At first glance, the Sports Bra may look like a typical neighborhood sports bar, but guests will soon notice that its posters and TVs are exclusively women’s sports and will realize that this is anything but your average watering hole. live.
That’s exactly what pub owner Jenny Nguyen intended.
“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 hangout for women and the LGBTQ community, especially after the city lost all its lesbian bars, a trend that has grown in the United States over the past few decades. There are only about 20 lesbian bars left in the country, compared to about 200 that existed in the 1980s.
But Nguyen, who is gay, emphasizes that the bar is friendly to everyone. Although most of its patrons are women, she said the sports bra is an inclusive space that also attracts a large number of families and even many men – many who say they prefer to watch women’s sports because women athletes “give 110 percentage all the time. “
Born in Portland and an avid fan of women’s basketball, Nguyen opened the Sports Bra near the corner of Northeast Broadway and 25th Avenue for many crowds on April 1, the NCAA Final Four Women’s Basketball Tournament, and has remained busy ever since. . Every day visitors can play college softball, volleyball or football. But the bar offers many other women’s sports, including football, tennis, golf, swimming and even those not commonly found in sports bars, such as gymnastics, cheerleading and supreme frisbee.
“Basically, whatever we can take, we will play it,” Nguyen said.
Apart from its exceptional focus on women’s sports, the bar has some other feminist features. All of its 21 taps come from local breweries and ciders run by women, and the outdoor picnic tables are made by Girls Build, a local non-profit organization that teaches girls construction skills. Then there’s the beverage menu, which includes signature cocktails such as Title IX and Triple Axel, named after former American figure skater Tonya Harding from Portland. The food menu includes various vegan and vegetarian options, containing ingredients from women’s-owned companies. It also includes some Vietnamese family dishes from Nguyen whose parents immigrated from Vietnam.
The idea for the sports bra was born out of a crucial need for places to watch women’s sports, Nguyen said. She added that she first thought of the concept while watching the women’s basketball final of NCAA Division 1 in 2018 at a local pub with friends on a single muted small screen that a server released at their request. As Notre Dame narrowly defeated the Mississippi State, winning by 3 points for the last two seconds, she and her friends had gone “crazy,” Nguyen recalled. But she also realized that no one else in the bar was paying attention.
“The only way we’ll ever watch a 100 percent women’s game is if we had our own place,” she recalls, thinking at the time. She said she even came up with the name – Sports Bra – a “fun” pun that captures the bar’s mission.
She added: “The idea just lived in my brain and in my heart and I couldn’t get rid of it.”
But the sports bra was just an idea, she said, until 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic flooded Portland and Nguyen, an executive chef at the time, lost his job. Encouraged by her friend Liz, she said she decided to do it.
“The more we talked about it, the more it worked out,” she said.
But Nguyen didn’t have enough money to open the bar. She has gone to numerous banks and lenders in search of a loan, she said. Although many seemed “really confused” by the idea, she said, they told her that borrowing her money to open a bar during the pandemic was too risky.
“I was basically rejected by everyone,” she said.
Unstoppably, Nguyen launched a Kickstarter campaign to open the country’s first sports bar to play only women’s sports. The campaign was quickly shared and eventually picked up by the media, she said, generating more than $ 105,000 in donations in less than a month.
“Oh, man, I mean, it blew me away,” Nguyen recalls of the donations, which, combined with her personal savings, were enough to open the Sports Bra. “I was literally stunned.”
She said the fact that so many strangers are willing to donate to the bar demonstrates how many people want a place where they can watch women’s sports.
“They crave a space to feel represented and a sense of belonging,” she said. “And even in our first month since we opened, we had people coming here crying.”
But with one dilemma resolved, she soon faced another: With large sports networks that rarely include women’s sports, how would Sports Bra show them? She found that there are many women’s sports in streaming services, she said, but most of them have no commercial use.
So Nguyen turned to a number of women’s sports leagues and streaming networks to get permission to play their content in her bar, concluding various agreements, including with Portland Thornes FC; Just Women’s Sports, a national sports media company; ESPN3, sports channel on request; 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 according to the rules,” she said, while strengthening the bar’s mission to prove there is an audience for women’s sports.
This mission paid off, with women’s sports fans regularly filling the small space to have a drink and enjoy playing with family or friends.
“People are crying, people are hugging me and saying they’ve been waiting their whole lives for a place like this,” Nguyen said.
Another important mission, she said, is for children to see that women’s sport is valued. For this reason, Nguyen has made Sports Bra, which allows minors until 22:00, a family pub where people can bring their children to watch the matches.
“Seeing little girls come in and just stare at the TV, or like, point and say, ‘Mom, she’s playing basketball,’ you know, these little ones really catch me unprepared,” she said. “There’s hardly a day when I don’t cry.”
Nguyen said he hopes to expand the business and possibly even turn it into a franchise. But she said she didn’t mind if other bar owners mimicked the idea.
“I don’t want to monopolize it,” she said. “I want this to be the starting point for people. Or, if ordinary sports bars change a TV, I mean, that would be a victory.
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