Nontraditional nightlife options give bars the axe

Bad Axe Throwing, 165 N Loomis St., hosts a corporate party for Cardno ChemRisk, an engineering consultant company, March 29.

By Miranda Manier

Twenty years ago, a typical night out for college-age drinkers might have included hopping from bar to bar, ordering cheap beer and recycling conversations until the night expired. 

Today, a night out might include anything from throwing axes to playing  giant Jenga.

Chicago added to its nontraditional nightlife scene in March with Punch Bowl Social, 310 N. Green St., which opened a Chicago location that offers activities that range from bowling to virtual reality. 

Bad Axe Throwing, an axe-throwing facility, also opened a second location in Lakeview after debuting in the West Loop in September 2016, as reported Sept. 8, 2016, by The Chronicle.

There were 12,000 fewer bars in the U.S. in 2016 than in 1998, according to a 2016 Washington Post article, which said young people have been turning away from the traditional bar experience.

“What makes [Bad Axe Throwing] appealing is that it’s easy to learn,” said Melanie St-Amour, the company’s Marketing and Development coordinator. “It’s a skill they don’t need to have any experience [with]. It’s something anybody can come out and learn.” 

Though its Chicago locations do not serve alcohol or allow guests to bring their own, St-Amour explained that people might choose Bad Axe over a traditional option because it is a group activity that offers an adrenaline rush.

“As soon as you get a feel for it and you throw one or two times, you get this internal motivation,” she said. “As soon as you hear that thud of the axe hitting onto the target board, there’s this adrenaline rush of wanting to do it again.” 

Punch Bowl Social also invites people to get together and do something other than chat, said Patrick Williams, the company’s national beverage director. 

“One of the coolest things about our concept is it’s dynamic, and there’s many different experiences wrapped up in one venue,” Williams said. “For a college student, maybe even underage, there’s tons of cool stuff to do.” 

These activities include bowling, karaoke, arcade games, tabletop games such as ping-pong as well as free board games like Scrabble. Punch Bowl Social does serve alcohol, but until 10 p.m it is open to all ages, so even those under 21 can partake of its options and enjoy a night out  with friends. 

Punch Bowl Social also incorporates a retro element, with non-alcoholic drinks that include malts and egg creams—a blend of club soda, chocolate syrup and milk—and vintage board games like Parcheesi. 

People crave those diverse options, Williams said. 

“If you go out to a dive bar [or] a college bar, all you do is go from bar to bar. It’s really drink-focused,” Williams said. “Guests like Punch Bowl because it doesn’t matter what night they come, they can have a different experience every time.” 

Scott Carstens, a sophomore cinema and television arts major, said he enjoys the creative environment places like Bad Axe and Punch Bowl Social offer, and would be excited about patronizing either of them. 

“A lot of people here are looking for a new thing to do,” Carstens said. “Even when you get to the age of 23, 24, you’re like, ‘Yeah, we can go to the bars, but they’re just the bars.’ You need a little more spice and variety, so the people who are creating these types of [venues] are ahead of the curve.”