WRITER | LISA BECKER CAMPBELL
PHOTOS| PALAZZO DI BOCCE
America’s first bowling alley was built in 1840 in New York City, ushering in the beloved pastime of enjoying sports entertainment year-round.
Today, the spirited competitions continue in creative ways in Southeast Michigan. Bowling-based games are growing in popularity, both at two brand new sport/entertainment complexes and at two long-time favorite establishments. Think of it as bowling with a twist.
Most recently, The HUB Stadium in Auburn Hills opened a 30,000-square-foot, 600-seat restaurant/bar for urban “bombowling.” Sixteen bombowling alleys have platforms at each end, about 50 feet apart. Each platform holds ten actual bowling pins, arranged in a standard triangle. Teams on opposing sides toss footballs in an effort to knock down the other’s pins first.
The sport is growing in popularity because it is a blend of beloved classic games – bowling, American football, horseshoes, and cornhole. The enjoyment is also in succeeding at the surprising challenge – getting a “strike” is harder than it appears.
Bombowling is more commonly known as “fowling,” and the Fowling Warehouse in Hamtramck, which opened in 2014, has seen overwhelming success.
Also home to an eclectic restaurant, bar, and a beer garden, the Fowling Warehouse hosts thousands of players every week on its 30 lanes. Games can be played by individuals, couples, and groups of up to 320 people, with up to eight people per lane. There’s also an “open fowling” session, with no reservation required. The winner stays on the lane until a challenger defeats him. Losers return to the line and prepare to challenge again. On the south courts in the complex, players can pay a nominal fee and compete all day, from open to close.
Fowling was “accidentally invented” by a group of friends who were tailgating at the Indy 500. The game grew from one lane to two lanes, to backyards, to tournaments, to Detroit Lion’s tailgates, to a 14,000-square-foot warehouse in Detroit, according to the website.
Alternatively, two long-standing sports on par with bowling — but at very different venues — are also growing in popularity: feather bowling and bocce ball.
Palazzo di Bocce in Lake Orion is home to world-class bocce courts inside an ornate building that simulates an Italian palace, a “palazzo.” Ten bocce courts are sunk 16 inches below floor level and are visible from the dining room, which serves Italian meals and beverages as well as “courtside snacking.”
A courtyard/patio in the European tradition, with fountains, a bar, outdoor dining, and separate bocce courts is available when the warmer weather settles in.
“Bocce is enjoyable because, other than the simple equipment, all that’s needed to play bocce is a spirit of fun and good sportsmanship,” according to Jeffrey Loll, of Palazzo di Bocce in Lake Orion.
There’s a casual, social aspect to the sport. Teams take turns rolling balls in an effort to get closest to the pallino (a small, target ball). Bocce can be enjoyed by young and old, with little training, effort, or experience.
Another age-old sport enjoying popularity is feather bowling at the Cadieux Café, a modest pub in Detroit.
Described as a competition of “balancing physics and art,” feather bowling is a Flemish game. Belgium and Northern France are home to many courts, but Café Cadieux is the only authentic venue for the sport in the States. The first of two alleys was built at the corner bar in 1933, and the locale has been lauded for its continued cultural excellence and authenticity with a Michigan Heritage Award from the Michigan Traditional Arts Program.
Any number of competitors can play. A single feather is the target of wooden discs that are rolled down a convex lane, ambling along in odd directions. Points are earned for the discs landing closest to the feather, up to a total of ten. Unusual routes are often key to getting around opponents’ balls and closest to the feather, without touching it. Therefore, feather bowling is an easy game to play but very difficult to master.
An estimated 95 million people in 90 countries bowl. Southeast Michiganders might be among the most creative!
Cadieux Café – 4300 Cadieux Road, Detroit, 48224 – 313.882.8560 – CadieuxCafe.com
Palazzo di Bocce – 4291 S. Lapeer Road, Lake Orion, 48359 – 248.371.9987 – PalazzoDiBocce.com
The Fowling Warehouse – 3901 Christopher Street, Hamtramck, 48211 – 313.264.1288. – WhatsFowling.com
The HUB Stadium – 2550 Takata Drive, Auburn Hills, 48316 – 248.364.4000 – TheHubStadium.com