News / Food & Drink

Got an axe to grind? This might be just the place for you

Axe throwing venue brings to Brunswick a quirky sport popular in North America

Darcy Scanlan is a veteran of the military campaign in Afghanistan and believes axe throwing can have a positive impact in dealing with stress.

Mark Phillips
Thursday, November 24, 2022

IF the daily grind of modern life is getting you down and you need an outlet to let off steam, it might be time for you to pay a visit to Valhalla.

Found inside a cavernous former warehouse next to the Brunswick tram depot, Valhalla Axe Throwing has introduced a sport that is wildly popular in the United States and Canada to Melbourne’s inner northern suburbs.

The venue opened in late September at the corner of Cameron and Peveril streets, and has been more than two years in the making for father and son owners Gregg and Darcy Scanlan, along with Gregg’s wife Natalie.

Darcy was hooked on axe throwing after first trying it with some friends in 2018. Having worked for many years in hospitality, Darcy and his father had discussed opening a bar together, so when they came across an appropriate building in Brunswick they decided to take the plunge with a dedicated axe throwing venue.

“Activity drinking is the biggest thing at the moment in Melbourne for hospitality,” Darcy Scanlan said.

“People don’t want to just sit and drink, they want to do something and then they want to talk about how they went with a drink in their hand afterwards.”

At Valhalla, there are six separate axe throwing cages with two targets in each cage and a “rage room” where customers can take out their frustrations by smashing crockery with a baseball bat, with a fully licensed bar and a kitchen serving burgers and hot dogs on the side.

The origins of axe throwing are disputed. Some believe it derives from ancient Celtic or Nordic times, others point to frontiersmen in early colonial North America, and it has been popular at lumberjack events in Canada for generations. Whatever its background, the rules of modern axe throwing have been codified in the past two decades, with two professional leagues now based out of the US.

The concept is simple: competitors stand a distance of 12 feet (about 3.7 metres) from a wooden target at which they fling an axe weighing slightly under a kilogram. Each competitor has 15 throws in a match and similar to darts, the closer to the centre of the target, the higher the score with a maximum possible score of 81.

Success is dependent on finesse and technique as much as brute strength.

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Regardless of the sport’s origins, the Scanlans have embraced Nordic mythology in both naming and decorating their venue, including the imitation skulls that sit on each table.

“We have Scandinavian blood, specifically Norwegian, and Dad and I have always been into the family history and we were looking for something that thematically worked, so Vikings, axes, alcohol: why not?” said Darcy Scanlan, who with his flowing red hair, beard and arms covered with tattoos would not look out of place as an extra on the popular television drama Vikings.

The word Valhalla is derived from the old Norse word for “hall of the slain”, which in mythology was a majestic hall located in Asgard and presided over by the god Odin. Warriors who were killed in combat would enter Valhalla as a reward for their sacrifice.

To enter the modern day Valhalla in Brunswick, you must be aged over 18, and you will be breathalysed before you are allowed near an axe.

Axe throwing sessions go for two hours, and no alcohol consumption is allowed while participating. Each axe throwing lane is surrounded by chain link fencing for extra safety and the matches are fully supervised.

An extra attraction at Valhalla is the “rage room”.

“It’s a controlled, safe environment to let out some aggression. You get a milk crate of crockery, a baseball bat and we put you in PPE and then let you loose to destroy,” Mr Scanlan said.

“A rage room session is 20 minutes but that’s more than enough time. People normally burn through that crate pretty quickly – there’s a lot of anger out in the world. We’ve found that it actually works and people feel a lot better coming out of it.”

Mr Scanlan knows all about stress as an Australian Army veteran who served in Afghanistan where his job was to detect enemy land mines.

He has hooked up with a veterans’ organisation and will be running special events at Valhalla for veterans and first responders living with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions resulting from their service.

Valhalla has also started an axe throwing league with matches held every Wednesday night. The first season began on November 3 as a round robin tournament that will conclude with finals on December 21.