A bit of Belgium in Detroit cafe Featherbowling: A community maintains its close-knit feeling with a game in which players roll a wheel-shaped 'ball' toward a pigeon feather.

January 14, 1996|By Dan Shine | Dan Shine,DALLAS MORNING NEWS

From the outside, the brown-brick Cadieux Cafe looks like any other neighborhood bar on the East Side of Detroit. But inside the former Prohibition speakeasy are two sawdust-covered lanes and four pigeon feathers that make the pub like no other place in the United States -- literally.

That's because the Cadieux (pronounced KADGE-you) Cafe is the only place in the country and one of two in North America (the other is in Chatham, Ontario) where patrons can play the Belgian sport of featherbowling.

"This used to be a Belgian neighborhood, back in its heyday," says Ron Devos, who owns the cafe along with his nephew, Paul Misuraca. "We used to have pigeon racing and archery here along with featherbowling. We still have Wednesday night bike rides."

Featherbowling is similar to the Italian game of boccie, in which the object is to roll a ball close to another ball several feet away.

But featherbowling is played on banked dirt lanes covered with sawdust with the target being pigeon feathers planted in the ground 60 feet apart. Also, 5-pound wooden "balls" shaped like wheels of cheese are used.

A team (usually three players) at one end of the lane rolls its six balls at the feather. The other team must decide whether to knock the opposition's balls out of the way or use the concave lanes to weave the wooden wheels around them in order to get closest to the feather. The team nearest the feather gets a point for each ball closer than its opponent's closest ball. First team to score 10 wins.

The Cadieux Cafe's original featherbowling lane was built outside in 1931. A second lane was built two years later, and the whole area was enclosed in 1939. Mr. Devos' parents, Bob and Yvonne, bought the cafe in 1962 and added a restaurant.

The game has become so popular that lane reservations for a Friday or Saturday night are booked eight months in advance.

"It's a fun way to get together with a bunch of friends," Mr. Devos says. "Instead of a party or dinner, you can do both here and have the competitive aspect as well. And the game is very easy; anybody can do it."

The featherbowling lanes, through a door off the restaurant, are sparsely decorated. Separating the two lanes is a carpeted strip filled with benches, tables and chairs for the participants.

The Belgian flag is painted on one wall. There is a sign forbidding high-heeled shoes on the alleys and one that outlines some of the rules -- including no gambling, no loitering and no lofting of balls.

A large plaque from World War II lists the neighborhood boys at military camps and overseas. Each year's featherbowling champion has a portrait hanging on the wall. Mr. Devos was the champ in 1990. Cyriel Praet took the honors in 1985, Valere Spetebroot in 1991.

While the public can enjoy the lanes on the weekends and there's a co-ed league Tuesday nights, Thursdays are when the real competition takes place. That's when those champions on the wall take to the lanes.

"It's good-natured competition, but it does get intense at times," says John Bedz, who at age 31 is one of the younger guys in the featherbowling club.

Mr. Bedz says he often is astonished by the play of the men in the club.

"For some of them, it almost becomes a feeling," he says. "It's amazing that they can just look at a situation and make the shot. They just have a feel for it."

The men in the club, mostly older immigrants, regale the group with stories about growing up in Belgium and from World War II. Mr. Bedz says he also has picked up a few Flemish profanities from the men, which come in handy during play.

"These men are keeping their close-knit community intact with the club," Mr. Bedz says. "The bowling club is a large group of friends; an extended family. I'm glad to be a part of it."

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