Scoring a bullseye
Fort Lauderdale’s 1st ax-throwing bar Chops and Hops opened last week in growing Flagler Village
John Maior tips back his tequila glass for a dose of much-needed liquid courage, winks over his shoulder at his date, and hoists his ax. Swing.
Clang. The ax bounces harmlessly off the wooden target 10 feet away. Sara Daniels chortles into her glass. Even the Canadian bull moose head mounted above the bar at Chops and Hops Axe Throwing Lodge in Fort Lauderdale seems to chuckle at that one.
“It happens! It happens!” Daniels says, and assumes her throwing stance behind a strip of red tape. Clearly, her first date was a pushover in the ax-throwing department.
“We’re in a bit of a competition,” Maior, 34, explains. “I could be in a running-away situation here. If she can throw an ax well, she can throw a shoe well.”
Inside the ax-throwing bay — basically a chain-link batting cage — Brian Engel, one of the bar’s hired “axe-perts,” coaches Daniels on a proper throwing stance. This is standard procedure for first-time ax-throwers at Chops and Hops, a lumberjack-themed tavern where it’s never a bad idea to impart wisdom about combining sharp weapons and cocktails.
“Move your hands down and put your thumb behind the base, like this, so you don’t cut yourself,” Engel says, as Daniels presses a red thumbnail against the lightweight ax handle. “Raise it, track it over your head, and put your non-dominant foot forward.”
Daniels swings and releases. Thunk. The ax over-rotates, but sticks the board — just below
the target rings.
Maior takes a bow. “Yeah, nice knowing you,” he says, and pretends to leave.
Weapons and alcohol
At 3,000 square feet, Chops and Hops in Fort Lauderdale’s growing Flagler Village neighborhood resembles an urban log cabin, with red-flannel wallpaper framing a rustic, U-shaped bar built with salvaged wood from Hurricane Irma.
Along with Chops and Hops, several axthrowing bars have risen across South Florida over the past six months, including Game of Axes in Boynton Beach and Extreme Axe Throwing in Miami, which serve beer and wine. Extreme Axe Throwing in Hollywood doesn’t serve alcohol, but does allow BYOB beer and wine.
Only Chops and Hops is a full-liquor ax-throwing bar, says co-owner Ryan Lavernia, a 33-year-old Fort Lauderdale entrepreneur who opened the venue last week with partners Clay Rusch and Chase Walton.
“I think of us as a bar that happens to offer ax throwing,” Lavernia says. “Young professionals here in Flagler Village are looking for experiences, and throwing axes is visceral, something fun and almost primal.”
Chops and Hops includes four metalcaged ax ranges in which groups of up to six are assigned “axe-perts.” Lavernia says that along with basic throwing lessons, “axeperts” administer safety guidelines that separate axes from booze (as in, no drinks in the bay) and participants from danger (one thrower at a time while the rest stand outside).
The pastime of pairing sharp weapons, boredom and liquor began with ax-throwing bars started in the North — Buffalo, Chicago, Toronto — spawning recreational ax-throwing ranges across the country. So popular is the sport among enthusiasts that every December the World Axe Throwing League hosts world championships that are shown on ESPN.
Despite these precautions, the danger of throwing axes while impaired is there, Lavernia says. “If we feel they’re too impaired, we cut them off.”
Even so, since Chops and Hops opened, hundreds of drinkers have swarmed the bar with advance bookings and corporate team-building retreats. First dates are common here, too.
“The funniest booking we got was from multiple accounting firms wanting to come to celebrate the end of tax season on April
15,” Lavernia says. “You’d think these would be some pretty risk-averse people.”
Ax-throwing sessions cost $35 and last 90 minutes, and visitors must sign waivers before they begin. Staff will also teach axthrowing games, and encourage round-robin-style competitions.
Chops and Hops offers 10 cocktails ($9-$12), including Lemon Honeysuckle Old Fashioned with Michter’s Small Batch and local honey; Shut Up Meg, with Empress gin and grapefruit; and Pick Axe with High West double rye, Chinola passionfruit liqueur and hibiscus tea. Cold brew coffee, four house wines and 12 craft beers on draft round out the menu.
Chops and Hops is open 4:30-11 p.m. Thursdays, 4:30 p.m-1 a.m. Fridays, 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturdays and 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays at 702 NE First Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Go to ChopsAndHopsFL.com.
Axes are thrown during a private party at Chops and Hops Axe Throwing Lodge, Fort Lauderdale’s newest bar, on March 20.
Paul McDermott perfects his form at Chops and Hops in Fort Lauderdale. Each throwing session costs $35 and lasts 90 minutes in one of four ax ranges.
A bullseye is thrown at Chops and Hops Axe Throwing Lodge.