At first glance, Sports Bra may look like a typical neighborhood sports bar, but guests will soon notice that its posters and TVs feature exclusively female sports, and realize it’s anything but the regular watering hole playing live.
This is exactly what the owner of the pub, Jenny Nguyen, meant.
“Ultimately, my mission is to expose as many people as possible to women’s sports, to give people access,” Nguyen, 42, told NBC News.
The bar, which opened in Portland, Oregon just last month, has already become a popular haunt for women and the LGBTQ community, especially since the city lost all of its lesbian bars, a trend that has grown over the years. United States over the last several decades. There are only around 20 lesbian bars left in the country, compared to around 200 that existed in the 1980s.
But Nguyen, who is gay, points out that the bar welcomes everyone. Although most of her clients are women, she said, the Sports Bra is an inclusive space that also attracts a large number of families and even quite a few men – many of whom, in her opinion, say they prefer to watch sports. feminine because women athletes “always give 110 percent”.
Nguyen, a Portland native and a fan of women’s basketball, opened the Sports Bra near the corner of Northeast Broadway and 25th Avenue to a packed crowd on April 1, the launch of the NCAA Final Four women’s basketball tournament, and ever since she kept busy. On any given day, patrons could watch a game of softball, volleyball, or college football. But the bar offers plenty of other women’s sports including soccer, tennis, golf, swimming, and even those not typically seen in sports bars, such as gymnastics, cheerleading, and ultimate frisbee.
“Basically, whatever we get our hands on, we’ll play it,” Nguyen said.
Aside from its unique focus on women’s sports, the bar has a few other feminist characteristics. Its 21 taps all come from local female-led breweries and ciders, and its outdoor picnic tables were made by Girls Build, a local nonprofit that teaches girls building skills. Then there’s the drink menu, with signature cocktails like the Title IX and the Triple Axel, named after former US figure skater Tonya Harding, a Portlander. The food menu includes various vegan and vegetarian options containing ingredients sourced from women-owned companies. It also features some Vietnamese family dishes from Nguyen, whose parents are immigrants from Vietnam.
The sports bra idea was born out of a crucial need for spaces to watch women’s sports, Nguyen said. She added that she first thought of the concept as she watched the 2018 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball Final at a local pub with friends on a small, single, quiet screen, which a server installed at their request. When Notre Dame narrowly defeated the state of Mississippi, winning by 3 points in the last two seconds, she and her friends “went crazy,” Nguyen recalled. But she also realized that no one else at the bar was paying attention.
“The only way we’ll ever be able to watch a 100% women’s match is if we had our seat,” he recalled thinking at the time. She said she even came up with the name – the sports bra – a “funny” pun that captured the bar’s mission.
He added: “The idea lived in my brain and heart, and I couldn’t get rid of it.”
But the sports bra remained just an idea, he said, until 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Portland and Nguyen, then executive chef, lost his job. With encouragement from his girlfriend, Liz, he said he decided to give it a try.
“The more we talked about it, the more it unraveled,” he said.
But Nguyen didn’t have enough money to open the bar. She went to multiple banks and lenders looking for a loan, she said. While many seemed “really excited” about her idea, she said, they told her that lending her money to open a bar during the pandemic was too risky.
“Basically I was denied by everyone,” she said.
Undaunted, Nguyen launched a Kickstarter campaign to open the country’s first sports bar that only played women’s sports. The campaign was quickly shared and eventually picked up by the media, he said, generating more than $ 105,000 in donations in less than a month.
“Oh, man, I mean, it blew me away,” Nguyen recalled of the donations, which, combined with her personal savings, were enough to open the sports bra. “I was literally on the ground.”
She said the fact that so many strangers were willing to donate to the bar showed how much people wanted a space where they could watch women’s sports.
“They want a space to feel represented and a sense of belonging,” he said. “And also in our first month of opening, we had people coming here and crying.”
But with one dilemma solved, she soon faced another: With major sports networks rarely featuring women’s sports, how would the sports bra show them? She found that there were a lot of women’s sports on streaming services, she said, but that most didn’t have commercial use in their terms.
Hence, Nguyen contacted numerous women’s sports leagues and streaming networks to obtain permission to reproduce their content in her bar, forming various deals, including with Portland Thorns FC; Just Women’s Sports, a national sports media company; ESPN3, an on-demand sports channel; the Oregon Ravens, a team from the Women’s National Football Conference; and ATA Football, a service that provides live and on-demand streaming of women’s football.
She wanted to make sure she was “doing things by the rules,” she said, while also amplifying the bar’s mission to demonstrate that there is an audience for women’s sports.
That mission paid off, with female sports fans regularly filling the small space to grab a drink and enjoy a game with family or friends.
“People cry, and people hug me, and they say they’ve waited all their lives for a place like this,” Nguyen said.
Another important mission, she said, is for children to see that women’s sports are appreciated. For this reason Nguyen has created the Sports Bra, which allows minors until 10pm, a family-friendly pub where people can take their children to watch the games.
“Seeing the little girls come in and just stare at the TV, or like, point and be like, ‘Mom, he’s playing basketball,’ you know, those little ones really catch me off guard,” she said. “There’s hardly a day when she doesn’t start crying.”
Nguyen said he hopes to expand the business and possibly even turn it into a franchise. But she said she doesn’t mind if other bar owners imitate the idea.
“I don’t want to monopolize it,” he said. “I want it to be the starting point for people. Or, if the normal sports bars changed a TV, I mean, it would be a win. “
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