Put Your Ax Into It, at This Los Angeles Restaurant

LOS ANGELES — It’s amazing how quickly you get used to an ax in your hands.

Swinging it up over your head, letting the blade hang against your back, pitching it into a spin, and, if you get it just right, your prize: the satisfying thunk of metal wedging itself into soft pine.

I learned this at Mo’s House of Axe, a new ax-throwing venue that opened last month in Koreatown, with lanes arranged around a bar and restaurant tables. The room was all mossy tree trunks and forest-themed wallpaper, lit like an understory in springtime. The servers wore a variety of plaid flannel shirts, all of them red, which made the whole thing feel like someone’s elaborate lumberjack fantasy.

I expected a crowd to match — stout, long-bearded men with leather ax belts and strong feelings about woodworking tools. Instead, there were groups of 20-something women, competitive co-workers slipping in and out of Spanish, couples in wheelchairs and parents playing doubles with their children.

As I threw, I started to understand the appeal, and why competitive ax-throwing leagues had grown across the country in the last few years. Ax-throwing is social, uncomplicated and therapeutic, and beginners are folded in with encouragement.

Entry isn’t expensive, or demanding (Mo’s charges $35 a person for an hour and 15 minutes of throwing time, with optional instruction included). After a quick tutorial on safety and stance, aim and rotation, it’s really just a matter of practice. What surprised me is how inclusive and accommodating a space designed for that practice could be.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, Mo’s vibrated with the optimistic energy of a young start-up after a cash infusion, as players fueled up on kombucha and blood orange I.P.A.s between throws. They roared expletive-filled compliments after a bull’s-eye, and tapped ax blades in convivial low-fives.

As for the food, there were tiny, squishy sliders, in sweet Hawaiian rolls, and baskets of ribs. A few children (anyone over 12 is allowed to throw) concentrated on their chicken tenders, and some friends shared jackfruit nachos.

The kitchen, operated by Baby Blues BBQ — a small chain with several locations in the city — happily substitutes soft, tangy jackfruit for meat, making almost all of the dishes friendly to vegetarians.

A long table separates each pair of throwing lanes from the room, and while you can order food and drinks while you’re hurling axes, you’re not allowed to throw with a beer in hand. (Reasonable.) Injuries are rare, and usually occur when axes are carried around — Mo’s requires that axes stay in the lanes.

Instructors play the part of both coaches and babysitters, helping players to adjust their technique, remember their grip and control their aim. Once you get the hang of the overhead, two-handed throw, you can graduate to others, and once you learn how to stick the ax fairly consistently into the board, you can compete, or play gently competitive games. Players aren’t allowed more than three drinks while throwing. (Also reasonable.)

Deep into the routine of throwing and retrieving my ax, I wondered how long I’d last in a zombie apocalypse, and how my newfound skills might fit into a changing, collapsing world. Normal stuff — though my instructor helpfully noted, “Please keep in mind that if you throw your ax at a zombie, you have to retrieve it.”

In 2016, archaeologists in Australia found remnants of one of the world’s oldest handled axes — a chip from a basalt blade over 40,000 years old. It might have been thrown, all those millenniums ago, but ax-throwing was codified into a sport in 2006, when Matt Wilson, a former bartender, founded the Backyard Axe Throwing League in Canada.

There are now many leagues in the United States and abroad that operate like bowling, though their growth has been largely ignored by those outside it, dismissed as a passing novelty — like swing dancing in the ’90s. But this December, the World Axe Throwing League’s championship will air on ESPN, gratifying the thousands of players who’d like to see it taken seriously as a sport.

If you don’t take it too seriously, it’s nice to have snacks on hand while you play. But Mo’s doesn’t serve destination barbecue. The meat isn’t distinctly juicy or tender or banded with smoke. And the nonbarbecue dishes, like the “mac and crack,” overestimate themselves, as well as the addictive properties of a few pieces of candied bacon. (If you want more than a bite, I’d suggest heading over to Jun Won for a big platter of sticky-soft braised cod and radish.)

Still, at the end of my first hour, feeling both possessed and mildly embarrassed by my own enthusiasm, I compulsively booked a second hour. By then, I knew it didn’t have anything to do with the food.

Mo’s House of Axe, 611 South Western Avenue (Sixth Street), Los Angeles. Reservations are required for ax-throwing: moshouseofaxe.com.

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