Photo | Alyson Sheppard
BY ALYSON SHEPPARD
Don’t watch the YouTube videos. That was the advice people kept giving me when I told them about the new axe-throwing bars popping up around town.
Axe-throwing bars, where you drink alcohol and throw sharp weapons at wooden targets, have been a trend elsewhere in the country for a few years now. Sound dangerous? It can be. And the internet is populated with plenty of dramatic evidence of what can happen if you throw the axe at just the right off-kilter angle: it can bounce off the target and be thrown back. Into you.
I, however, am unafraid of a little intoxicated impaling. And in Baldwin County, two different axe-throwing concepts have opened in the past few weeks.
Bad Axe Throwing (badaxethrowing.com), an international chain that set up shop in Spanish Fort, is primarily focused on the sport. They allow walk-ins ($20 per person, per two-hour session), but encourage groups to attend together and form leagues. If you book a timeslot for a group of four ($35 per person), you get two reserved targets and a coach to help you perfect your throw.
But Bad Axe does not serve alcohol yet. They currently allow BYOB, canned beer or wine only, at a limit of three aluminums per patron. Considering you’re going to be there for two hours, one-and-a-half cans of beer per hour doesn’t sound like the most generous rate of consumption. Do the math and you can lug a case of Black Cherry White Claws into the woods and hack at a tree for a much better deal.
Bier Shack Taproom (biershacktaproom.com), in South Foley, markets itself as a German beer and food hall, in addition to being a destination to toss forestry tools. That sounds like the ideal combo, so I paid Bier Shack a visit on Saturday afternoon. I brought along my friend Ashlyn, who had been to the location in Spanish Fort already and, when I picked her up, was delightfully buzzed from pregaming for the Alabama game.
Inside, Bier Shack is bright, spacious and industrial, with lots of exposed wood and galvanized metal. The axe-throwing lanes are to the right and the bar to the left, with billiard tables and glass-topped patio tables on the floor in between. We sat at a wooden communal table and were greeted by the owner, a petite German woman, who wore an axe charm on her necklace. She handed us menus and then offered us samples of potato salad and beer. We accepted both.
The food menu consists of classic German pub grub spanning the color spectrum from tan to brown: pretzels and beer cheese ($8.25), spätzle with bacon and Parmesan cheese ($5.75), potato pancakes with applesauce and caramelized onions ($6.50), chicken or pork schnitzel sandwiches ($9.95) and curry wurst ($9.25), among other offerings.
For drinks, they have bottled domestics ($3.75), wines by the glass ($6), cider and hard seltzer ($5) and a rotating list of beers on tap ($4 to $6.50). There are local favorites such as Big Beach and Fairhope, but we were here for the Germans.
We sampled the Hofbräu original lager, a crushable grassy brew, and Sierra Nevada’s amber Oktoberfest, which is brewed in conjunction with Germany’s Bitburger Brewery for a super smooth, malty flavor. We settled on two glasses of Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen, a golden-yellow, cloudy wheat beer. It came served in a stemmed pilsner glass, with a couple of inches of head on it, and smelled of cloves and bananas.
We snacked on a salty soft pretzel, dipping it in spicy mustard and ranch, and a fatty, grilled bratwurst topped with sour kraut ($8.75). The bites were a nice sharp contrast to our fruity beers, and fortified us enough to attempt some physical exercise.
Throwing costs $15 per person for half an hour, $25 per person for an hour. We chose the less expensive option and asked if they let drunk people throw. No, the owner said. That’s why they don’t serve hard liquor and why they close before midnight, so no one wanders in here on a Fireball-induced rage from nearby bars like The Office or Cocktails and Dreams.
We signed our safety waivers and entered the throwing lanes. No open-toed shoes. No alcohol allowed inside. No one under the age of 13. The bartender walked over to give us a short tutorial and we were left to our own devices. Axe, wooden target, go for it. Ashlyn and I each had our own lane — which may not be possible for other visitors on a busy night — and threw the hell out of our axes, flinching every time they bounced back at us.
“I don’t know if I’d trust myself to do this if I had more than four beers,” I told Ashlyn. “Oh, I had eight before we got here,” she said.
Maybe that would explain why she routinely stuck the target (OK, she had received much more detailed lessons at Bad Axe), but I couldn’t stick it once, no matter how I positioned my feet or gripped the axe. Dumbly competitive and a perennial bad sport, I vowed to never throw an axe again. Or at least not pay $15 to do it.
Luckily at Bier Shack there are plenty of other ways you can be entertained. Games are tucked away in various rooms and corners of the space: darts, pool, TVs, shuffleboard, foosball, cornhole, giant Jenga, a 1994 World Cup Soccer pinball machine and tabletop board games like Othello.
We stood in the lanes leisurely chatting for much longer than our allotted time frame — again, a benefit of being there in the afternoon, when no one was rushing us out. We decided to celebrate not being impaled, and Alabama’s decisive lead over New Mexico State, by having one last glass of Hefeweizen.
The bartender obliged as we pulled up our stools, and Ashlyn declared this her favorite new hangout in town. But she was struck by a concern, she said. What would the bartender do if someone got super drunk and was running around crazily in here with an axe?
He looked at us calmly, practically bored by the question: “Shoot ’em.”
Alyson Sheppard is Lagniappe’s resident hangover specialist and Boozie’s most unreliable Baldwin County spy. Find her on Twitter: @amshep.
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