Short Stops

Portland's Sports Bra Invents the Women's Sports Bar

This neighborhood joint has a mission—and really good wings.

By Allison Williams August 16, 2022

Chef and owner Jenny Nguyen says she underestimated the need for the Sports Bra: "The response has been overwhelming."

Trophies, soccer scarves, and team flags coat the walls and beer taps line up like foosball players under TVs lit with familiar ESPN chyrons. This establishment on a busy street in Northeast Portland is unmistakably a sports bar, but two things stick out. One, the TV shows women playing some form of table tennis-soccer hybrid called teqball. Two, this bar is named after underwear.

When chef Jenny Nguyen opened the Sports Bra in spring 2022 with a mission to show women's sports—and women's sports only—she felt the classic sports bar was long overdue for new blood. The night of the 2018 Women's NCAA Women's Basketball Championship, she and her friends had crowded into a bar to watch Notre Dame take on Mississippi State, only to discover their only viewing option was a tiny, soundless 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 sits somewhere upscale of the sticky floor, flash-fried food kind of sports bar; the menu features a tempeh reuben and clay pot–made baby back ribs (along with the usual smash burger and tater tots). The Vietnamese-style grilled wings are, dare we say, delicately flavored.

After learning that women's competitions make up only 4 percent of televised sports, Nguyen vowed to play only the former, even if it meant turning off the TVs when absolutely nothing was on. Hence the midday teqball. Quickly, Nguyen says, broadcasters and leagues reached out to share streaming access that would otherwise be prohibited in a for-profit establishment. "In the beginning it was like pulling teeth," she says. "But people understand that exposure will help."

Chef Jenny Nguyen celebrates the opening of the Sports Bra by, what else, cutting down the net.

As a queer person of color, Nguyen prioritized creating a space that didn't just show women but protected them. "There's this 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. Between the signed jerseys and team photos, pro-LGBT slogans decorate the walls.

Less than six months in, Nguyen says she's seen support from as far away as New Zealand, people making a stop to the Sports Bra an unmissable part of their Portland visit. While it has the feel of a family restaurant during the day, the crowd moves toward the young adult demographic in the evening, usually with a female majority but still with a large contingent of men.

At about a five-minute drive off I-5, the Sports Bra makes an easy stop on a road trip to Oregon. Lloyd Center, the shopping mall where a young Tonya Harding once learned to skate, isn't far. Though the bar has a steady stream of customers, it also gets support through online merch sales—and yes, the logo is a bra.

Though Nguyen hadn't heard of another women's sports bar when she launched the project, less than six months later she has company. Seattle's Jen Barnes announced the upcoming Rough and Tumble women's sports bar in Ballard, opening hopefully before the end of the year. For her part, Nguyen is thrilled and plans to host a visiting Barnes next week to show her the thriving Sports Bra. "I'm stoked," she says. "[More bars] is the point. People want this."

The Sports Bra

2512 NE Broadway, Portland 
Travel time from Seattle: 2 hours, 45 minutes

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