Fowling – it rhymes with bowling – is one of the most unique things to do on your visit to the Detroit area. It’s my favorite thing to take my out of town visitors to do when they come to the area. Located in Hamtramck (don’t overthink the pronunciation – just pretend there’s an i before the ck), the Fowling Warehouse originated this unique activity that’s fun for everyone. You’ll be hooked from your very first time out on a lane. Find out everything you need to know to plan a visit here.
How do you play fowling?
The game is a combination of football and bowling that is somehow way more fun than either sport would be on its own. You start with two teams and stand at opposite ends of the court, each with a set of ten bowling pins. The teams take turns tossing a football at the other team’s pins trying to knock them over. The first team to clear the board wins.
It sounds pretty simple, but it’s loads of fun – and more challenging than you’d expect! Oh, and because there aren’t dividers between the lanes, you also have to play a little bit of “defense” to protect the pins on your end from balls bouncing from other lanes because it doesn’t matter how they get knocked down – every pin down stays down.
If you happen to knock over only the center pin and nothing else on your very first throw, it’s called a Bonk and your team wins the game automatically. The bar staff will blow an air horn in your honor and your teammates will probably buy you a drink. It doesn’t sound possible, but my little brother actually did it on our very first visit and you’ll usually hear a couple blasts from the air horn if you spend an evening there.
To learn more, check out this video on their website.
The Fowling Warehouse and has since spread to a few more official franchise locations – you can also play in Grand Rapids in Michigan and some other states – plus some knock-off venues that play the same basic game without infringing on the trademark. I’ve been to the knock-off place out in the suburbs though, and the original is still way better.
If you’re visiting the Fowling Warehouse with a larger group, you can reserve a lane for yourselves, but the best way to get the full experience it is just to do what they call open fowling. Your admission allows you to stay and fowl as long as you want. You simply pay at the entrance and then grab an unused lane or line up for one if in use at the time. If you’re waiting for a lane, when the current game is over, the winners stay and losers are supposed to leave. The first group in line gets to try to knock off the victors then.
If your team is good (or maybe just lucky), you could potentially be on the court for a long time. The first time I went with a group, we were out there playing constantly for over an hour as we racked up an impressive winning streak probably through sheer beginner’s luck.
It can get crowded on weekends, especially at night. To avoid the crowds and potentially get more playing time, I’d go early on the weekends or on a weeknight. Weeknights and after 6 pm on the weekends are for ages 21+ only, but kids during the day on the weekends. Players must be age 10 or older.
While you’re waiting for your turn on a lane, you can watch other players – people pull some pretty acrobatic moves when they’re defending their pins and sometimes make some incredible throws – grab a drink at the bar, or possibly catch a live performance if the stage is active. The bar has 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 have food service, but you can get food delivered or score a snack from one of the food trucks that frequently shows up in the parking lot.
Where to go Fowling in Detroit
The Fowling Warehouse is located in the city of Hamtramck, which is an independent city completely surrounded by Detroit. It’s located northeast of the I-75/I-94 interchange between I-75 and Van Dyke. The warehouse has a small parking lot, but it fills up on busy nights so you may have to look for street parking nearby.
Tips for your first time Fowling:
- I recommend not bringing purses. There are some lockers for rent or you can set them on the floor while you’re playing, but I’ve seen my share of drinks get dumped out on the court, so I prefer to just stick the essentials in a card holder in my pocket and leave everything else at home.
- Wear sneakers or other close-toed 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.
- Stay aware while you’re on the court! Footballs are bouncing all over the place. My own mother hit me in the head with one the last time we played.
- My favorite strategy is to have a person on each side of our pins to defend against bounces coming from the lanes next to us. The strategy has served us well over the years, and it’s a great way to stay in the game even when it’s not your turn to throw.
- I’ve had better success lofting the ball with a little arc than trying to make a faster, throw on a direct line.
- Don’t feel bad if you can’t make the throw overhand. You can toss it underhand too. Plus, bounces count so even if it hits in front of the pins you might still knock some of them over.
- At the end of your game, rerack your pins for the next team coming on.