Scor­ing a bulls­eye

Fort Lauderdale’s 1st ax-throw­ing bar Chops and Hops opened last week in grow­ing Fla­gler Vil­lage

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Phillip Valys

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 Chop­sAndHop­


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.

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