Chronicle: The bar where women’s sports come to play
Jenny Nguyen and about a dozen of her friends wanted to watch the NCAA women’s basketball championship game, which didn’t seem like too much to ask in a sports bar with 32 televisions.
“None of them had that game,” Nguyen recalled, “which shocks me.”
No problem. A server agreed to pass one of the big game TVs. Admittedly, it was the smallest screen in the place, over there in a corner, where they hadn’t even bothered to turn up the sound.
Nguyen was just happy to get a glimpse of one of the great plays in NCAA Tournament history: Notre Dame rallying to beat Mississippi State on a 3-pointer with a tenth of a second remaining.
“I remember jumping up and down,” she said, “and then looking around the restaurant and realizing we were the only ones watching this game.”
On the way out, one of Nguyen’s friends made an even more poignant observation.
“It would have been so much better if the sound was on,” she said.
Then and there, a revolutionary idea was born.
Welcome to sports bra.
Since that epiphany four years ago, Nguyen has fulfilled her dream of launching a bar dedicated solely to women’s sports.
It opened on April 1 in Portland, Oregon, where any talk that The Sports Bra was nothing more than a joke (okay, its two-way mantra is “We Support Women’s Sports”) has was quickly cleared by the large crowds that lined up outside. the door every day.
“One thing I wanted to be intentional about with The Sports Bra is that we’re not reinventing the wheel when it comes to sports bars,” Nguyen said. “They have been around for decades. There’s a way about them that’s very endearing and has this comfortable feeling.”
Of course, this isn’t just any sports bar.
This is apparent much more from what’s shown on the five TVs, which are devoted exclusively to women’s (and somewhat co-ed) sports.
The walls are lined with memorabilia dedicated to female athletes and teams. Food and drink menus are largely sourced from women-owned businesses, brewers, and distilleries. Both toilets are neutral. Nguyen makes sure to offer gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options, all with the aim of being as inclusive as possible for her guests.
That’s not to say you won’t find some of the more traditional sports bar offerings.
“We have burgers and nachos and tater tots,” Nguyen pointed out.
University of South Carolina professor Robin DiPietro stopped by the Sports Bra for the first time this week while vacationing on the West Coast.
“I think every town needs a women’s sports bar,” DiPietro said. “I hope it becomes a trend. We don’t have enough places to watch women’s sports.”
As the 50th anniversary of Title IX was commemorated this week, it was only natural that much of the attention was focused on the major advances made by female athletes in the wake of landmark legislation, thwarted by the way they must go through to achieve real equality with their male counterparts.
But let’s not forget the small gestures that advance the cause.
A single bar dedicated to women’s sports might not seem like much, but it could be the catalyst for something much bigger. Nguyen is acutely aware that her mission goes beyond good food, tasty drinks, and making sure the TVs are on for the WNBA or NCAA softball championship or a football game featuring Portland’s hometown Thorns. .
The communal nature of fandom has always been an important factor in the success of men’s sports. There’s no reason this shouldn’t be the case with the games women play.
“When I first designed The Sports Bra, when I started making it, I had no idea it would be what it is,” Nguyen said. “But now I see it as part of the movement, a domino in a wave of dominoes.
“It’s good business to invest in women,” she added. “It’s only a matter of time before people catch on and see that when a community moves towards equity, everyone wins. Not just women. Equality is good for everybody.
Nguyen, a first-generation American whose parents immigrated to Portland during the Vietnam War, is particularly passionate about basketball. She started the sport around age 5 and was scheduled to play community college when she blew her knee a week before her first game.
It was also around the time she came out as a lesbian, so she was dealing with a lot of conflicting feelings. Alone and depressed, Nguyen decided to make a fresh start at Western Washington University.
It was there that she discovered a passion as great as basketball.
“I realized that I had been completely spoiled by my mother’s cooking,” Nguyen recalls. “When I got to college, I found it quite difficult to get good food. That’s when I started cooking.
She had the same feeling in a kitchen she found on a basketball court. A calm. One peace.
After graduating from Western Washington, she enrolled in culinary school and took her life in a new direction.
Then, during the tumultuous summer of 2020, as the country faced a devastating pandemic and a racial awakening, Nguyen decided she had to do something to make the world a better place. She knew it should involve cooking. His girlfriend reminded him of their idea for The Sports Bra.
Despite the obvious difficulties in starting a new business — especially in an industry that has taken a huge hit from COVID-19 — Nguyen wrote up a business plan, emptied his savings account and borrowed money from his wife. family and his friends.
She still didn’t have enough to get a sports bar off the ground, so she started a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter. She set a goal of $48,000. In 30 days, she had raised some $105,000.
Business has been buoyant since The Sports Bra opened, with Nguyen estimating around a quarter of the clientele are men.
“It turns out that when a person, any person, watches sports, they honestly don’t care who’s playing,” she said. “They love sports, love watching sports.”
The resounding success of The Sports Bra convinced Nguyen that his idea can work in other cities. When she wrote her first business plan, she mentioned franchising and estimated that maybe a dozen other cities would support a women’s sports bar.
Now she thinks the goal was too low. On Thursday, the 50th anniversary of Title IX, she posted the #channelchangechallenge on Instagram, encouraging people to ask their favorite sports bar to change a TV once a day for a women’s sporting event.
“If a bar changes channels,” she said, “and two women or two men or whoever shows up to watch, that’s a win for everyone.”
Paul Newberry is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963
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