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On Detroit’s east side, the feather bowling tradition continues

Photos by Michelle & Chris Gerard

Many games and sports originate from whatever’s available in a local culture. If you can imagine a Belgian countryside, with an irrigation ditch, a pigeon feather, and a cheese wheel, you have the beginnings of what’s known as feather bowling. The game is played in few places around the world, but oddly enough, it’s most popular on the east side of Detroit.

Bowling lanes in a bar in Detroit. Photo by Michelle Gerard

The Cadieux Cafe has hosted feather bowling since the early 1900s. Like many spots in Detroit, it was once a prohibition speakeasy. Part of the building was actually built around the lanes—you can see the different brick work from the outside. How rare is feather bowling? The Cadieux Cafe claims it has the only authentic lanes in the United States, and visitors from Belgium are often shocked that it’s played here at all.

It’s reminiscent of many parlor games—horseshoes, shuffleboard, curling. A feather sticks out of the floor of the lane, and players roll wooden rollers down irregular lanes to see who can get closest to the feather. The teams try to knock the other wheels away from the feather. Any number of people can be on a team. The goal is to get to ten points.

For decades, the game was only open to serious league play. When current owners Ron Devos and Paul Misuraca took over, they opened it up to the public. Leagues still play from September to May. Tuesday nights are for coed play, while Thursday evenings bring in the serious mens senior league.

A row of portraits of league champions line the wall near the lanes. One was infamously stolen a few years back, and ceremoniously returned.

The Cadieux Cafe grew out of the Belgian and Italian influence on Detroit’s east side. Once only open for feather bowling and drinks, it now offers Belgian delicacies like steamed mussels and welcomes visitors with nostalgic photos and karaoke nights. In a city that sometimes seems like it’s changing so fast, some traditions remain.