Happy Axe, a new axe-throwing business on Madison’s west side, welcomed its first batch of customers at noon this past Saturday. About a dozen people crowded into the unadorned 875 square-foot room that in the Clock Tower Court shopping center at 6624 Mineral Point Rd. to try out the sport — a summer camp pastime that has grown in popularity across U.S. metropolitan markets over the past two years.
Customers took turns standing at one of the room’s seven individual lanes, each separated by wood-and-chain link divides, and hurling hatchets at boards marked with concentric circular targets. The room resonated with the thumps and ker-chunks of hatchets alternately bouncing off or sinking into the pinewood.
The hallway outside filled up with onlookers who could watch through the business’s large windows.
“I’m glad that you can bring the outdoor indoors,” mused Sarah Alexander, who had signed up for the next slot. “Less bugs.”
“I was hoping there’d be liquor involved, so I could have a drink,” chortled Michael Gebben. “Although my wife said liquor and axes together may not be too good.”
Axe-throwing bars are popular, having already popped up in Milwaukee and La Crosse. However, Happy Axe owner Johnny Lee said that it would have been prohibitively expensive to serve alcohol, based on the quote he got from his insurer.
Plus, he wants to keep things simple. He doesn’t want to focus on other attractions or amenities — it’s got to be about the axe-throwing, he said.
“My whole outlook is, Aaron Rodgers doesn’t work on the off-season on this or that. He earns 20 million a year for one thing, and that’s for throwing the football. Once you focus on things that aren’t necessarily the focus, you lose your priorities,” said Lee.
Happy Axe is a side project for Lee, who works full time as a real estate agent. He said that he’s always been interested in starting his own business, and that when he first tried out axe-throwing 10 months ago at a bachelor party, he quickly saw the appeal.
“I saw a lot of possibility,” he said. “All types of people could do it. Pregnant women, handicapped people. People in different situations with all kinds of things going on in life, they could do it.”
There’s not much to the axe-throwing itself, according to Lee and his family members helping him operate the business during its opening weeks. It’s basically a question of taking a hatchet, heaving it overhead with either one or two hands, and then hurling it forward. Some of the details, like specific grip or stance, depend on what a person is comfortable with.
“You don’t want to throw it too hard, surprisingly. I had to learn that,” said Liz Machesney, Lee’s fiance. “You find the target, you aim, give it a few tries to get into the swing of it. And then you’re good to go. It’s surprisingly easy.”
As for the appeal of the thing, Lee said it’s tough to explain to someone until they try it themselves, and experience the sensation of successfully burying the hatchet into the target.
“It feels really good, on like, a deep level,” said Amanda Rowe, who was among the first batch of customers.
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” said Lee.
That’s doubly true for when people break the board, he said — something that happened a few times on opening weekend, said Lee, which ended up attracting 175 customers.
Some people also find appeal in the competitive aspects of the sport, said Lee. There’s a wide range of rule sets people play with, from “tic-tac-toe” to a version of the basketball game “Horse. ” Lee said the games he plans on introducing to customers will be like darts, but with “a little bit more flavor.”
That said, the business doesn’t necessarily emphasize the competitive aspects of axe-throwing: “For a lot of people, it’s just a new thing to try,” said Machesney.
The business will be open Thursdays through Sundays, although starting Lee said he would expand to Mondays through Wednesdays once Happy Axe starts offering league nights in October.
Lee also added that he’s planning something special for Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin Badgers gamedays: He hopes to give customers the option of attaching the opposing team’s logos to their targets.