DETROIT (CIRCA) — The Cadieux Cafe in Detroit may be the only place you can feather bowl in the United States, if not the world. Based on a Belgian game -- but using a feather rather than a wooden peg as a target -- feather bowling has been played at Cadieux Cafe since well before the 1960s, when Ron Devos' father bought the bar.
"When my dad passed away, we -- my sister and my mom and I -- opened the feather bowling to the public," said Devos, now 68. "And that's when we started running out the lanes, and that's when the popularity really grew around here. It's where we are today."
There are over 60 members in the cafe's feather bowling league, which is the maximum Devos will allow in a given season. Many of the bowlers are attracted to the sport -- which is actually much closer to curling or bocce than to American-style pin bowling -- because of its creativity and always-changing nature.
"There's a variety of shots that you have to make," says Michael John, Cadieux feather bowling club president. "The lanes themselves sometimes play into it ... a little rut over here or a little dip on this side, and the ball will just sort of go up and come right back."
The lanes, which are concave and made of clay, change with the seasons and the moisture. John said that it can be different even just week to week.
John got into feather bowling through his brother-in-law and never looked back. He's been playing now for 12 years.
"There's an infinite number of possibilities in terms of where the ball can go and how it's going to work," he adds. "The randomness is fun."
Feather bowling was brought to the Cadieux cafe by Belgian immigrants to Detroit. But don't go feather bowling looking for an authentic Belgian experience.
On a recent trip to Belgium, John kept asking Belgians in Brussels or Gent if they knew where he could go feather bowling. He eventually found a group in a small town playing the game with a peg rather than a feather, but it was a journey to get there.
"We would say 'do you know about this game?'" John said,. "And they go, 'Nope. Never saw that before, don't know anything about it.'"