IF IT HAD BEEN 2002, WHEN CHRIS HUNHOFF WAS A STUDENT AT MOUNT MARTY COLLEGE, HE AND HIS FRIENDS WOULD’VE FELT SATISFIED SPENDING THEIR SATURDAY NIGHT HOPPING BARS IN DOWNTOWN YANKTON UNTIL LAST CALL. BUT IT WASN’T 2002. IT WAS 2017, AND THE GROUP STROLLED PAST TINTED BAR FRONTS AND NEON SIGNS IN SEARCH OF SOMETHING ELSE. THAT’S WHEN HUNHOFF HAD AN IDEA.
“One of those friends lives in Denver, so I used to visit him quite often,” said Hunhoff. “Whenever we were out there, we never just sat at a bar. We usually were throwing axes, playing mini-golf, doing virtual reality, going to old arcades. We always had a destination. While we were walking around, I was thinking, ‘Why don’t we have anything like that here in Yankton?’”
A destination, Hunhoff envisioned. A place in Yankton that offered everything a taproom would—local brews and pool tables and good conversation — but bedecked with axe throwing and golf simulation and custom-built games. A place that could entertain beer drinkers and families alike.
The idea sat on the back burner for three years while Hunhoff worked his day job in IT consulting. Then, in November 2019, Hunhoff ’s father offered him a tour of the shed he’d just purchased on East 3rd Street, formerly known as River City Tool & Pawn. His father planned to use it for storage. Hunhoff stepped inside and saw his idea buried under 7,000 square feet of junk.
“The coolest part is watching people stick an axe for the first time. I know the feeling and I don’t know how to describe it, but you can see everyone who does it has the same feeling. There’s something about it that speaks to your soul. It’s the best therapy I think you can have.”
“It was packed from corner to corner. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff was in there,” recalled Hunhoff. “For some reason, I thought, ‘This is the place.’”
For the next three months, Hunhoff and his crew cleared the clutter and
laid the foundation for The Boat House. He installed six projector-based axe throwing stations custom-made by a pair in Dallas—each can display different throwing modes like tic-tac-toe and zombie hunting. He purchased a lightly used golf simulator from a couple that had it sitting in their garage, then called on a man from Sioux Falls who builds homemade shuffleboard tables. Next came skeeball, snooker (pool) tables, and foosball. On February 28, they hosted their first customers—just a few hours before the bathroom tiles were laid.
Lastly, a longtime friend of Hunhoff ’s father crafted a 51-foot bar from scratch, which Hunhoff, admitting bias, calls “one of the most beautiful bars in the state.” Hunhoff supplies it with a variety of local craft brews from Yankton and Sioux Falls.
“We’re doing our best to go local wherever we can. It’s important to us,” he said. “A few kids are starting a brewery a few blocks from us and we can’t wait to have their beers.”
As a board member of Onward Yankton, an entrepreneurial-focused initiative, The Boat House is just a piece of the ambiance downtown business owners are trying to create. It’s not about competition, Hunhoff says, it’s about cooperation.
“The best I could compare it to is the atmosphere in downtown Spearfish on a Friday night in the summer,” he said. “That’s what I want downtown Yankton to be like. And to do that you need different attractions to bring people out. It’s about us working together to create this downtown experience.”
It’s impossible to create such an atmosphere without first cultivating individual experiences, and Hunhoff says it’s easier to do so at a place where people can legally throw axes at things. In fact, he said, it’s developed into an unfailing sales technique inspired by one teenager who didn’t want to be at The Boat House in the first place.
+ Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, The Boat House is limiting its taproom capacity to 10 people its game space to one private party at a time.
+ “That’s really as many people as you feel comfortable bringing,” said Hunhoff. “The point is to bring your quarantine group with you.”
+ Each private party will have access to six axe-throwing lanes, a golf simulator, foosball, shuffleboard, skeeball and a snooker table.
+ Book a reservation online.
“One day we had a family in here and the daughter was around 18. She seemed surly and was on her phone the whole time and you could tell she wasn’t really excited to be here,” said Hunhoff. “Her family and I finally got an axe in her hand. She took that axe, whipped it at the target and buried it. Bullseye on her first-ever throw. The smile on her face and the way that family interacted after that… it was pretty cool. I’m excited about what this place is gonna bring.”