Located in the old littlefield space, the 7,000-square-foot venue is designed to feel like a “cozy lumberjack-style lodge.”
“I try to create an atmosphere where people can come and hang out and also participate with their friends and family,” Ginger Flesher-Sonnier, the owner of Kick Axe, told BKLYNER Tuesday evening.
A former high school math teacher with a flair for decorating and “creating atmospheric spaces,” Flesher-Sonnier also put her design skills to good use for her other business, Escape Room Live, a trio of interactive game venues featuring theme-decorated rooms where visitors search for clues and solve riddles to complete specific challenges.
Flesher-Sonnier discovered escape rooms while visiting Europe with her husband, Darren. “Escape rooms were really popular there and just really burgeoning,” she explains, noting she’d find them in every city she went to, including Prague, London, and Paris. She says on Trip Advisor, escape rooms are even “more popular than the Louvre” on the site’s list of attractions in the City of Light.
“I fell in love with the whole puzzle thing because I was a math teacher for so long,” she says. “I saw what they were doing [in Europe] and I thought about how I could improve it.”
Her take on the escape room concept involved creating more inviting, comfortable spaces for clients to hang out in (and want to hang out in), and catering to corporate team building events. “I saw how much people wanted something to do that was different and not your typical ‘trust fall’ type team building,” she says.
Flesher-Sonnier soon left her teaching job and opened up her first Escape Room Live three years ago. All three of her escape rooms are located in the Washington, DC area.
Axe-throwing venues have been popping up across Canada since 2008, according to Flesher-Sonnier, but she tried the activity for the first time herself about a year ago at Urban Axes in Philadelphia. She immediately fell in love with the sport. “It’s just a lot of fun, and when you try it and you stick the axe for the first time, it’s so satisfying. It’s addictive,” she insists.
“I’ve always loved themed entertainment and immersive entertainment, so [axe throwing] is another combination of that”—another way to provide customers with a unique, “experiential” game.
Gowanus is Kick Axe’s first location and Flesher-Sonnier plans to launch a new 20,000-square-foot space in Washington, DC in April. “We wanted to be in New York City and Brooklyn just seemed like the perfect environment, and then Gowanus seemed like exactly it,” she says of her location decision. “We have Brooklyn Boulders right here. We have a shuffleboard club right around the corner [Royal Palms Shuffleboard]. Brooklyn Fencing Center is right next to us, and archery [Gotham Archery].”
The Gowanus spot features ten throwing ranges in a cozy, lodge-like setting, and a team of expert axe throwing coaches—aka Axperts—who give participants lessons beforehand and stay with them throughout their session. Anyone seven and older can participate, so long as they are strong enough and coordinated enough to safely throw an axe.
While well over seven-years-old, I found axe throwing a lot tougher than I expected. The very patient Axpert, Trevor, guided me through my fun yet humbling experience.
“First and foremost, we want to be safe here,” he explained, noting that players are only allowed inside a range when invited by an Axpert. Secondly, there is “no handing off of the axes.” Axes can only be retrieved “when they’ve come to a rest either after throwing” or when they’ve been placed on a stump inside the range (each range is furnished with a tree stump for this purpose). If axes ricochet off the target, “do not attempt to catch them,” Trevor advised, “Let them fall until they’re at rest and then pick them up.”
Though Kick Axe serves beer and wine, drinks are not allowed inside the range. “If you seem intoxicated, or are just throwing in an unsafe manner, I’m going to have to be an ‘axe-hole’ and tell you to sit down and not throw anymore,” he added before going over scoring and basic throwing technique.
“We teach the basic stance, where to place your legs, what to do with your hands, what motions you need to do,” Flesher-Sonnier explained. “It’s really about momentum and not strength. It’s about rocking back and forward and then releasing the axe, getting one rotation in so it sticks.”
Sounds easy, right? It was initially a bit nerve-racking wielding the shiny axe and launching it into the air. With beginner’s luck my first shot hit the board, though not in an area to score me any points. It took me several tries before my axe hit the board again, this time actually hitting the target and earning me two points. Woo-hoo! It would have taken me days to reach the 30 points that determine the winner of a round.
While my axe-throwing skills may not be up to snuff, I still had a great time, thanks to the helpful and friendly Kick Axe team. I will definitely be back to practice kicking axe!
622 Degraw Street (between 3rd & 4th Avenues)