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.