Lagatha’s House of Axe sticks a bullseye in downtown Gadsden

October 30, 2020 chris
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Pictured above, Lagatha’s House of Axe owner Clinton Melendez stands in front of a target board and welcomes guests to experience axe-throwing at 221 3rd Street South in Gadsden.

By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

Locals searching for an outlet to unleash their inner Viking need look no further.

Lagatha’s House of Axe hurls a new recreational activity in axe-throwing at 221 3rd Street South in downtown Gadsden, offering visitors the thrilling opportunity to witness the fun and excitement just on the horizon.

Lagatha’s House of Axe is making its mark on the community. The facility celebrated its official ribbon cutting on Friday, October 30 and will host Fright Night, a Halloween block party on Saturday alongside Gridiron on Saturday, October 31. From noon until 11:30 p.m., guests can experience live music from Shields Rhode, Nexus, Clay Page and Them Dirty Roses while participating in costume contests and of course, axe-throwing.

“It’s change,” said Lagatha’s House of Axe owner Clinton Melendez. “It’s something to make the community a better place. These are different types of businesses, but change needs to happen to keep downtown thriving. We’ve got to give the community something to do – that’s kind of our big drive.”

Melendez’s relationship with axe-throwing sparked several years ago as he pursued an alternative business venture in Wisconsin. While he was in the midst of transforming a bus into a mobile escape room for businesses, a call from his friend prompted him to change course. His friend introduced him to the axe-throwing craze spreading throughout Canada. The duo built an axe-throwing trailer for Oktoberfest in La Crosse, a four-day festival that draws the second largest crowd outside of Munich, Germany.

The response was paramount. In the first two days, Melendez’s first axe-throwing establishment attracted 2,000, people, leaving him scrambling to hardware stores hours away just to replenish the wood. Since that initial moment, Melendez opened two extremely successful axe-throwing facilities: one in La Crosse, and another four blocks from Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

Though his businesses thrived in Wisconsin, Melendez felt the state’s frigid weather taking its toll on his health and decided to head south for the winter. While en route to Destin, Florida, to open his third axe-throwing facility in March, Melendez faced an unprecedented obstacle – the COVID-19 pandemic. The combination of business closures and the lack of real estate agent cooperation sent him back to Leesburg, Alabama, where his parents (both retired Air Force veterans) live.

Whenever Melendez visited his parents in the past, they often discussed the lack of activities available for the community and ended up traveling to Chattanooga or Huntsville. Melendez’s father suggested he fill the gap and open an axe-throwing facility in Gadsden.

While legends describe axe-throwing competitions between frontiersmen in North America or Celtic tribes in Europe, history denotes a cohesive relationship between axes and seafaring explorers and warriors most recognized as Vikings. These Norsemen and women incorporated axes into their daily life, wielding axes as tools for shipbuilding or weapons in battle.

Scandinavian influences filter throughout Lagatha’s House of Axe, weaving a common thread throughout the facility. The name Lagatha draws inspiration from History Network’s popular TV series Vikings, coined from one of the main characters played by actress Katheryn Winnick. Subtle nods to the show appear interspersed with other Nordic references in the facility’s décor and setup, from custom paintings to axes displayed behind the bar on a multi-colored wooden statement wall. The wall itself, along with the resurfaced bar and all tables were built by Melendez and his father, who recycled palette wood from Rome, Georgia, stained it six different shades and arranged it in an eye-catching pattern.

“We know that the name isn’t spelled the way it is in the TV show,” said Melendez. “We want to pay homage and respect without being disrespectful and taking something that’s not ours.”

Eight axe-throwing lanes align the left side of Lagatha’s, every lane enclosed with cages and fencing on all sides to ensure each participant’s safety. Axe-throwers can walk up and down the lanes and feel comfortable and secure. Even if an axe is thrown high, it will hit the fence and fall to the mats in place to protect participants.

Target boards made from cottonwood wait at the end of each lane, featuring a range of numbers that correlate with a points system for different games throwers can play. Visitors receive a score sheet for the different game options to tally their progress, one which has a similar setup to the basketball game H-O-R-S-E.

Melendez takes precautions daily to ensure the health and safety of his visitors, implementing a SuperHandy Fogger disinfectant (also used by a local dentist’s office to clean his practice) to sterilize the building before people enter.

While the sport and recreational activity is termed axe-throwing, the ‘axes’ thrown at Lagatha’s are actually 1.25 pound hatchets. If participants are new to the sport or feel a little uncertain of how to perfect their game, lane coaches are available to demonstrate the various throwing methods that include both a two-handed and one-handed throw. The two-handed technique instructs participants to grip the hatchet like a golf club above their heads, pushing forward with their hips and thrusting backward, releasing the hatchet with their arms straight in front of them. The one-handed technique resembles an Atlanta Braves fan’s tomahawk chop, with participants keeping their thumb tucked in on the side of the hatchet, keeping the hatchet as straight as possible and stepping and throwing in a continuous motion.

Although Lagatha’s main attraction is obviously awarded to its axe-throwing, the facility offers more than the sport alone. An axe-throwing facility, arcade and restaurant all in one, Lagatha’s caters to every person who walks through its doors, creating an all-inclusive experience for visitors.

When guests feel their arms tire, they can feast on artisan flatbread pizzas (complete with gluten-free cauliflower crusts) or delectable nachos with kettle chips. While Lagatha’s does not serve alcohol, guests are welcome to bring their own beverages. Vintage arcade games and classic blasts from the past like Skee-Ball, Galaga, Frogger and Ms. Pac-Man await eager players, while the only shuffleboard in town entices opponents in its designated spot. 

The facility accommodates numerous social events, from birthday celebrations to divorce parties, to gender reveals and corporate events. Melendez equates axe-throwing with stress-relief, describing the sport as a fun and effective method of releasing frustration. Alternatively, he noted the sport – and the catharsis that accompanies it – saved two marriages in town.

“This is a community space,” said Melendez. “That board won’t talk back to you. That board won’t tell you anything bad, but it’ll let you get out everything that you want to get out. We’re sort of a cheap therapy. The difference between us a regular bar is people go there, pop a squat and tell you about their problems – but when they come here, people tell you about their problems, but we throw axes. We can talk it out. They can get out so much stress. There’s something about that first ‘thunk.’ When that axe hits the board, there’s a thunk. It does something to you. Inside, it’s sort of primal. If you think about it, cavemen started out with something similar to this, so the sport has been around for a long time.”

While Lagatha’s House of Axe provides an entertaining and exciting space for individuals to create new memories, the true essence of the business rests with Melendez’s desire to give to the community. Melendez believes in sticking together, and the importance of small businesses owners standing united for the betterment of their community. He welcomes partnerships with several local businesses throughout the city, forming friendships and using his platform to evoke positive change. He advocates for his neighbors, emphasizing that their success is just as important as his own.

His sponsorship of small businesses expands beyond the Gadsden community, traveling to Boaz and Rome where he gladly offers his assistance to fellow axe-throwing establishments, willing to provide them with wood or supplies. It extends to Talladega and Fort Payne where he sponsors his best friend’s husband, Jeff Helms, and their race shop.

From donations to the Gadsden Public Library to hosting benefits for injured race car drivers, Melendez outreaches a generous hand and fosters a collective effort to uplift those around him. He envisions a Gadsden that welcomes the potential for other new and unique businesses, establishing a thriving community enriched with the best for its residents, and booming with possibility. With Lagatha’s, Melendez takes a step toward that future, one bullseye at a time.

 “It goes back to that collective effort to make something,” said Melendez. “It’s about the community. That’s what we’re here for – to give people the venting space to do something that’s like no other. It’s all about very selectively picking specific things we can do that you can’t find anywhere else. Business owners are starting to see, ‘Hey, maybe we need to change up what we’re doing.’ People are willing to make those changes.

“We’re doing a lot of firsts in Gadsden and that’s what we want to keep doing. Then people are intrigued, and want to get out. We want to keep everything different as much as possible. We don’t want to take away from the city of Gadsden, because it’s a beautiful community. But we want to change the perception of downtown.”

For more information on Lagatha’s House of Axe or Fright Night, visit lagathashouseofaxe.com or facebook.com/LagathasHouseofAxe.