“Booze and axes, what could possibly go wrong?” one CHS commenter asked after the axe-tossing bar Blade and Timber made its Capitol Hill debut late March.
It’s a common question, but for Blade and Timber, it comes with a caveat: its bar is completely dry.
Securing a liquor license has proven harder than expected. The Kansas-headquartered company applied for a beer-only license for its Capitol Hill outpost but withdrew when the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board made clear it does not like mixing alcohol and axes.
But Blade and Timber is not ready to give up.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! YOU'VE BEEN MEANING TO! SUBSCRIBE TO KEEP CHS GOING INTO 2020! We need your help. Support local journalism dedicated to your neighborhood. SUBSCRIBE HERE TODAY. Join to become a subscriber at $1/$5/$10 a month to help CHS provide community news with NO PAYWALL. You can also sign up for a one-time annual payment. Why support CHS? More here.
On Thursday, Blade and Timber execs, including its co-founder and CEO Matt Baysinger, who will fly in from Kansas City, are meeting with LCB in an attempt to assuage the Board’s fears. LCB said the meeting is happening at Blade and Timber’s request and that it will not determine whether they will receive a license.
“One of our big goals with this meeting is to [explain] how we operate and basically help them understand how we want to run the business. It’s part of that whole axes-and-beer introduction phase,” said Blade and Timber communications director Jessie Poole.
Though these types of meetings do happen, they are not very common. It shows how the Liquor Board is grappling with a relatively new phenomenon — at least in Washington — of indoor axe-throwing and alcohol, which made its way from Toronto to the U.S. East Coast and more recently the West Coast.
There are only three permanent axe-throwing venues in Washington state, none of which has a license to sell alcohol. The Utah-based Heber Hatchets opened a venue in Spokane in June but said it’s not planning to sell alcohol.
Blade and Timber’s chances to secure a license seem slim. “LCB considers a liquor-licensed establishment or event in which axe-throwing occurs beyond the health and safety interests of Washingtonians,” and therefore, “the application would likely be denied,” said Stephanie Davidsmeyer, spokesperson for the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.
“We do not utilize a ‘line,’ but if we did, axe-throwing and alcohol licensure as a coupling would be beyond it,” Davidsmeyer said, referring to regulations in the Washington Administrative Code. There is no specific law prohibiting the combination of axe-throwing and liquor, the LCB refers to the WAC for its decisions.
There’s a big “but” here, however. Though the Board has not allowed axe-tossing venues to serve alcohol and axes did and do get mixed during pop-up events and at BYOB axe-throwing venue(s), the latter with LCB-approved banquet permits for private gatherings.
The Board’s licensure-stance makes Washington somewhat of an outlier. axe-throwing spaces have gotten the go-ahead to serve beer in at least 16 other states, including Oregon, Colorado, New York, Nebraska, Utah, Texas, and Illinois, as well as in Washington DC and Canada. Many have a 2 or 3-drink (sometimes per hour) policy, most have on-site staff to monitor drinking and inebriation levels.
Others, including in Washington State, are not licensed but allow axe-throwers to bring in their own booze, sometimes limited to beer and wine.
One such BYOB axe-throwing venue is Axe Kickers in White Center, which opened in June last year. “NO AXES FOR THE HAMMERED,” is spelled out in its booking policy. “If we ‘suspect’ you’re too intoxicated, we’ll sit your axe down!”
Groups are allowed to bring beer and wine into Axe Kickers, Washington’s only BYOB axe-throwing venue according to our research, if they have obtained a Washington State Banquet Permit, which you also have to get to bring alcohol into private karaoke rooms, for example. The permit, which you can easily get online, costs 10 dollars and is automatically approved, though an officer can theoretically revoke it if they notice red flags, including, according to the LCB, “anything related to health and safety.”
“There isn’t going to be a permit or license given to an event of that nature [axe-throwing] based on health and safety [reasons],” Davidsmeyer said.
This did happen, however. Dan Quinn of Axe Kickers, which unsuccessfully applied for a license, said that around 60% of his clientele comes in with a banquet permit, and CHS has spoken to one patron who secured a banquet permit for the axe-throwing venue.
UPDATE: The liquor board tells CHS that hundreds of permits have been issued to 10843 1st Ave, Axe Kickers’ location.
“[It’s] kind of a weird thing,” said Quinn. “The Liquor Board doesn’t allow us to serve alcohol, ’cause they feel it’s too dangerous, but at the same they allow someone to get a banquet permit and hold a private party and in there and drink alcohol.”
Quinn said Axe Kickers first applied two years ago, and that he planned to limit people to two beers an hour via a wrist-stamp system. “My argument is, they allow drinking at bowling alleys; you can just as easily hurt someone with a bowling ball. You can throw a bottle at someone at a bar. There’s danger everywhere — you don’t have to go to an axe-bar to do it,” Quinn said.
Blade and Timber hopes to convince the Board with a wristband system. In the plan, anyone over 21 gets a green one with three axes, and a hole is punched for each beer. Whoever wants to keep drinking loses their green wristband but receives a red one, which means they can’t throw axes anymore. This system is already in place at the two other Kansas-based Blade and Timber locations that serve alcohol.
“Every other state allows the drinking to go with the axe-throwing, and Washington State is not allowing it,” Quinn said.
Washingtonians who want to drink while hurling axes are not entirely out of options besides the banquet permits. One includes attending the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire, which has featured four bars and axe-throwing, in a controlled area, for years. Another includes attending pop-up axe-throwing events … at breweries and bars.
This spring, the two-lane, mobile axe-tossing unit of PNW Axe Throwing Company was stationed on a lot near Burien bar Flight Path. Owner Dan Austin said he applied for a one-night-permit with the LCB to be able to serve beer, wine, and liquor in the parking lot of his business for a fundraising event, but was told he would only receive the permit if the axe-throwing happened outside of the alcohol-licensed area. So they parked the trailer on a neighboring lot, separated by a fence. “Because magically that made it safer,” Austin said, “and the sarcasm is heavy on that.”
Other bars and breweries have had alcohol and axe-throwing on the same site rather than in a separate area. During the PNW Brewfest in Ellensburg, PNW Axe’s throwing unit (which is fenced) was located right next to multiple brewery stands.
“It’s a totally inconsistent application of the rules,” Austin said.
When asked whether the rules are unevenly applied, LCB’s Davidsmeyer said no. “Whenever we are aware of licensure or permit for an alcohol-related event, we apply the same set of rules. It’s just a matter of being aware. We can only catch what we are aware of.”
Meanwhile, Blade and Timber said they are hopeful their plan will convince the Board and that they, for now, are not pursuing the BYOB option.
“When you do a BYOB setting, we either have to regulate percent of alcohol, there’s a lot more control placed elsewhere,” said Jessie Poole, “and as a business, we would much prefer to manage alcohol consumption a little more closely.”