Ax-throwing bar launches in downtown Youngstown

Senior Zane Ross lines up another bullseye.

By Henry Shorr

On Phelps Street, Jaren Petta runs downtown Youngstown’s first ax-throwing bar out of the old Rhine Haus: Youngstown Axe and Tap.

Petta gained experience running an ax-throwing bar in Colorado before coming back to the Youngstown area. 

“I’ve always thrown things — a football or a baseball. I had a friend in Colorado that opened up an ax-throwing place and when I congratulated him, he said, ‘I need someone to run that for me, so come to Colorado,’” Petta said.

A year and some change later, Petta moved back to Youngstown, and after working at a few ax-throwing bars in the area, he decided to open one of his own. 

The furniture and decor of the Rhine Haus is still very present in Youngstown Axe and Tap with one big change: there is an ax-throwing lane caged off inside the bar.

Petta spoke on how the novelty of the activity in the area is helping drive business.

“It’s fairly new in Youngstown. Where I was in Colorado, we definitely had a draw to that, being an ‘outdoor activity’ type of state. Here in Youngstown, we are starting to pick up, business-wise, here and I know the other place [Fat Axxes] is doing very well,” Petta said.

An ax-throwing bar, popularized through videos on social media, is exactly what it sounds like: a place to get drinks, socialize and hurl hand-axes at wooden targets. 

“It is not as scary as you have seen on YouTube. This is a fairly safe activity. I’m here the entire time, I watch you guys and give you tips, tricks and pointers. I really watch and make sure that you guys are being safe, not hurting each other or my lanes or axes.” 

For the uninitiated, an ax-throwing lane has two targets made of wood planks, a stump to hold the axes when they are not spinning through the air and a scoreboard to be used however one wishes.

There are multiple ways to grip and throw the ax, and Petta is there the entire time to help each patron discover the best way to get an ax to “stick” the target.

“Everybody has their own adjustments to ax-throwing, it takes a little bit of time for them to get the hang of it. But once you do that first stick, you’re addicted,” Petta said.

Senior math major Zane Ross spoke about his time at Youngstown Axe and Tap.

“I would say [my experience] was really good,” Ross said.

He had previous experience before coming to Youngstown Axe and Tap and is glad to see more bars like this popping up around the Mahoning Valley. He sees its size, location and activity as a perfect gathering place.

“I would consider this a great place to go. If you have a group of people and you want to go out for a drink, this is a great place to do it,” Ross said.

That seems to be the running thread, according to Petta. There is a small learning curve, but everyone eventually gets the hang of it and has a good time hurling axes at targets with numbers on them.

“Everybody does fairly well, actually. I like to have people come in before they’ve been drinking downtown. Maybe a couple of beers is okay, but we try to keep you guys as safe as possible, so if I do see someone that is acting irregular, I try to not let them throw,” Petta said.

Close-up on hitting a bullseye with an ax.

Petta cultivates a safe environment. There are no surfaces to set a drink down on inside the lane, keeping the two activities as separate as possible. The lane is also enclosed in a metal cage inside the bar to keep any potentially errant axes from flying out of the lane, however unlikely that scenario may be. Petta has not seen any problems with patrons throwing under the influence.

“It has been a good crowd down here — I haven’t had to have anybody stop throwing or anything like that because they got too intoxicated. It’s a really good time,” Petta said.

Patron Janis Wood enjoys the vibe that Petta cultivates in the bar.

“It’s really quiet and calm until everyone starts throwing axes,” Wood said.

Business has been picking up for Petta as people become more comfortable returning to bars and other indoor spaces. 

“We are starting to get that gathering of people as the days go on, becoming more busy, booking-wise. So if you do book, make sure to do so early so you can make sure to get a spot in here,” Petta said. 

As more people come to see Youngstown Axe and Tap as a location for parties, events and other gatherings, Petta looks to the bar’s future.

“I definitely see more lanes. Right now we are just doing the single double-lane that we have here. We eventually want to do two, three, four — as many as we can in here — really pick it up and get the people of Youngstown involved in ax-throwing,” Petta said.