by Elizabeth Coady
“THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!’’
The whacking sound emanating from inside Throw House at 1121 Ivy Hill Rd. in Mt. Airy stops an approaching visitor to the nondescript warehouse. Inside, mock trouble’s brewing.
Rivals line up with weapons in hand — axes weighing up to three pounds each — to practice the ancient Celtic sport of axe-throwing. You can feel the room’s collective adrenaline rise as make-pretend frenemies prepare to slay one another, figuratively of course.
“Honestly, who doesn’t like competition among friends?,’’ said Ishbara Acosta, 35, a Cheltenham High School English teacher who came to Mt. Airy’s newest entertainment outlet with friends to celebrate Kathleen Woestehoff’s 36th birthday. “Kathleen and I, we’re very competitive.’’
That Kathleen’s birthday was last Aug. 28 doesn’t matter. Life is hectic for this group of five working moms, and the delay enabled them to party at Throw House, which had its grand opening March 31. “It worked in my favor,’’ said Kathleen.
This pastime gets the ladies animated, invigorated, maybe even a little animalistic. “It lets you release all of your energy, your stress, your anger,’’ said Acosta, whose friends call her “Ish.” “I get to feel a little fierce; I get to feel fun. It’s tapping into my wild side.’’
“We work at a Quaker school,’’ said Keisha Hutchins Hirlinger, 43, a lower school music teacher at Abington Friends School who’s here for the birthday party. “We’re feeling very conflicted about our Quaker values.’’
Tapping into primordial urges is the very appeal of this sport, says Chaucer Hawes, 31, a trainer and safety coach at Throw House. “It’s like the old thing when your mom tells you never run with scissors and always hold them down,’’ said Hawes. “We’re doing the exact opposite. We’re throwing the sharpest objects you can find, and that is part of the appeal — the potential danger… I think that draws people in.’’
Many of the women who show up for their first outing of axe-throwing throw gingerly, he said. At first they think, ‘’Oh, this is dangerous, I’ve got to be careful!,’’ Hawes mock-imitated. “‘Ehh! I’m just going to throw, eh, a little bit.’ And then it’s like 20 minutes later, boom! Oh my God! Did you see that!’’
For those who need help accessing their inner barbarian, Hawes shares advice: “Anytime somebody comes in and might be a little apprehensive, I always say, ‘Picture one of your exes up there.’’’
The idea strikes a chord in many and always gets a laugh. Some visitors ask if they can bring a picture to put in the target, and at least one soon-to-be divorcee is planning a blowout with just that in mind.
“This is a great stress reliever,’’ said owner Alex Nicholson, 36, who grew up in Mt. Airy. “There’s something gratifying and satisfying about hurling a metal object and crashing it into some wood.’’
The idea to open the axe-throwing venue came to Nicholson in January during a fitful night’s rest because he was ruminating about starting a business.
“I turned on the TV because I just couldn’t go back to sleep,’’ Nicholson recalled. “And I was watching some older [Scottish] Highland Games, and I said, ‘Man that would be really, really cool if we could do some medieval type of games.’’’ He looked up on hammer-throwing and found little about it; he looked up axe-throwing, and a whole new world opened.
“It blew my mind how many axe-throwing arenas that were actually near me,’’ he said.
Nicholson immediately pitched the idea to his wife and two closest friends, Travis Washington and Aaron Holmes, with whom he grew up on the 7900 block of Pickering Street.
“I was like, ‘Come on’ man, you’re losing it,’’’ recalled Washington about when Nicholson first pitched the business idea to him. But Nicholson persevered, insisting they visit a nearby axe-throwing outlet. So Washington acquiesced, thinking, “That way he’ll leave me the hell alone and get back to normal.’’
But Washington, 36, was instantly captivated. Almost dreamily he said that he “fell in love with it, fell in love with it.’’
To Nicholson, a religious man, the idea seemed ordained from heaven because when he was touring a nearby space that wasn’t quite big enough, the owner got a call from the tenant next door notifying him he had to give up his lease.
“Well, looks like something else just popped up,’’ Nicholson recalled the owner telling him. “So I said to myself, and I’m a spiritual guy, a Christian, and I just said, ‘God just put me in the right direction.’ And he walked me into this unit, and I said, ‘I’ve arrived.’’’
Less than a month after conceiving the concept, Nicholson signed the lease. Two months later, he opened the doors to Throw House, which houses 10 throwing lanes and is open Thursdays through Sundays. Sessions run two-hours long, and the cost is $39.99 per person. Before the actual scoring commences, players get lessons in safety and axe-throwing.
Both owners and employees here seem to be having a blast, and Nicholson confides that he’s already in negotiations to open a second location. Until the deal’s done, though, he can’t reveal the details. Throw House joins Urban Axes in Fishtown and Bury the Hatchet with locations in South Philly, Bensalem and King of Prussia.
Throw House has held special events like one with fathers and daughters. “They had a blast,” said Nicholson. “And some of those girls didn’t know they have the power that they possess. The women always beat the guys. The guys are so macho trying to throw it to Cheltenham Avenue. The girls, they’re smarter and have a lot more finesse than we do. My wife beats me all the time.’’
A league is also in the works, and Nicholson was lobbying hard for one member of Kathleen Woestehoff’s birthday party, Rasheeda Murphy, 39, of West Oak Lane, to join.
“She has great form,’’ Nicholson said of the Abington Friends’ Lower School Science teacher who forcefully sent the axes hurling into the target board. “She is killing it. I’ve been trying to recruit Rasheeda all night.’’
Another one “killing” this night was Robert Beverly, 33, of Chester, who brought his date LaTasha Forteau, 33, of Wynnefield, no doubt to impress. On this night, he hit the bullseye so many times that he lost count and faced off against Rasheeda to win the match with a final score of 42 to 28. But there were no hard feelings, and the game was followed with the night’s faux enemies posing for the camera.
More information at www.throwhouse.com or 267-422-3258.