Three local entrepreneurs hope to hit a bullseye with their new venture on Stillwater Avenue in Bangor with a restaurant and bar that combines three things that have proven to be highly popular in Maine in recent years: barbecue, live music and axe throwing.
Smoke & Steel BBQ, located at 471 Stillwater Ave., in the same development as Buffalo Wild Wings and Hobby Lobby, is set to open next week in a spacious, colorfully designed space that briefly housed Japanese eatery Kashi in 2017. The menu offers up an array of house-smoked barbecue, and live music each weekend will feature country, rock and blues bands.
But axe throwing was the thing Holden resident Greg Hawes wanted to do in the first place, well before he and co-owners Jeff Solari and Chris Jones even began to imagine a full restaurant and entertainment venue.
Axe throwing, the contemporary version of which utilizes specialized throwing axes to hit large wooden targets at the end of a lane, came out of lumberjack competitions, but has grown to become a popular entertainment option across the U.S. and Canada. The only other dedicated axe throwing venue in Maine is The Axe Pit in South Portland, though G-Force Adventures will offer axe throwing when it reopens later this year at the Bangor Mall.
“The plan originally was just to do an axe throwing venue, with just targets and a small bar,” said Hawes, who also owns Brothers Cannabis next door. “But when I acquired Brothers Cannabis, this space was available. We struck a deal with the landlord to rent the entire property, and that’s when Jeff and Chris came on board to really turn this into something bigger.”
Solari owns Kostas Restaurant in Brewer, while Chris Jones owns Miguel’s Mexican Restaurant on Hogan Road in Bangor. Hawes, who also owns G&M Family Market and Stompers Beverage in Holden, first got turned onto axe throwing while he and his wife were traveling in the Midwest in early 2020.
“It’s just so much fun, and so unique, and there’s nothing like it in the Bangor area right now,” Hawes said. “People have already responded to it, and we’re not even open yet.”
Clockwise from left: Chris Jones, co-owner of Smoke & Steel, practices axe throwing; Smoke & Steel is set to open next week on Stillwater Avenue near the Bangor Mall; Axes hang on the wall of one of the throwing lanes; Greg Hawes, co-owner of Smoke & Steel, lightly sprays the cottonwood targets with water to keep them soft.
At Smoke & Steel, a group of up to four players can reserve one target for an hour for $20 per player. For groups of five to 10 players, they can reserve a whole two-target lane, also for $20 per hour, per player. There are five two-target lanes in total, and throwing coaches will be on hand at all times to teach people the different ways to play, and to ensure safety. It’s open to players 18 and older; those ages 10 to 17 must have parental supervision, and reservations are required after 2 p.m.
There’s a small private area on the far side of the lanes, available for party rentals, and eventually, Hawes plans to offer throwing leagues. The Axe Pit in South Portland is already a member of the World Axe Throwing League, which has 157 members in the U.S.
As for the food, barbecue is the star, with pulled pork, brisket and smoked chicken platters available, alongside burnt ends, wings, ribs and special items including a 24-ounce tomahawk steak and a weekly local seafood dish. Memphis, Carolina and Kansas City sauces will be served, alongside less traditional sauces including Buffalo and Thai chili. Chef and pitmaster Chris Kenney has worked in barbecue kitchens for years, most recently at Moe’s Original BBQ in Bangor. Pizza, sandwiches and burgers, all featuring smoked meats, round out the menu.
The massive, 25-seat bar will feature craft cocktails, local beers and, as Solari proudly points out, 75 varieties of whiskeys and bourbons from all over the world.
“If you’re a whiskey lover, we have the best selection in the region,” Solari said. “You’ll find varieties you’ve probably never had.”
The dining room area has a large, lighted stage backed by a colorful mural created by local artist Lawton Mann. General manager Holly Sault plans to book country, rock and blues bands most weekends, and said that she’s already received an overwhelming amount of interest from Maine bands that are itching to get back to playing after the long pandemic lull.
Hawes said that he hopes Smoke & Steel can become a one-stop entertainment and dining destination.
“You can come throw axes, eat dinner, and then have a drink and see a band,” Hawes said. “We think it’s something that appeals to all different types of people. We want to be a destination restaurant.”
Smoke & Steel BBQ is set to open on Wednesday, July 28. Initial hours will be announced on the restaurant’s Facebook page. To reserve an axe-throwing lane, call 207-573-1314 or visit smokeandsteelbbq.com.