Fowling (pronounced like bowling but with an f) is the perfect thing to do on your visit to Detroit. It’s one of the things I make sure to take all of my out of town visitors to when they come to the area. Located in Hamtramck (pronounce that like there’s an i between the m and the ck), the Fowling Warehouse originated this unique Detroit activity that’s fun for everyone. You’ll be hooked the first time you get to celebrate knocking over the last pin or making a big throw. Find out everything you need to know to plan a visit here.
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So what is Fowling?
Fowling is a combination of football and bowling that manages to be way more fun than either activity on its own. Basically, you divide into two teams and stand at opposite ends of the court. Your teams take turns tossing a football at a set of bowling pins trying to knock them down. The first team to knock all of their pins down wins. It sounds pretty simple, but unless you’re a professional quarterback, it’s not as easy as you’d think. Oh, and because the lanes are close together, you also have to defend the pins on your end against bounces from the sides because it doesn’t matter how they get knocked down – every pin down counts. Oh, and if you happen to knock down only the center pin and nothing else on your first throw, it’s called a Bonk and your team wins the game just like that. You get your name on a board and an air horn is blown in your honor. It sounds impossible, but my brother did it the first time we played.
If you want to learn more about the rules, there’s a video on their website describing everything you need to know. It’s also a good way to get a feel for what playing is like with footballs bouncing around the lanes.
Fowling originated at the Fowling Warehouse and has since spread to two more official locations in the Midwest, plus other non-Fowling venues where you can play the same basic game (with a conveniently different name). They’re not fooling anyone though. I’ve gone to the knock-off place near my house a couple times and it just isn’t as much fun. And it costs a lot more, so I’d absolutely go to the original.
If you’re going Fowling with a big group, you can reserve a lane, but the best way to experience it is just to do what they call open fowling. For $10/person, you can stay and fowl as long as you want. You pay at the entrance and then grab an available lane or line up for one if they’re all occupied. If you’re waiting for a lane, when the game in progress is over, the winners stay and losers leave. The next group in line gets to challenge the victors then. If your team is good, you could be on the court for a long time. The first time I played with my boyfriend, brother, and his girlfriend, we were out there for well over an hour as we racked up an impressive winning streak if I do say so myself.
If you want to avoid the crowds and get more playing time, I’d go during the day on the weekends or on a weeknight. Weekend evenings tend to get pretty crowded and it could take you a while to get back on a lane if you lose. Weeknights and evenings after 6 on the weekends are for ages 21+ only, but all ages are welcome during the day on the weekends. Players must be age 10 or older.
While you’re waiting for a turn to play or just taking a break, you can watch other players – I wasn’t kidding about needing to defend your end’s pins and people pull some pretty acrobatic moves when they’re into it – grab a drink at the bar, or watch live music if there’s a performance going happening on the stage there. They have over 120 beers available, plus specialty cocktails, and (my favorite) the Mystery Beer Machine which is a vending machine that dispenses random beers for $2-$6. The Fowling Warehouse doesn’t serve food itself, but you can get deliveries or look for one of the food trucks that frequents the parking lot.
Where to go Fowling in Detroit
The Fowling Warehouse is located in the city of Hamtramck, which is surrounded by Detroit. You’ll find it northeast of the I-75/I-94 interchange between 75 and Van Dyke. There is a small parking lot on site, but it fills up on busy nights so you may have to look for free street parking. If you’re looking for Fowling elsewhere, you can play in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Tips for Fowling:
- Ladies may want to leave purses at home. There are some lockers available or you can set it on the floor while you’re playing, but I’ve seen my share of drinks get knocked over by errant footballs, so I prefer to just pop my ID and important cards in one of these holders that fits right in my pocket.
- Wear sneakers or other shoes with good soles so you can move around. This is especially important if, like me, you’re prone to doing things like dropping bowling pins on your feet.
- Keep your head on a swivel while you’re playing! Footballs are flying and bouncing everywhere. My own mother hit me in the head with one the last time we played.
- Whenever we play, we like to have a person on each side of our pins to guard against bounces coming from the lanes next to us. The strategy has worked out pretty well, and it’s a great way to stay in the game even when it’s not your turn to throw.
- I’ve found that lofting the ball with a little bit of an arc is more effective at knocking pins down than throwing it as hard as you can.
- Don’t feel bad if your arm isn’t strong enough to throw the ball overhand. You can toss it underhand if you want. Plus, bounces count so even if it hits in front of the pins you might still knock some down.
- Always rerack your pins at the end of the game for the next team.
Looking for more things to do in Detroit? Check out these other posts:
- See the Best of Detroit with this Guide from a Local
- Six Reasons to Visit Michigan This Spring
- Nine Reasons to Visit Michigan This Summer
- 8 Reasons to visit Michigan This Fall
- Ten Great Things to Do in Michigan in Winter
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