustrated bowler and you’re looking for a safe, fun spot to earn your chops, DAGAR is the place for you.  

Kyle Kirves drinks beer, plays guitar, runs trails, and manages projects – all with varying degrees of success. While not a craftsman himself, he is quite content writing about the Colorado artisans who create such wonderful things and memorable experiences.

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