Bocce ball, 10-pin bowling, lawn bowling, kingpin bowling; we’ve heard ‘em all. But another rare variation of bowling was recently brought to my attention, and its passionate following and fun atmosphere has drawn attention from people all over the world. Feather bowling is a timeless game with a spirit that’s remained vibrant with many devoted players at Detroit’s Cadieux Cafe. Bowlers of all ages enjoy the sport and continue to crowd the cafe for drinks, local music, a game of feather bowling or a plate of steamed mussels. I sat down with Paul Misuraca, co-owner of the Cadieux Cafe, and gathered a list of five things one should know about the rare game of feather bowling and its home, the Cadieux Cafe.
Imported and Nurtured
The Cadieux Cafe is known as the only home for authentic feather bowling in the U.S. It’s located on Detroit’s historic lower east side, and it continues to be a landmark for the Belgian community. Feather bowling began in the west-Belgian town of Flanders, and was imported to Detroit in the mid-‘20s. The original owner built the feather bowling lane to accommodate the influx of Belgian immigrants in the Motor City. Residents, like Misuraca’s grandparents, were able to gather with other Belgians and enjoy a game they all loved. This love has been passed down through the generations, as Muscara’s grandparents took over the cafe in 1962.
Wheels of Cheese and Pigeon Feathers
The object of feather bowling is similar to bocce ball and curling. There are two teams chosen, and each team is given six wooden balls (similar in shape to cheese wheels), to roll toward the other end of the lane, where a feather is placed. The goal is to be the closest to the feather, which originally came from a pigeon. Wheels of cheese and pigeon feathers? Yes, folklore says that the originators of the game used these materials because the game was played outdoors, and that was all they had at their disposal.
The team with the closest ball to the feather after each round gets a point per ball, and the first team to 10 points wins. Easy enough, right? That’s until things get competitive, and you lose to a 70-year-old.
No Trophies Here
Games are played on concave alleys made of dirt or clay. Each trench is the same distance as a regular bowling alley, but there’s one single feather at the end. The surface is two-feet deep in the center, which allows bowlers to curve their shots around their competitors’ balls. The men’s feather bowling league began in 1933, and continues to bring out the best in bowlers. However, winners of the league don’t play for a trophy; winners receive a sketch of themselves drawn by league member Jerry Lemenu. Lemenu is a courtroom sketch artist, and each portrait drawn for a winner is displayed above the lanes for all to see. This is a proud moment for bowlers, as their accomplishments are put on display for the many years to come.
You Need Serious Mussels
When Muscara’s grandfather bought the place in the ‘60s, the Cadieux Cafe was primarily a bar with feather bowling. The former prohibition speakeasy didn’t have a restaurant and was meant for two things: feather bowling and drinking. Mussels are very popular in Belgium, so Muscara’s grandfather began serving mussels on Friday nights. As the word spread about their mussel dinners, lines on Friday nights quickly ran out the door. This led to Saturday dinners, and the cafe eventually evolved into a restaurant in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The mussel dinner is still the most popular item at the Cadieux Cafe, and they proudly use their original recipe. This recipe has been passed down through the generations and remains a fan favorite.
Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine and Opportunity Detroit
Feather bowling is so rare, Belgians who come to Detroit are shocked at how well the game is preserved here. The Cadieux Cafe loves the sport, and its small but mighty following will keep it going for years to come. The Cadieux Cafe has also gained considerable attention from different media outlets over the years. Many different newspapers, magazines and TV shows have featured the Cadieux Cafe to introduce the world to this historic game. The place is so unique that ESPN the Magazine, the Travel Channel and Sports Illustrated have all ran segments on the Cadieux Cafe. Whether it’s the Belgian brews, steamed mussels or feather bowling, the Cadieux Cafe is a unique, extraordinary destination that deserves a visit from every Detroiter.