As It Happens

This Portland chef is opening The Sports Bra — a pub that will only show women's sports

Jenny Nguyen was only joking when she said she'd never be able watch women's sports in their full glory at a bar unless she opened one herself. A month later, that dream is going to be a reality.

'It's not a sports bar for women; it's a bar for women's sports,' Jenny Nguyen says

Jenny Nguyen is a chef and creator of The Sports Bra bar and restaurant in Portland, Ore. (Sara Sorbo Photography)

Jenny Nguyen was only joking when she said she'd never be able watch women's sports in their full glory at a bar unless she opened one herself.

A month later, that dream is going to be a reality when she opens the doors to The Sports Bra in Portland, Ore., which will exclusively show women's sporting events.

So far, fans from around the world are cheering on the venue, as it gives people a space to celebrate female athletes.

Nguyen spoke with As It Happens guest host Gillian Findlay about the bar. Here is part of their conversation.

A sports bar that only plays women's sports — where did that idea come from?

It was the NCAA women's basketball finals.... The biggest game of the year really.

A dozen of us rolled into this sports bar and we thought for sure it would be on at least one TV, and it wasn't. So we pushed some tables together, we flagged down the server and she's like, "Oh, no problem. I can change the channel." And so she was able to change the smaller TV in the corner of the bar. 

It wasn't a big deal.... We were kind of used to it at that point. And so we [proceeded] to watch this game and it was like the best game I'd ever seen. It was a comeback from behind and then a last second three-pointer to win. And it was just magic. Our whole table erupted.

I remember jumping up and down and then looking around the bar and realizing that no one else was watching our game, so they were just looking at us like we were crazy. 

We had a really great time and we celebrated. Then as we were leaving, we were in the parking lot saying our goodbyes and stuff. And I remember being like, "Oh man, that was such a great game."

And someone else is like, "Yeah, it was, but it would have been so much better if the sound had been on."

And it was kind of that aha moment of like, wow, have we really gotten so used to not experiencing women's sports in its full capacity that something as important as having the sound on is overlooked?

[As] a total joke, like nothing meant behind it, I had said the only way we'll ever get to watch a women's sporting event in its full glory is if we had our own place.

I've heard probably thousands of stories by now from strangers who have told me about how they've been living their whole life waiting for a place like this.- Jenny Nguyen, owner of The Sports Bra

And in a couple of weeks, you're going to have your own place ... called The Sports Bra. Now explain the title to me. 

A couple of days, after I had made that joke about opening our own place, I came up with the name and it just, it's so obvious. I feel like it's so easy. You just take The Sports Bar and you switch it around a little bit.

I love puns and alliteration.

Oh, you're on the right program.

Yeah ... and the tagline is, "We support women."

So when people walk into The Sports Bra in a couple of weeks, what do you want them to experience? How is this going to be different [from] other sports bars they may have been?

I have people walk by and they're like, "The Sports Bar. What's the big deal?" because they didn't even see that the "r" and the "a" are switched around. And I kind of want that same feeling when people come in.

I want it to feel just like your regular sports bar and then when you sit down, you realize, "Oh, everything on TV is women's sports," or, "Oh, these flags are for women's teams," or, you know, "All these athletes that have pictures and autographs up on the wall are all female athletes." So it's kind of like that slow realization.

The Sports Bra will exclusively air women's sporting events. (Submitted by Jenny Nguyen)

Sports were really important to you, I think, growing up, right?

I picked up a basketball when I was five and just wanted to dribble everywhere. And I just never really stopped doing that. 

I play in a league now. My team is called The Golden Girls, because we're all over 40 and we're in a league with a bunch of girls that are fresh out of college, so it's really hilarious. 

I've played basketball my whole life and it was just like how I found my footing, you know? How I found my friends, how I felt like I belonged on the court. And almost everybody I know or have an association with now is either through basketball or indirectly through basketball.

My girlfriend and I, we met each other playing pickup basketball here in Portland 12 years ago.

What kind of reaction have you received?

An idea lives in your mind for a few years and you just think, "Oh yeah, of course I think it's a great idea," but you never know what it'll be like when you release it out into the world. And when I did, it was really scary. And then just almost immediately, people have been so supportive. 

I've heard probably thousands of stories by now from strangers who have told me about how they've been living their whole life waiting for a place like this, or they're so glad that they can raise a daughter and have a place like this for them to take them to.

I had no idea that it would have the impact that it has, even before we open our doors.

Nguyen says The Sports Bra will be a place for people to bring their daughters. (Submitted by Jenny Nguyen)

You think there'll be guys who show up too?

Oh, 100 per cent. 

I tell people that, you know, The Sports Bra, it's not a sports bar for women; it's a bar for women's sports. So if you are a fan of women's sports, you're welcome here. 

The community craves a place like this and also a safe, inclusive environment. I think, you know, you build it with intention and then the people know that that's what's happening. 

You can talk about it all you want, but it's really [about] what you're putting out there — what you're showing [and] what [is] the representation that you want to have for the community. 


Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview with Jenny Nguyen produced by Sarah Jackson. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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