The founding stories of most successful businesses usually involve nose-to-the-grindstone innovation, a visionary idea and thousands of hours of dedication and toil. Rarely do those stories involve backyard axe throwing. But then, there aren’t many success stories like BATL, the uber-popular axe-themed event venues that carved their way into the consciousness of fans across the Greater Toronto Area in recent years, and now throughout North America as axe throwing gains recognition as a fun, social sport.
Looks like there are a LOT of people that have an axe to grind. Yes, we just used that terrible pun. Deal with it!
Indeed, BATL is one of the most unique event spaces you’ll ever find. It’s also one of the only ones where you’ll spend an evening sharing drinks, trading conversation and exchanging hatchet tosses with your axe-throwing league friends, work colleagues or with whomever you happen to be sharing the joys of blowing off steam by targeting plywood with sharpened hand tools.
BATL now has 13 locations across the continent with more to come. In 2017, their spaces employed more than 255 full- and part-time employees, and played host to a whopping 155,000 private and walk-in visitors who tossed approximately 8.2 million axes. That’s a lot of trashed targets.
So, how did BATL come to be, and what’s behind its razor-sharp success? Better yet, what makes it such an amazing location for a corporate or social gathering—not to mention a venue we love?
“It’s something that you can be active in, as well as compete against your friends or co-workers,” says Trevor Welsh, manager of BATL’s Toronto East and West locations. “It’s a unique activity that a lot of people haven’t experienced yet.”
He’s right. And even fewer people were doing it back in 2006, when BATL founder Matt Wilson came up with an idea. Why not start an axe throwing league where friends could test their iron-age mettle over beers?
Lacking a dedicated space, Wilson set up a target on a brick wall in his Little Italy backyard—which happened to be shared with a restaurant that, at least at first, was a little perturbed by the projectile-hurling goings on out back—added lighting and a protective tarp and then called his friends to let them know about his crazy plans. For $30, they could sign up and get medieval for an evening a week. Wilson even came up with his own point system.
A small group gave the idea an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and a fun new urban pastime was born.
Word soon spread that much fun was to be had at Wilson’s place, and the Backyard Axe Throwing League grew ever larger. More than a few eyebrows were raised in the neighbourhood, as well. After about their third week in operation, local police paid a visit and, as Welsh recalls, “they were actually pretty cool with it. They didn’t shut us down, and I think by the third visit from the police, a couple of them even tried it out. They were really more intrigued by it at that point.”
Eventually Wilson’s league became so popular that he found a dedicated space and invited more to join in the fun.
Now, it’s important to note that axe throwers take their sport seriously. Welsh says that in the Toronto area alone, BATL now hosts more than 450 league members who participate in weekly and annual tournaments. They apparently take great pride in their ability to hit a bullseye in a single toss, and compete fiercely for the title of top thrower in the BATL league. If you want to participate, but are a bit worried that your hatchet-wielding abilities might not pass muster, don’t be. Welsh says BATL has its training “down to a science” and can help newbies hit a target in just four or five tries.
Eventually, BATL began welcoming corporate groups and attracted investors, allowing Wilson to take his concept international with locations everywhere from Squamish to Chicago, and Nashville to Calgary—with new cities coming online all the time. While each space varies in size and shape, Welsh says the Toronto Port Lands location can comfortably hold 100 guests, while the Galleria Mall space can handle up to 80 guests.
BATL began as a BYOB affair in its earliest incarnation, but now each venue is fully licensed and serves a variety of different libations from craft brew on tap to spirit-based cocktails. About 70 per cent of a BATL location’s guests are there for social reasons, while the rest of their time is spent teaching corporate types how to let loose with an axe in their hand. All in a safe and controlled environment, of course!
When it comes to the details we love most—you guessed it, the food—Welsh says that various locations including Pickering and Yorkdale Mall offer kitchen service ‘with a menu of cooked shareable foods served directly to your throwing lanes, as well as a small concession stand with snacks and cold drinks available for purchase.’ Others allow guests to bring their own finger licking, target-splitting favourites. Most of these happen to be finger foods like pizza, in case you were wondering what cuisine is de rigueur when hurling axes.
Looking to throw a party for friends or corporate contacts? They’ll also allow you to hire a third-party caterer to blow your guests’ minds with a custom-designed menu. Now, it requires the right kind of cuisine to complement a night of axe throwing, particularly because it takes ample nourishment to help you repeatedly throw axes ranging in weight from 1.5 to 4 pounds. That’s why we prepared an exclusive Kiss the Cook Catering BATL menu jammed with goodies including jerk chicken lollipops, beef short rib empanadas, a distinctive BATL sushi selection, mouth-watering cheeseburger bombs and fiery buffalo cauliflower ‘wings.’ See below or click here for our exclusive BATL menu—only available at GTA locations. Our popular Food Stations and Hors d’oeuvres menu is also available.
“This is such a unique concept, that we thought the venue needed its very own menu,” Kiss the Cook Catering founder Fia Pagnello says of the idea to develop this exclusive selection of dishes. “Our chefs dug deep into their repertoire to create a customized, finger food-heavy menu fit for an axe-throwing competitor and BATL’s many hungry spectators. We thought that mini comfort foods would be the perfect match for an axe-themed event, not to mention the fact that we wanted guests to be able to graze on goodies between throws and not worry about reaching for a knife and fork to savour each bite.”
Here’s what we love most about BATL: it’s not only a unique concept, but staff are laidback and accommodating. They make throwing a fun event (pun intended!) easy and memorable—and that’s exactly the kind of party we want to be a part of.
“I think for the most part people come in for the first time because it’s something new, even though we were founded in 2006,” Welsh explains.
“We have people from all different walks of life and they really enjoy the experience. It’s a unique thing to do as opposed to going bowling.”
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves. If you’re interested in organizing your own event at a Greater Toronto Area BATL location, contact us now!
- Lamb ‘Chop’: Rosemary mustard sauce
- Pretzel Slider: Honey mustard chicken, wilted greens, chutney
- Buffalo Cauliflower ‘Wings’ (V): Ranch dip
- Jerk Chicken Lollipops
- Mac ‘n’ Cheese Cups: Prosciutto wrapped, parmesan crumble
- Mini Cheese Pupusa (V): El Salvadoran curtido, hot sauce
- BATL Sushi: Salmon, avocado, green onion, Japanese mayo topped with smoked salmon, black sesame seed
- Mini Corn Dogs: Mustard beer cheese dip
- Mini Pizzettes (V): Wild mushrooms, asiago, goat cheese, oregano
- Pimento Cheese Hush Puppies (V): Jalapeno jelly
- Backyard BBQ Shrimp: Grilled pineapple and sweet chili
- Mini Empanadas: Braised beef short rib
- Cheeseburger Bombs: Chipotle ketchup and dill pickle aioli
- Shanghai Noodle Salad (V): Served in Chinese takeout boxes, chopsticks
- Caesar Skewers: Grilled chicken, romaine, double smoked bacon
- Bacon Candy BLT: Sriracha mayo
- Individual Frito Pie Station (walking tacos): Mini bag of Fritos, beef and bean chili, shredded cheddar, onion, jalapenos, olives, sour cream, hot sauce
- Build Your Own BATL Tacos: Choice of carne asada, smoked chicken or chorizo. Toppings include mango slaw, cilantro, pickled red onion, pico de gallo, guacamole, chipotle crema
- Shawarma Wrap Buffet: Choice of chicken or falafel; pitas, shredded lettuce, cabbage, dill pickles, onion, hot pepper, pickled turnips, tomato, tahini, hot sauce. Shawarma bowls available upon request
*Please inquire for desserts. Custom menus available upon request.