'I made some joke about the only way that we would ever be able to watch the game and like fully immerse ourselves in it, is it we had our own place.'
A unique sports bar dedicated exclusively to women's sports opened its doors to the public at 2512 NE Broadway in Portland, Oregon, earlier this month. Owned by Jenny Nguyen, an avid basketball player and fan with over 15 years of experience as a chef, The Sports Bra is believed to be the only bar for women’s sports in the world. "I want people to walk in the door just thinking this is a regular sports bar and feeling super comfortable. And then when they sit down, they realize all the TVs are playing women's sports. They realize the flags on the wall or women's teams, the WNBA or Seattle Storm or the Thorns flag," Nguyen told KGW.
Nguyen revealed that it all started with a joke in 2018. She and her friends would often try to find spaces to watch women's sports only to consistently hit frustrating snags. Sports bars rarely play women's sports games and even the odd times they did, customers and staff would change channels in the middle of the game. On one such occasion, they managed to watch an amazing championship women's basketball game on a small TV at some corner of a bar. "It was Notre Dame against Mississippi State, I think it was, and it ended up being like one of the best games we've ever seen," she said. However, they had to watch it with the sound off because other games had priority. "I had made some joke about the only way that we would ever be able to watch the game and like fully immerse ourselves in it, is it we had our own place."
Over the years, Nguyen and her friends would facetiously refer to this theoretical bar as "The Sports Bra." It started to become something more than a joke in 2020, as Nguyen watched protests and social activism surrounding representation in various industries rise across the country. As a woman—and the daughter of two Vietnamese immigrants—in food, the reckoning surrounding kitchen culture and the persistent pay inequity in women's sports compared to men's struck a chord with her. "There were these social movements that really had me thinking about what I can do," Nguyen explained in an interview with Eater Portland. "It was my partner who said, 'Hey, you know how you've been joking about the Sports Bra for years? You should do it.'"
"It was just like [...] maybe that is a way to use what I'm really good at to make a difference," she shared. Determined to turn The Sports Bra into reality, Nguyen tracked down a space on Broadway with room for 45 to 50 viewers, got her dad and uncle to help hang up five TVs around the space, and set about developing a food and drink menu that features items similar to what is typically offered at a familiar sports bar, but with a few differences. "Most everything will be made from scratch. My girlfriend and I try to be gluten-free, dairy-free and we have friends that are vegan [or] vegetarian," said Nguyen, adding that menu items will be easily modified to fit dietary needs or that there will be something for anyone in those categories.
In addition to sports team flags and memorabilia, The Sports Bra also features the LBGTQ and Black Lives Matter flags as values such as inclusion, representation and equity are very important to Nguyen. Furthermore, the bar is all-ages so that young girls will have a space to enjoy sports and discover new role models. "There's all these statistics about women dropping out of sports," Nguyen said. "Girls who play sports have higher rates of self-esteem, better body image... I got to thinking about how the Bra could be more than just a place to view women's sports. It gives people a space to be together and celebrate. It started with the viewing, and then it expanded to how that could grow into a larger movement."