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St. Pete bar owner loves mix of beer and brawn

Like darts, the scoring in axe throwing rewards people who get nearest the bullseye. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published Sep. 1, 2018

The bartenders were icing down coolers as Michelle Simpson made another trip to her car.

She pulled 2 x 10 foot boards from the back seat of her Hyundai, and soon, she was drilling the wood to an outside wall, the clanging sounds of metal on metal competing with a street musician's version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. After installing the wooden slats, she drew circles and colored in a bullseye -- red, of course. Then she went back to the car for what's most important - the axes.

Welcome to St. Pete Axe & Ale.

The outdoor bar, complete with a chain-link fenced in area like a batting cage, is on Central Avenue, on the south patio at Ferg's Sports Bar & Grille. It opened on June 13, to coincide with International Axe Throwing Day.

"I always enjoyed bartending, because I liked being the person throwing the party," Simpson said.

And she always wanted her own bar, something local, not a big place. Her grandfather had owned a bar once, in Nebraska, where she grew up.

So when she saw a video about a bar in Cincinnati that offered axe throwing, she thought, "that looks like so much fun." She visited a similar place in Tampa, and then thought, I can do that.

She put together a business plan and contacted Mark and Sherry Ferguson, the owners of Ferg's, who she has known for 20 years. Days later, they were partners.

Reservations at Axe & Ale are $60 an hour. Walk-ups cost $10 per game (10 throws, plus two practice throws) if a lane is free. Throwers must be at least 18, wear closed-toe shoes and sign a waiver. Axes get tossed four days a week, starting at 5 p.m. But there's no throwing after 10 p.m. on weekdays, 11 p.m. on weekends. Beer and blades aren't a good mix, Simpson joked.

"I try to give instructions that are really clear and easy," she said.

On a recent evening, a group of friends battled for the bullseye before heading to the Trop for a Rays game. They took turns as Simpson gave pointers and kept score. "I've never thrown an axe before. It's pretty fun doing it," Jeff De La Concha said. "A round of beers, that's what's at stake right now."

Scoring is similar to darts, but throwing an axe, Simpson said, is like "darts on steroids."

"I describe it as being kind of primal," she said. "It is a hatchet and a piece of wood, but it makes you feel good."

When an axe cuts into the bullseye, guests high-five and cheer, and Simpson turns on the siren from a megaphone.

De La Concha's friend, Casey Clary, celebrated when he hit the mark.

"I feel like a viking, you know."

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