Axe-throwers' liquor licence application accident waiting to happen, opponents say

Credit: Original article can be found here

A Wellington axe-throwing business is fighting for its right to give patrons a drink in one hand and an axe in the other.

But it’s facing resistance from police, health officials, and neighbours.

Sweet Axe Throwing Co has applied for a licence to serve two drinks per customer during its two-hour axe-throwing session.

Owner Lloyd Bombell founded the Kent Tce business in 2018 with his partner, Sarah Hilyard, and they now own two locations in Auckland and Wellington. Neither currently have an alcohol licence.

The business in Wellington is open six days a week, Wednesday to Monday, with occasional private events on Tuesdays.

READ MORE:
* Mixing axe-throwing with booze is perfectly safe, say US venues
* New Zealand’s first urban axe-throwing range open for business
* Students target parking pollution with ticket grab

It’s on the ground floor of a three-storey building, with four apartments above, two on each level.

Bombell wrote in his statement of evidence that, as per an agreement with their neighbours, all axe throwing stopped at 8pm, but the venue stayed open till 10pm.

The company had been granted occasional special licences, allowing them to serve alcohol at their own events, such as their anti-Valentines Day celebration, and those where alcohol was served by other licence-holders, like the 2020 Fried Chicken Festival.

Co-owner Sarah Hilyard, pictured here for their anti-Valentines Day event, where alcohol was served with no injuries or accidents. (File photo)

ROBERT KITCHIN/STUFF

Co-owner Sarah Hilyard, pictured here for their anti-Valentines Day event, where alcohol was served with no injuries or accidents. (File photo)

“We have never experienced any serious injuries […] nor are we aware of any serious injuries in the New Zealand axe-throwing community.”

A wristband system, which had been used at previous events involving alcohol, would set a limit of two drinks per customer over two hours.

Preloading was not allowed. Customers already signed a zero-alcohol tolerance policy before throwing, staff kept a close eye out for signs of intoxication, and anyone who had consumed alcohol was turned away.

The company would continue to sell food, in addition to their arrangement with local restaurants and takeaways to cater for groups.

Included as evidence in Bombell’s statement was a table of data from ACC. Only four of 29 axe-throwing injuries in the last five years were lacerations, puncture wounds or stings – the rest were strains or sprains.

ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF

Sweet Axe Throwing founder Lloyd Bombell takes reporter Eleanor Wenman through the basics of hitting a bullseye with an axe.

“We consider allowing Sweet Axe to serve alcohol to guests as the equivalent to allowing customers to buy an alcoholic drink at a movie or at a bowling alley.”

No beverage would have an alcohol content higher than five per cent, and each would cost at least $10.

The price of a slot at Sweet Axe – $50 per person for groups of eight or more, and $65 for less – as well as the price of drinks, would discourage people treating the business as a bar. “There are much more cost-effective places to do that around the corner on Courtenay Place,” Bombell said.

Police sergeant Josephine Wigman presented a case from 2018 of a one-day suspension of an alcohol licence for a Michigan company due to safety concerns.

But in this situation, Bombell wrote in reply, there were no safety procedures in place, and the company did not disclose they would be throwing axes when they applied for the licence.

Wellington manager Krista Mackie gave evidence in support of the licence. “During my time at Forged Axe Throwing Canada I worked at a number of events offering axe-throwing as an entertainment activity where alcohol was also available.”

“We applied the same no-intoxication policies at these events and were able to provide fun and safe axe-throwing entertainment.”

As little as two drinks is enough to cause impairment, slowing cognitive function and lowering coordination levels. (File photo)

123RF

As little as two drinks is enough to cause impairment, slowing cognitive function and lowering coordination levels. (File photo)

Regional Public Health alcohol regulatory officer Brooke Dawson-O’Leary was worried about safety; even in small amounts, alcohol had “effects on the brain and body”, acting as a relaxant and impairing cognitive processes and coordination, causing clumsiness.

Studies had shown two drinks were enough, and many contained more than one standard drink per serving.

Wellington City Council inspector Joanne Burt expressed doubt over whether the applicant had appropriate systems, staff, and training, and whether the food on offer was practical to combat the effects of alcohol.

“It was my belief that $20 was a bit steep [for microwave meals] when they can be purchased in a supermarket for $8.”

“My preference would be for people to consume alcohol after the axe-throwing sessions have completed.”

Upstairs neighbour Melissa McCalmont was concerned about the noise, which was already an issue. The thud of axes, raised voices and music were already excessive, and sometimes occurred outside the 10pm cut-off. Adding alcohol to the mix was likely to worsen that.

After a day-long hearing, the committee set a date of June 2 for written closing statements to be submitted, and a decision would follow.