trophies, football scarves, and team flags cover the walls and beer taps line up like foosball players beneath TVs lit with familiar ESPN chyrons. This establishment on a busy street in Northeast Portland is undeniably a sports bar, but two things stand out. First, the TV shows women playing some form of table tennis-football hybrid called teqball. Two, this bar is named after underwear.
When Chef Jenny Nguyen opened the sports brain the spring of 2022 with a mission to showcase women’s sports and women’s sports nothing butshe thought the classic sports bar was long overdue for new blood. On the night of the 2018 Women’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship, she and her friends had crammed into a bar to watch Notre Dame take over the state of Mississippi, only to find that their only viewing option was a small, silent TV in the corner.
Four years, one pandemic, and a Kickstarter later, the Sports Bra debuted to literal fanfare, including cheerleaders in the parking lot of the Arthur Murray Dance Studio next door. The bar is somewhere in the upmarket sticky floor kind of sports bar with flash fried food; the menu includes a tempeh reuben and clay potmade baby back ribs (along with the usual smash burgerandtater tots). The Vietnamese style grilled wings are, shall we say, delicate in taste.
After learning that women’s leagues make up only 4 percent of televised sports, Nguyen vowed to play only the former, even if that meant turning off the TVs when nothing was on at all. Hence the afternoon teqball. Soon, Nguyen says, broadcasters and leagues reached out to share access to streaming that would otherwise be banned in a for-profit setting. “In the beginning, it was like pulling teeth,” she says. “But people understand that exposure will help.”
As a queer of color, Nguyen prioritized creating a space that not only showcased women, but also protected them. “There’s a void that so many sports fans feel when they go to a sports bar. Not just what’s missing on TV, but feeling uncomfortable and unsafe,” she says. Pro-LGBT slogans adorn the walls between the autographed jerseys and team photos.
Less than six months later, Nguyen says she’s seen support from as far away as New Zealand, people making a stop at the Sports Bra, an indispensable part of their visit to Portland. While it has the feel of a family restaurant during the day, the crowd moves into the young adult demographic at night, mostly female-majority, but still with a large contingent of males.
About a five-minute drive from I-5, the Sports Bra makes an easy stop on a road trip to Oregon. Lloyd Center, the shopping center where a young Tonya Harding once learned to skate, is not far. While the bar has a steady stream of customers, it also gets support through online merchandisingand yes, the logo is a bra.
Although Nguyen had never heard of another women’s sports bar when she launched the project, she has company less than six months later. Seattle’s Jen Barnes announced the upcoming Rough and Tumble women’s sports bar in Ballard, which will hopefully open before the end of the year. Nguyen, for her part, is thrilled and plans to arrange a visit to Barnes next week to show her the thriving sports bra. “I’m excited,” she says. “[More bars] is the point. People want this.”
2512 NE Broadway, Portland
Travel time from Seattle:2 hours, 45 minutes
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