If you had to guess the second most played game in the world, chances are you wouldn’t come up with bocce. But an 81-year-old former contractor, who also happens to be a U.S. national bocce champion, knows its appeal, especially when it comes to building community.
Located just off Lapeer Road in Lake Orion, Palazzo di Bocce is an upscale Italian restaurant that offers 10 indoor bocce ball courts alongside its classic Italian dining menu. Detroit native Tony Battaglia founded and built the restaurant himself in 2004.
What sparked the idea? Battaglia, who won a gold medal in the U.S. Bocce National Championships in 2005, says he simply “wanted something to do” after he retired. Putting faith in the consistently developing business district and residential communities in Lake Orion and Oakland Township, he created Palazzo in hopes of attracting people of all ages and and walks of life — and, nearly 20 years later, he says it’s “the premier bocce palace in the world.”
With 10 courts “specifically built for tournaments,” Palazzo di Bocce sets itself apart from spots geared for casual play only. Aiming to stay away from a “warehouse feel,” Battaglia had his courts lowered into the ground and fenced in with originally designed railings to create an inviting and safe area of play. Battaglia says this space is the only one of its kind. “Nobody has courts like these.”
The 32,000 square feet of dining and bocce play are always protected from Michigan weather, making this an all-year-round attraction. Plus, Palazzo has heated floors in the wintertime.
The biggest and best surprise of the business, Palazzo says, is the lineup of events, which are much bigger than he thought they would be. For example, in 2022, Palazzo hosted the world championship, and in September, it hosted the third American Bocce Co. U.S. Open Championship. With staff ranked as the first and second best players in the U.S. and impressive tournament-grade courts, it’s no surprise the space is an attraction for many players.
However, it’s not just nationally ranked players stopping in at Palazzo. Battaglia believes the keys to his event space’s success are the people and the game. “Anyone can play [bocce]. … It’s interchangeable with everyone.” The restaurant hosts regular leagues, corporate outings, family events, and gatherings among friends. Battaglia says he’s seen people “become a community” in this space.
With flexible packages for all kinds of events, Battaglia says Palazzo “can cater to whatever your needs are.” Keeping families and affordability in mind, the traditional Italian menu is one Battaglia is proud to serve in the restaurant and at Palazzo’s events. “To anyone who wants to come here, I can always say you’ll love the food.”
Whether you’re a nationally ranked player, entertaining guests during the holiday season, or just craving a big bowl of classic pasta carbonara, visiting Palazzo di Bocce might just be your answer for a unique year-round activity.
Palazzo di Bocce is open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner and for dinner on Saturday (3-10 p.m.). Reservations are recommended, especially on Friday and Saturday evenings. Dining and bocce reservations may be made up to one week in advance for groups of up to 12 people. More time is needed for larger groups.
Call 248-371-9987 or go to palazzodibocce.com to make a reservation and to check hours; holiday hours may vary.
This story is from the November 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.