Food

Kick Axe Owner Defied Pandemic Ban on Axe Throwing to Keep Staff Employed

The venue has received two fines for violating Covid restrictions.

Kick Axe is now shut down indefinitely. Photograph courtesy Kick Axe.

Ginger Flesher-Sonnier figured the most dangerous thing about axe throwing was throwing axes. So she continued to operate her Ivy City hatchet-hurling bar Kick Axe throughout the pandemic with Covid safety protocols in place. She closed off alternating ranges to allow for social distancing, and sanitized everything in between groups. Check-ins became contactless, and start times were staggered. Everyone was required to wear masks.

Flesher-Sonnier claims she did not realize that axe-throwing was a prohibited live-entertainment activity until inspectors from the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration showed up on January 9—during DC’s indoor dining ban—and issued a $1,000 citation. Inspectors, who were tipped off from a complaint hotline, found patrons throwing axes without masks.

The business, which also includes a larger game-and-hang complex called Throw Social, shut down for two weeks. Then, Flesher-Sonnier made a defiant decision: She would reopen the place in order to continue paying staff and her landlord—knowing full well that she would likely be fined again. A third violation, and the venue could risk losing its liquor license.

“We took that risk knowing what could come from it, but also knowing that we weren’t putting anybody at risk,” she says. “It didn’t feel like I was being evil or bad. It felt like I was actually doing something positive.”

Sure enough, inspectors returned last week with another fine. Kick Axe could remain open only for food and drinks—which it tried over one weekend—”but who’s going to come to Kick Axe to eat?,” Flesher-Sonnier says. Ultimately, she has closed the venue until live entertainment restrictions are lifted, “which God knows when that will be,” she says.

Axe throwing is an activity that hasn’t fallen neatly into a single category during the pandemic. It’s not quite like dining at a restaurant, but it’s not like going to a concert either. “We’re in that weird, kind of lost forgotten category of entertainment,” Flesher-Sonnier says.

While DC had categorized her business as live entertainment, she found it actually didn’t qualify as live entertainment when she sought a Shuttered Venue Operators Grant from the Small Business Administration. Meanwhile, Flesher-Sonnier also operates another Kick Axe in Philadelphia, where the opposite rules apply: axe-throwing is allowed but it can’t serve food and drinks. She also runs two escape rooms—one in Georgetown and another in Alexandria—which don’t have liquor licenses and have remained open with limited capacity and other restrictions.

Flesher-Sonnier is hoping to work with her landlord, has started a GoFundMe for staff, and is holding out hope that Kick Axe and Throw Social could still reopen—legally—in the coming months. In the meantime, she’s in Florida, where she’s gearing up to open a new Throw Social with a 7,000-square foot outdoor patio and stage in Delray Beach. That’s the only state where she plans to grow the business going forward.

“Everything is open, and there are so many less restrictions,” she says. “It will just be easier, because I’m afraid this is isn’t going to be the last time, you know?”

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.