Urban Axes

619 Foster Street, Durham


On October 11, trunks still lay across some Durham streets. About a third of the city lacked power. The newscasters warned everyone to remain inside their homes. The next day, the air would be filled with the buzzing of chainsaws as the remnants of the latest string of hurricanes crashed off to sea.

For now, however, it was quiet. Except at Urban Axes, the new joint in Durham’s so-called “DIY District,” which was having its grand opening.

Beer plus axes equals WTF, and Durhamites old and new could be forgiven for not darkening those doors, even if it were the last place in town with heat, air, and fully functioning beer taps. Especially the Durhamites who lament the passing of the old guard. The ones who pour a little off their can of Fullsteam Paycheck for the empty husks of nearby landmarks like Manbites Dog Theater. The ones who used to side-eye Blu Seafood and Bar because it could never live up to the memory of Pizza Palace. The ones who speak in reverent whispers of Ringside or Jo and Jo’s and find fewer and fewer people who know what they are talking about. A century and a half earlier, they might have been found standing in Pin Hook, shaking their fists at the coming railroad.

To those citizens, the opening of Urban Axes delivers only one portent: Durham no longer belongs to you. Don’t believe me? Prowl the precious streets and roll past the BBQ restaurant from Raleigh, the apartments owned by a New York City investment firm. Remember when those people used to look down their noses at Durham?

DIY indeed! So what better place for the latest link in the Philadelphia chain of ax-tossing cantinas targeting city centers of hipster meccas like Boston, Austin, and Baltimore?

Yes, I said “ax-tossing cantinas.” Urban Axes is the perfect oasis for the macho-twee set with a hankering to unleash their inner Patrick Bateman. Still, my buddy and I went to check it out. After all, is there a better Old Durham pastime than to hate on the new kid in town?

The staff cheerily greets us at the door and instructs us to fill out an online waiver before we’re allowed to enter the facility. Before I’ve even hit enter, I’ve assembled a mental checklist of what I’ll find waiting for me: Beards? Check. Lots of Chads and Beckys posing for what looks like a J. Crew Insta feed? Check. A beer list appropriating #DurtyDurm culture? Check.

We make a beeline for the bar. The minimalist décor seems assembled from a step-by-step guide on how to Brooklyn the shit out of any town in America. This trend seems destined to pass quicker than you can say “Pokémon stop at the cupcake bar.”

But with this on my mind, I stepped up to throw. That’s when I got it. 

Once, I thought I’d have to await the apocalypse before I could senselessly throw sharp objects with one hand and drink a Bull City Cider in the other. But ladies and gentlemen, who among you does not believe that the apocalypse is here?

Do you know what I noticed while all around me, I heard the iron blades crack planks of wood with a staccato thwack, thwack, thwack, like a metronome? While I swilled handcrafted brew, waiting my turn, chatting it up with the folks around me?

Not the end times waiting outside the door. Not the onslaught of news—fake or otherwise—soothsaying the fall of our empire. Only the thwack, thwack, thwack of our primal urge to return this runaway civilization to splinters.

We live in angry times. Lucky for us, Urban Axes offers a personal ax-pert to consigliere each toss of the blade.

“Cross your thumbs over each other when you hold it,” my coach, Jamie, told me. “Throw from your hips and hold back a little of that power.”

My throws were sailing wide of the target. One bounced benignly from the outer ring and landed on the safety mat.

“Next time,” Jamie said softly, “picture your enemy.”


My buddy and I stayed longer than we’d planned. We ended the night with fried chicken from the new Scott Howell joint, DeeLuxe, and drinks at Accordion Club.

“Did you like it?” my friend asked me.

“Not a bad way to spend the evening,” I said. “Not since Jack Torrance has anybody had so much fun with a hatchet.”

“Would you do it again?”

“It’s not my thing,” I tell him.

Because of course it isn’t. I’m too old-school for that. But I wouldn’t dare fault anybody else for digging it. These days, it’s not a bad idea to learn how to throw an ax.