As of 11 a.m. Friday, April 1, the Sports Bra is open, and so there is now at least one sports bar on the planet devoted to showing women’s games. On the screens that first morning: college softball, pro golf, an old college basketball game on the Pac 12 network, and a streaming replay of Wednesday night’s Thorns game.
And on the scene: a national media crew, pompom-toting cheerleaders, a ladder and basketball hoop where bar owner Jenny Nguyen cut down a net, and scores of women (and a few men) eager to christen the bar stools.
By 11:30, there was a line on the sidewalk for a table inside, where the walls were lined with framed jerseys (Thorns, Portland Power, Sabrina Ionescu) and artwork celebrating athletes including Brandi Chastain, Serena Williams, and Sha’Carri Richardson. Customers were decked in brand-new Thorns and 20-year-old Portland Fire jerseys while downing choices from the 21-handle tap list and Balance Beam bourbon cocktails.
“It’s one thing to expect it and another thing to see it,” said Nguyen of the opening-day crowd. A self-described introvert, Nguyen has definitely been “out of my comfort zone” with the past few weeks of the media crush, including a crew filming her bartenders mixing drinks for CBS Sunday Morning.
“I love the concept. I wish I’d thought of it,” said Sherry Hames, who scored one of the first tables when the doors opened. Hames, who has season tickets to Ducks women’s basketball, among other teams, used to run a bar in Gresham and said she knows how hard it can be to get a new venture off the ground.
“It’s about time,” said another first-day customer, Karen Hefner, about the women’s sports bar. Between bites of fried cauliflower and nachos, Hefner, a softball and racquetball player and a self-described “new pickleball addict,” said she’s gone to bars in the past hoping to catch a women’s game: “They are not on, or if they are they don’t turn on the sound, and they’re buried on the little screen in the back.”
We’ve all seen the numbers: women are half the population but get only 4 percent of sports media coverage. And—aside from major events like the World Cup or the feminist fever dream that is the annual softball College World Series—seeking out that 4 percent can be exhausting and expensive, frustrating and often fruitless.
With its screens dedicated to women’s sports, the Sports Bra opened on NE Broadway the day of the women’s March Madness Final Four, with the championship game and six National Women’s Soccer League games to follow over the weekend, making it a little easier for fans in Portland.
“We think it’s high time there’s a women’s sports bar,” said one patron who declined to give too many identifying details because she may or may not have been playing hooky from work. She and her tablemate, sporting a Connecticut Suns jersey, have had a good time watching women’s soccer at the Toffee Club on Hawthorne and at the Fields Bar and Grill in the Pearl, but they’ve mostly been watching from home lately because of COVID.
“I just wanted to come and see it,” said Amanda McCrory of her opening-day visit. At the grocery store that morning, a random person at the deli counter started talking about this new women’s sports bar opening that day, and McCrory was excited to say she was already going to check it out. “It’s really hard to watch women’s sports in Portland,” she said.
“A lot of that isn’t necessarily on the bars,” added her friend Rebecca Blair. “It’s on the NWSL and their contracts, or it’s hard to get the streaming to work. It’s just nice to know that it’s always going to be on here.”
Like McCrory, Blair loved hearing all the chatter and anticipation around town in advance of the bar’s opening. She had been to the Thorns game on Wednesday that was showing on the nearest TV, so she could tell McCrory and their other tablemate, Kelly Brown (sporting a “Mermaids Against Misogyny” T-shirt) when a good goal was coming up.
Out on the sidewalk, groups didn’t mind the wait, happy to know the business had support and to pass the time chatting with purple-clad members of Cheer PDX, part of the Pride Cheerleading Association who were on hand to rev things up and deliver swag bags.
One of those waiting on the sidewalk, Jill Enriquez, said her daughters are both athletes, and that her husband was bummed he couldn’t join her for the opening. She streams a lot of softball on her computer, she said, but was glad to know there was another option.
"If I can go somewhere and have the Thorns on and some softball," she said, "I can die a happy death."