It’s that special time that comes once every four years. The best of our athletes compete for glory, for gold, and for… beers. There’s no need to schlep all the way to Rio this year; you can compete in Detroit’s very own Bar Games right here. To take home bragging rights as the best of the Bar Athletes, you’ll need dedication and drive, not to mention a designated driver. We’ve designed a Detroit Bar Decathlon -- that is, bars offering "sports" of various and dubious skill levels -- just for you bar bravados, organized geographically for minimum travel time between events. Grab a couple of friends and be prepared for the greatest skill challenge possible (while drinking as much beer as possible).
Where else would a Detroit bar/sports crawl start but at the oldest bowling alley in the country? Detroiters are all about bowling, so it’s only logical that we begin with the quintessential Motor City leisure activity. And Garden Bowl is the place to do it. Grab a High Life and challenge your buddies to a beer frame (only bowler not to get a strike has to buy the beers) at one of the 16 lanes. For the ultimate Detroit bowling experience, go for Rock-n-Bowl, where the music blares and the lanes glow in the dark.
If there are any reformed frat bros on your team, here is their time to shine. Thomas Magee’s sports a foosball table with a great view of the action at Eastern Market as well as an impressive selection of whiskies. That whiskey may slow down your reflex time, though, so maybe your strategy should include buying a shot for your competitor, since this is an endurance event, after all. And while you’re reliving the glory days at good old Delta Tau Chi, you can catch just about any Detroit sports team on the big screen TVs.
Sport: Ring toss
It’s simple: there’s a metal ring on a string and a hook on the wall. Your goal is to swing the string and hook the ring. Easy, right? Nope. It’s utterly maddening. This event will challenge your patience and the extent of your expletive vocabulary, so you may want to take a break for some Dangerously Delicious Pies to fuel up for the next event.
Sport: Sand volleyball
OK, you’re off to a good start, but now it’s time to get serious. Since this one is an actual Olympic sport, try not to embarrass yourself too much in front of the pros on the court judging your every spike and stumble. Z’s has open volleyball every Saturday, or you can check out Come Play Detroit for league action on Mondays and Fridays.
No, not your grandmother’s shuffleboard. This one’s a tabletop game played with skill and nuance on a wooden board lined with tiny little silicon beebles. There’s no prettier place to play it than at Northern Lights, with its funky, retro-themed couches and warm interior. Try a lavender-infused French 75, or stick to beer mode, since you’re only halfway through your decathlon. But, hey, you’re halfway through! Steady on, champion!
If you can swear like an Italian grandpop, here’s your chance to shine. The original Buddy’s, originator of Detroit-style pizza, has a gorgeous bocce ball court out back. Be prepared to test your mettle against the old-school players there, who take no crap from newbies and will let you know exactly how unskilled you are. Fun fact: the smaller "target" ball is called the pallino, and there’s nothing more satisfying than that little plonk when the bocce nestles up against it.
Never heard of fowling? Where have you been? Fowling is a genius combination of, duh, bowling and football. You throw a football at some bowling pins and try to knock them all down. It’s easy enough in concept, but even the best armchair quarterback can make an ass of him- or herself. Fowling has a gargantuan bar and a "Mystery Beer" vending machine for the bold and the brave, which of course you are. Keep on the alert for the bonk signal, and COVER YOUR EARS: it’s a rescued cruise ship horn, and can be heard from across Conant.
Sport: Feather bowling
Cadieux Cafe is a Detroit institution, and if you’ve never been there, you need to go now. The Belgian sport of feather bowling has a strange history of its own: originally, contestants rolled giant wheels of cheese after a feather to see who could come the closest to the feather. The banked sides of the alley make for some interesting physics and plenty of challenge. Cadieux has open and league nights (and some drop-dead delicious mussels, too). If feather bowling is good enough for The Smithsonian, it’s a must on our Bar Decathlon.
To celebrate your victory over the mussels and the feather, head to the recently reopened Stonehouse, former haunt of Prohibition-era gangsters. Horseshoes is an old-school game best played at an old-school bar, with grizzled bartenders and black-painted walls. For your penultimate event, imagine you’re tossing the shoe with the Purple Gang, rumored to have run booze from here in the '20s.
You did it! You’re on the final event of the great Detroit Bar Games, so if your hand is still steady enough, give your favorite childhood game a go. It’s a good way to round off (pun intended) the evening, listening to a live band, or trying your not-so-sober hand at open mic night on Wednesdays.
Bonus bar sports: if you’re not too wobbly, stumble on down to The Loving Touch for some cooldown pool or darts. No bar skill competition is complete without these two staples. Regardless of who’s tallied up the most points on your decathlon, you’ve experienced the agony and the ecstasy of all Detroit has to offer in the finest of bar sports.
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1. Garden Bowl4104-4120 Woodward Ave, Detroit
2. Thomas Magee's Sporting House Whiskey Bar1408 E Fisher Fwy, Detroit
3. 3rd Street Bar4626 3rd St., Detroit
4. Z's Villa42 Piquette St, Detroit
5. Northern Lights Lounge660 W Baltimore St, Detroit
6. Buddy's Pizza17125 Conant St, Detroit
7. Fowling Warehouse3901 Christopher St, Hamtramck
8. Cadieux Cafe4300 Cadieux Rd, Detroit
9. Stonehouse Bar19803 Ralston St, Detroit
10. New Way Bar23130 Woodward Ave, Ferndale
Live music, cheap drinks, killer pizza, and bowling, most importantly -- you really can’t go wrong with Garden Bowl. This Midtown spot is one of the oldest bowling alleys in the United States, and its longevity is a testament to the good times that abound here. The glossy, well-maintained original wooden lanes and the retro-chic neon backlighting throughout give the place an endearingly divey feel, one that keeps Detroiters coming back time and time again on weekends.
Donning a weathered, old-timey look, this young bar carries a whiskey-heavy beverage menu of over 100 different brands of the brown liquor, bottled brews, and a few beers on tap. There's not much food apart from salted nuts and chips, but the easygoing management will let you bring in outside food. Flat screens play "every sport, every game, every fight" and, while there's not much in terms of trendy foods or cool crowds, Magee's purist's mentality keeps the crowds coming during and after all sports events.
This midtown dive bar dabbles in all the classic lowbrow fixings, like darts, a jukebox, and remarkably cheap drinks not lacking in liquor content. The food selection is a notch up your usual counter grub, especially during brunch hours, when tables get stacked with plates of homemade pop tarts and french toasts made with thick-cut challah. Weather permitting, you can enjoy it all on the garden patio.
Imagine Z's Villa as the most down-to-earth frat house you've ever visited. That's what this darkened three-story bar looks like from the outside, and how it'll feel when you're mingling with friends out back, which is where you'll find most of the crowd on any warm-enough day. This locally famed outdoor patio sports group-friendly picnic tables, and for the more ambitious socializers, a beach volleyball court and horseshoes.
This New Center spot is a veritable hipster mecca: warm retro furnishings, artful and affordable specialty cocktails (lavender-infused French 75, anyone?), a selection of Midwestern craft brews, and -- last but not least -- a sprawling outdoor patio, complete with shuffleboard to stimulate competitive socialites. If you’re here for the buzzing weekend brunch instead of one of their live music nights, consider arriving on the earlier side of things: the dirt cheap mimosas here are no secret, and seating fills up quick.
Lauded as one of the best pizza joints (and now, chain) in the nation, Buddy's Pizza is known for its iconic Detroit-style pies baked in cast iron pans. The celebrated joint has been perfecting its pizzas, salads, and soups since 1946, and now serves them alongside a beer and wine, and dessert menu. To help you make room for additional slices, the restaurant even offers a bocce court right next door.
Combining elements of football, bowling, and horseshoes, fowling is an original Detroit-born game that's found enthusiasts in athletes and non-athletes alike and is now headquartered in this Hamtramck space. The whopping 34,000 square foot warehouse contains all of 20 lanes, two bars, big screen TVs, and a stage. And while beer, wine, liquor, and bar snacks can be had, most diners will compensate for the amiss food menu by ordering in pizza.
Flemish culture thrives at this Motor City staple, as evidenced by the robust collection of Belgian beers, the frequent crowd of “featherbowlers,” -- the equivalent of Belgian bocci, essentially -- and, like any self-respecting Belgian-themed bar, fresh steamed mussels, served daily. The Cadieux Café started as a Prohibition-era speakeasy, and it’s still kicking today, supported by community veterans who come for the culture and young folk who swing through to enjoy live entertainment until the wee hours of the morning.
This bar is so old-school, it is rumored to have been a hangout for Prohibition-era Detroit gangsters, the Purple Gang -- and even a brothel at one time. Hypotheses aside, this bar today has a coveted Victorian-style covered front porch, a jukebox, cold beer, and cheap prices that may explain all the regulars.
PBR for a nominal price, burgers and grease-dripping bar fare, and all the Skee-Ball, pinball, and pool your gaming heart could desire -- it’s no wonder there’s a steady stream of regulars who flock to this Ferndale spot. With all the fixings of a quintessential neighborhood dive, New Way Bar is a popular weekend destination, so expect to make friends when it gets really packed. Pro tip: whether the live music is blaring in full force or the weekly open-mic lineup leaves something to be desired, you might want a pair of earplugs on hand.