NEWINGTON — An ax throwing range and bar plans to open in Factory Square this spring, the first location in town for the growing sport.
Montana Nights is looking to open its third venue in Southington. The company has locations in Newington and Enfield and is working on a franchise location on Long Island.
A group of coworkers visited Montana Nights in Newington on Thursday night after work. They split into two teams for a series of games led by an ax master, who acts as a coach, entertainer and safety officer in the enclosed ax throwing pit.
“It’s more fun than I thought it would be,” said Scott Buddle, of Prospect, between ax throws. “It’s definitely something we’ll do again.”
The Newington location opened in 2018. Visitors are greeted at the door by a trophy Kodiak bear, an item that owner Merle McKenzie said fits with his rustic lodge, logging camp theme. He and co-owner Glenn Perra took a 1946 International Harvester truck and converted it into a bar. They’ve got chess, checkers, Jenga and other table games in a lounge area along with arcade games.
While there are a host of ax throwing places in the state, McKenzie said business hasn’t suffered and that the market is thriving.
“I think ax throwing is here to stay. I don’t think it’s necessarily a fad,” he said.
McKenzie compared ax throwing to Laser Quest, a laser tag location on the Berlin Turnpike in Newington. Their business model has changed little and they’ve been open for nearly two decades.
“It’s still there,” he said.
Jerry Ferraro, an owner of Blue Ox in Wallingford, opened his place in 2018. He’s expanding with three other locations planned out-of-state as well as another Connecticut facility.
“It’s going really well,” he said. “We keep seeing more people.”
Montana Nights will join GameCraft Arcade & Bar, Escapism escape room, Witchdoctor Brewing Company and Rosie’s Royal Chocolates in Factory Square, among other businesses. Town Economic Development director Lou Perillo said ax throwing fits well with his goal of turning Southington into an entertainment destination.
“These are all experiential things,” he said.
With an arcade next door, Perra said they won’t have video games at the Southington location. He’s glad to be next to other businesses that’ll draw customers and expects that people will combine a visit to Montana Nights with a trip to other area attractions.
“I love the building, I love the concept,” he said.
The presence of ax masters with every group of ax throwers sets Montana Nights apart from other ax throwing businesses, McKenzie said. They’re able to enforce safety rules but also to make sure the group is having a good time. On Thursday, ax masters were high-fiving throwers, cheering teams on and yelling out scores.
“They’re there to make the party fun,” McKenzie said.
Rules include no open-toed shoes and prohibit players from handing axes to each other. Employees can also decline to let people throw axes if they’re acting rowdy or intoxicated.
Montana Nights sells its own beverages but allows visitors to bring in or order food, which happens a lot with large parties.
“Bears BBQ comes here 10 times a week,” McKenzie said.
Right now the Southington location is mostly empty. Perry and McKenzie are waiting on approval from the town’s Building Department to start bidding the work. They expect to open in April or May.