By Justin Grant, tbt* correspondent
It's been about a decade since I visited Ferg's Sports Bar. That's not to say that I have no love for the iconic downtown St. Petersburg hotspot, an institution for sports fans for the past 27 years. It's just that I didn't think it had much for me, the non-baseball fan who often begins his bar selection with the question: Will it be too crowded?
I found that Ferg's has transformed tremendously over the years, adding several additional bars, access to a tunnel that leads directly to the Trop, a live music venue, duckpin bowling, a Bitcoin ATM, a dog park — seriously: they even serve dog food, made in-house — and even an ax-throwing venue, which celebrated its one-year anniversary earlier this month.
It's all a bit over the top, but if you're in the market for a crazy night out, Ferg's has more than a few tricks to help you accomplish it. In my case, the occasion was a friend's birthday, which seemed like a perfect opportunity to see what ax throwing is all about.
St. Pete Axe & Ale is the name, and it's a modest standalone area back on Ferg's south patio, neighboring the Trop tunnel. It is St. Petersburg's first ax-throwing venue and the only one in the bay area that serves food and drink.
As a sport that traces its modern history to Canada, it's only appropriate that tasty brews should be a part of the process. I don't think anyone would advocate anything beyond a base coat of beer before throwing an ax, but there's just something so right about kicking back a few with friends while taking turns throwing an ax at a plywood target.
Axe & Ale does a great job of reining the chaos with some reasonable rules — no one over the line, only one axe thrower in the box at a time and crucially, no high heels — making the process a lot safer than you might expect. Owner Michelle Simpson is always on hand to make sure things run smoothly while also doling out some helpful ax-throwing advice. Getting the ax to actually stick into the target is harder than I imagined, but Simpson had our group hitting bullseyes within minutes.
The setup: two sheets of plywood with targets in the center. Each concentric ring's points increase in value as the ax travels inward toward a red, six-point bullseye. The lanes are framed in chain link, and there are high tops between the axe throwing lanes and the bar, where groups can congregate while waiting their turn.
The lanes go for $60/hour, so you'll probably want to bring a small group, although I would love to meet the person that goes solo. There are plenty of fun group game activities in bars around town, and this one belongs toward the top of the list. It's a heck of a good time.
Of course, one of the big selling points is that alcohol is part of the equation. I'd consider throwing an ax while sober, but if presented with the option, I'm bringing beers into the equation. The Axe & Ale bar is well-stocked, with a variety of canned and bottled beers to go with a few wines and a full liquor selection. The bar around the corner has a ton of draft options, as well, so you've got choices.
It's an odd niche, but the Axe & Ale combo fits right into the surprisingly eclectic range of options at Ferg's Sports Bar. I'll be sure to pop in a lot more regularly to see what shows up next, lest whatever bizarre amenity the Ferg's folks dream up. When I do, it'll be with a reservation for some axing and ale-ing, too.
— Contact Justin Grant at email@example.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.
St. Pete Axe & Ale
1320 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. (727) 742-8487; stpeteaxeandale.com
The vibe: A pair of axe-throwing lanes in the corner of a sprawling sports bar compound.
Food: Appetizers, soups, sides and salads, $2-$11; entrées, $6-$13.
Booze: Beer, wine and liquor. Beer, $3-$6; wine, $5-$7 by the glass and $26 by the bottle; liquor, $4-$12. Happy hour is from 3 p.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday (excluding Rays home games), featuring $1.50-$2.50 select domestic beers, $3 well drinks and $3.50 house wines.
Specialty: At Ferg's, there are standalone bars approximately every 10 feet, including one conveniently located in the Axe & Ale portion of the south patio. You're going to want to go the bucket of beers route. The good news here is that the bars are surprisingly well-stocked, with everything from the most basic domestic macros to around a dozen local brews, not including the fairly extensive draft selection.
Hours: By reservation only. Book online at stpeteaxeandale.com.