Where Everyone Knows The Name 2 Sports Bars to Show Women’s Games

PORTLAND — A racerback bra is centered on a hanging sign off a busy northeast Portland street. Circling the image is “The Sports Bra” wording, a combination that would lure a sports fan inside.

The entrance might even go unnoticed — a collage of athletic action shots and celebrations, the now iconic photo of youth basketball player Gigi Bryant smiling adds a welcoming touch on the door.

But the “R” in The Sports Bra is a clever riff from restaurant chains Hooters or Twin Peaks. The letter’s flipped position within the word “bar” undresses the long-accepted expectation when a person wants to eat, drink and watch a game in a restaurant. Often “the game” involves men and if the pub keeps the channel on ESPN, nearly 95% of filler programming revolves around men’s leagues and players.

But not here.

The Sports Bra opened in April and claims to be the first pub in the U.S. that only televises women’s sports. This winter, the movement will grow in Seattle with the Rough & Tumble, a planned sports bar and restaurant in Old Ballard that will prioritize televising women’s athletics.

“The whole idea, the whole premise behind this is that it’s very traditional in a lot of ways and all you’re doing is tweaking the tiniest things,” said Jenny Nguyen, who’s chef and owner of what’s now dubbed The Bra. “In those small changes is where the big difference lies.

“You walk into the space and it feels like a sports bar, but you look closely, and we changed the channel. That’s basically it. Then we changed who’s represented on the walls. We took Jordan’s jersey and turned it to Sue Bird’s jersey. We took the Trail Blazers flag and put up the Storm’s flag. It’s these tiny changes that make all the difference.”
“Things that have stood in the way”

The revolution started because Nguyen and Jen Barnes, owner of Rough & Tumble, wanted to see something as basic as a playoff game.

It was the 2018 NCAA women’s basketball championship game between Notre Dame and Mississippi State for Nguyen. The former Clark College basketball player had to request the game be put on one of the smaller televisions in a popular sports bar in Portland. Nguyen and her friends were huddled around the screen, watching with the sound off as Fighting Irish guard Arike Ogunbowale nailed an off-balanced, game-winning three-pointer with 1.8 seconds left on the clock.

Barnes couldn’t see the full OL Reign semifinal match against the Washington Spirit on CBS Sports Network in November 2021 because it was wedged between two NFL games. Only one of the six known soccer pubs in Seattle that Barnes called was willing to put the Reign match on but cut it off once the Seahawks broadcast started.

Nguyen, who worked as a chef for 15 years, started kicking around the idea of an all-women’s sports bar and was encouraged to make it happen amid the fights for equality in 2020. Barnes, who’s spent the past 20 years in the corporate world, started laying the groundwork that November afternoon, securing a website domain and name by December.

“It was shocking to me that it hadn’t happened yet,” Nguyen said. “Then, as I started opening it, I realized all of the hurdles and all the things that have stood in the way for so long. I don’t think something like The Sports Bra would’ve been successful even five years ago let alone 10 or 15 based on the major hurdles that women in sports have had to overcome.”

Desire wasn’t among the obstacles. Nielsen conducted a study in eight countries in 2018 that found 84% of sports fans, regardless of gender, are interested in watching women’s sports. The research also showed 49% of viewers identify as women.