A new experience to thrill and surprise people is under construction on the corner of Sierra and First streets. The owner of the region’s escape rooms is building an axe-throwing bar and lounge with a mind-bending, slightly terrifying maze in the basement.
The 10,000 square-foot space left of Liberty Food and Wine Exchange has been empty for several years, waiting for the right tenant to fill it. Now, Phil Frayssinoux, owner of Puzzle Room Reno in downtown (across the street!), figured out a way to use all that space.
“I’m excited for Renoites to try something new,” Frayssinoux said.
He plans to open Reno Axe, the bar, and Dark Pursuit, the maze, in May 2019.
OK, but what is an axe-throwing bar?
Well, it’s a bar within which you drink booze, watch TV, hang out with friends, eat some food and, oh right, throw real axes at wooden targets.
Axe-throwing bars started in Canada as a hybrid of 15th century warrior training and 21st century craft beer hipsterdom — or maybe it’s just something Canadians felt was missing from the world.
At Reno Axe, customers walk into a divided space. On the right, they’ll find a long bar and seating area, with a lounge available for parties, or open seating, in the back. Frayssinoux is still deciding how many TVs his place needs because he doesn’t want to compete with The Rack sports bar nearby.
We suggested extreme sports channels.
On the left side of the venue, customers will find a row of axe-throwing ranges with wood or tree-stump targets on the back wall.
The two areas are divided by a double-sided rebar fence to prevent friends, children and other customers from crossing into a target range, while still being able to watch. An axe coach will teach people how to throw, ensure people are behaving safely and keep track of liquor consumption.
There is a two-drink maximum for throwers.
“Once you finished throwing, you can go get drunk, but not the other way around,” Frayssinoux said.
Some bars in other states have lost their liquor licenses by not enforcing rules, but Frayssinoux said he intends to run a safe experience. Axes are not allowed to leave the range and only one person can throw at a time.
“It’s a fun time for everyone,” he said. “It’s a sport you can get addicted to.”
Frayssinoux discovered the axe-throwing trend while traveling in Europe. He originally thought the idea was kind of silly, but quickly started seeking out axe-throwing bars when he traveled to new cities. Now he’s excited to bring it to Reno.
He anticipates league and tournament play that could eventually send skilled players to national competitions.
“Axe-throwing isn’t about power, it’s about technique,” he said while describing a 12-year-old axe thrower. “Anyone can do it.”
The bar will also benefit from sharing a wall with Liberty Food and Wine Exchange. Owner and Chef Mark Estee recently installed a large pizza oven and grill in the restaurant. Frayssinoux is cutting a hole in the wall between them to allow customers to order from Liberty without leaving the bar.
“You can drink, eat and throw an axe. It’s a good time,” he said.
In pursuit of darkness
While about only 30 percent of players escape Frayssinoux’s complex puzzle rooms across the street, all of them finish the game together. In the Dark Pursuit maze under Reno Axe, Frayssinoux anticipates half the players will be too scared to finish the mission.
“It’s not for everyone,” Frayssinoux said. “It’s a scary experience, mixed with a maze and an escape room. The goal is to finish a mission and face your darkest fears.”
He hesitates to call the maze haunted, because it’s not like Halloween scare houses, but the storyline will include a mystery, ghosts and frights.
Courageous customers will enter the axe bar on the ground floor, but then walk down into the basement to start their journey. Those who attended the Illuminati Ball in 2015 or who have toured the basement of Liberty Food and Wine Exchange might recognize the open space now, but won’t at all when Frayssinoux finishes the build out.
He wants to avoid jump scares that people can anticipate and instead create a foreboding atmosphere. But at the same time, he’ll design two versions: one for families that’s easier and less terrifying and one for hardcore players who want a challenge.
“There will be layers of complexity,” he said. “Even I’ll start on the easy version.”