It started with a joke. Jenny Nguyen, a Portland-area chef, would often try to find spaces to watch women’s sports with her friends and partner, and hit consistent frustrating snags: Sports bars would rarely play women’s sports games at all, and when they did, customers and staff would change channels in the middle of the game.
“I said, ‘The only way we’re going to watch a women’s game is if we open our own place.’” Nguyen says; she and her friends would facetiously refer to the theoretical bar as ‘The Sports Bra.’ This year, Nguyen will turn the Sports Bra into a reality: In April, Portlanders will be able to watch women’s sports in an all-ages restaurant and bar, featuring women-owned breweries and distilleries, meats raised by female ranchers, and — of course — media highlighting some of the world’s best female athletes.
In 2020, Nguyen watched protest and social activism bloom around the country, especially surrounding representation in various industries. As a woman in food, the reckoning surrounding kitchen culture struck a chord with her, as well as the persistent pay inequity in women’s sports compared to men’s.
“There were these social movements that really had me thinking about what I can do,” she says. “It was my partner who said, ‘Hey, you know how you’ve been joking about the Sports Bra for years? You should do it.’”
So she did. Nguyen tracked down a space on Broadway with room for 45 to 50 viewers, enlisted her dad and uncle to help hang up five TVs around the space, and got working on developing a food and drink menu. The Sports Bra will play any women’s sports games that play on TV, on satellite or cable, and partnered with Just Women’s Sports to source other digital content to play on days when nothing’s on. The kitchen will sling sports bar standbys like burgers, buffalo wings, and nachos, as well as dishes that pull inspiration from Nguyen’s family recipes. The bar’s take on baby back ribs are made in the style of Vietnamese clay pot pork with coconut milk and fish sauce, a dish her mother made while she was growing up; her aunt’s Vietnamese-style wings also appear on the menu.
Nguyen didn’t just want the TVs to feature talented women; she wanted the menu to showcase women in the food and beverage industries, as well. She reached out to brewers like Gracie Nelson at Migration for specific collaborations with the Sports Bra, as well as Marissa Irish at Herbucha. She decided to rely heavily on Freeland Spirits for the cocktail menu, and source beef from Cory Carman, the owner of Carman Ranch.
For Nguyen, the Sports Bra isn’t just a bar that plays WNBA games; she wanted it to serve as a community space for women in sports of all ages. The sports memorabilia and posters on the walls of the bar will focus on female athletes, from Serena Williams posters to Seattle Storm flags. Girls Build, a nonprofit that teaches girls the fundamentals of construction and carpentry, will supply furniture for the bar, made by girls involved in the nonprofit’s programs. The bar is very intentionally all-ages, so young girls can have space to enjoy sports and discover new role models.
“There’s all these statistics about women dropping out of sports,” she says. “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.”
The Sports Bra will open at 2512 NE Broadway, ideally in early April.