Had you asked me, prior to meeting him, to sketch my most on-the-nose guess of what an “axe throwing coach” looks like, I still wouldn’t have rendered Philip Dahlager as axe-throwing-coachy as he is.
Hulkingly tall, burly, and broad-shouldered, he’s practically a literal viking. He could act as an extra on Game of Thrones, and could certainly serve up a mean Paul Bunyan cosplay. Because he’s also wearing a red plaid shirt, a knit cap firmly upon his head.
Was he ruddy cheeked? Yes. Was his chin obscured by a thick, red beard?
Reader, it was.
Dahlager spends his days at Bad Axe Throwing, the recently opened axe throwing bar that’s really bringing the Nord to Nordeast. “We often get asked, ‘Do you have to have a beard to work here?’” he chuckles. (Incredibly, his boss sports even longer, bushier, redder facial hair.)
Open since late February, Bad Axe Throwing Minneapolis is the first and only Minnesota location of the Canadian born axe chuckin’ outfit that launched in 2014. It’s the largest of BAT’s 17 franchises so far, with 8,000 square feet of space for tossing weapons with your friends. And while City Pages and others have called it an axe-throwing bar, Bad Axe doesn’t have a liquor license just yet—instead, you’re allowed to bring your own beer and food.
I grew up in semi-rural Pennsylvania, so it’s not like I haven’t used an axe before… but for the most part, my parents discouraged throwing them. (Lame!) I’m intrigued by this whole recreational axe-tossing phenomenon—is it actually fun? Is it anything more than a fad? And so, armed with a pal and a six pack—“don’t go alone to meet a stranger who works with weapons for a living” being one of my few hard, fast rules—I make for the Kennedy Street office park that houses Bad Axe to do a little hatchet hucking.
Once we exchange pleasantries with Phil and crack our beers (we thought about but ultimately stopped ourselves from getting Todd the Axe Man—nobody wants to be that guy, right?) he walks us through the safety steps. The most important one is this: Don’t toss your axe if someone else is standing near the target retrieving theirs. Phil assures us that even with all the beer and weaponry, the worst injury at any Bad Axe to date has been “a really bad splinter.”
Not that I’m nervous: At another target, a group of buttoned-up office folks are having what appears to be a team-building after-work outing, and if a forty-something woman in a pencil skirt can line up—and nail—her shot, I feel pretty good about our chances.
Phil says they get a lot of companies in for these sorts of things. Bachelor parties and birthdays make up a good amount of business, too. “It helps relieve stress—some of that pent up aggression you may not have known you have,” he adds.
Next, he runs us through the basics. You can throw one- or two-handed, but it’s primarily a matter of preference. I opt for the two-handed, Patrick-Bateman-in-American-Psycho style; my companion’s partial to the more hammer-of-Thor approach. Phil shows us the stance and demonstrates where to place our feet. That’s it. The whole run-through takes no more than five minutes. We’ve been “trained.” Glancing at each other with a shrug, we step up to the line, take aim, and toss.
Now, I’m not one to brag, but—ah, what the hell, I 100 percent am one to brag—I nail the target on my first shot. “You’re a natural!” Phil booms. I swig from my can, feigning nonchalance (but lowkey thrilled-slash-relieved to have not made a fool of myself so far).
Now, you might not be as naturally gifted—some might say “blessed with beginner’s luck”—as I am. Not to worry! Because Phil actually does coach, stepping in with periodic advice: Look beyond the target to expand your focus and avoid tunnel vision; stop flicking your wrist; step back a bit.
I shouldn’t have been surprised; as part of that actual viking thing, Phil’s been throwing axes for years. He’s also the founder and organizer of the Althing, an annual viking feast in Big Lake. He, his brother, and his father build viking furniture, like the wooden stargazing chairs scattered throughout Bad Axe.
So, yes. He’s a very capable coach. But he’s not one to judge, either: “When in doubt, blame the wood,” he offers, after a few missed shots make it clear I’m not quite the prodigy I thought I was. “Or the axe. Or the lighting. Or: It’s cold in here! We’ve heard it all.”
I may have been skeptical at first, but I can see why Phil’s into axe-tossing, and I’m starting to get why it’s suddenly such a booming business. When the axe lands in the target, it feels genuinely, deeply satisfying. It is a good stress reliever. Watching the blade sink into the plywood with each satisfying THWOCK, sending shards of wood flying, totally does make you feel like a badass.
At some point, I realize I’m barely even aiming for the bullseye; I just want to watch that blade turn my target into splinters. It’s like darts on steroids, or bowling on… I don’t know. Amphetamines?
I have but one complaint. “You know,” I muse, “just a thought, but this might be even more satisfying if you could tape a face up there. An old boyfriend, maybe? Middle school bully?”
Phil grins, shaking his head. Apparently, I’m not the first person this thought has occured to.
“We actually just got a corporate email—the whole company—that to throw at a face, that person has to be present and give their consent. So, no, no throwing axes at your ex’s face.”
Bad Axe Throwing's grand opening is this weekend, with drop-in hours and free lessons all day long from April 27–29.
Bad Axe Throwing Minneapolis
2505 Kennedy St. NE A, Minneapolis