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The Sports Bra doesn’t advertise itself as an explicitly lesbian space—in fact, one patron I talked to, who asked to remain nameless, expressed frustration that the bar wasn’t more of an overt queer singles’ pick-up spot—but its message of support for the LGBTQ+ community and its many intersections is unambiguous, expressed through details like a Black Lives Matter sign posted to the right of the bar or a flowered wall-hanging exhorting patrons to Protect Trans Lives. Writer Frankie de la Cretaz, who covered the Sports Bra shortly after it opened in April, noted the timeliness of the Sports Bra’s trans-affirming nature, telling me, “The Sports Bra is a space that celebrates women’s sports—something that isn’t inherently trans exclusionary. Trans women play sports and women’s pro sports leagues have been the most inclusive of trans and non-binary players, with some leagues that have those players on current rosters. But I do think that in the currently political climate of legislation that attempts to exclude trans women and girls from women’s sports, it’s an important gesture for an establishment like The Sports Bra to explicitly states that they welcome and support people of all genders who both play and love women’s sports.”
When I made my second visit to the Sports Bra on a recent rainy Sunday, the queer energy of the place was undeniable. As I sipped my “The GOAT” cocktail (Geneva gin, orgeat, aperol, tangerine juice, and soda water) at the bar, I struck up a conversation with Abby and Kim, consummate sports fans and moms to three kids, ages nine, eight, and three. “They’re not really into sports yet, but we live close by, and the kids’ menu looks like something they would be into,” said Kim, sharing a smile with her partner. To my right at the bar, another duo—this one made up of friends who look to be in their mid-twenties—catches my attention. “I’ve been here three times, and it’s kind of low-key a queer bar,” says one half of the pair, who introduces herself as Madeleine and professes a deep fandom for the Portland Thorns.
“All of our friends are athletes or sports fans, and for my friends who are queer or non-binary or trans, traditional sports bars don’t always feel that safe,” says Nguyen, noting that the Sports Bra’s policy of maintaining gender-neutral bathrooms speaks to a mentality of “being really intentional in small ways.” Nguyen is also focused on connecting with local residents in an area that has been rapidly gentrified in recent years. “People from the neighborhood seem really jazzed that we’re here, which is great, because it’s super-important to us to be a good neighbor.” The menu at the Sports Bra is definitely a cut above your average beer-and-wings sports pub; wings do feature on the menu, but in a nod to Nguyen’s Vietnamese heritage, they’re caramelized with coconut milk and served over a tangy cabbage slaw. The food occupies a hard-to-navigate middle ground between traditional game-day fare and uber-lefty Portland offerings (how often have you seen a tempeh Reuben on the menu at a sports bar?), and the drinks list—which is partially fueled by women-owned distillery Freeland Spirits—pack a punch while keeping you hydrated enough to make it out the door by the Sports Bra’s 11 p.m. nightly closing time.
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