Vancouver needs a bar dedicated to women’s sports

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      The realization hit me like a Hayley Wickenheiser slap shot.

      I was at Seattle’s Rough & Tumble women’s sports bar, devouring their Gold Mamba nachos with chicken tinga (which were named after Jewell Loyd of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm). My good spirits were further lifted by Urban Family Brewing’s Reigny Season, a berry sour celebrating the National Women’s Soccer League’s Seattle Reign FC. The TV was showing the University of Washington women’s basketball game, which I watched while chatting with a video game developer from Burnaby’s EA Sports.

      It made me wonder: how did Vancouver not have its own bar dedicated to women’s sports? Surely somebody smart and motivated could cash in with one.

      So I did some research.

      Women’s sports bars are springing up across the United States. A Bar of Their Own opens this month in Minneapolis. In New York, Athena Keke’s is staging pop-ups while seeking a permanent Brooklyn location, and Althea’s promises to be “the new home of women’s sports in NYC.”

      Yet the real bonanza is on the West Coast. In addition to the December 2022-launched Rough & Tumble, there’s Portland’s The Sports Bra; it became the world’s first women’s sports bar in April 2022. Down I-5 in Salem, Oregon, Icarus Wings and Things debuted in March 2023. In Long Beach, California, Watch Me! aims to open before the 2024 Summer Olympics.

      The trend is clear; the vibe is right. It’s time for Vancouver to stop letting the Americans have all the fun.

      Call me biased, but women’s hockey has brought me a lot of joy. I’ve covered it at every Winter Olympics since Salt Lake City. I profiled Meghan Agosta—the Vancouver Olympic MVP who is now a local police officer—for The New York Times. I interviewed Wickenheiser after her 2019 IIHF Hall of Fame induction for ESPN.

      But what really matters here is that I’ve talked to the owner-operators of many women’s sports bars in the States, and they told me a consistent story that a progressive city like Vancouver could stand to learn from. Mainly, they all wanted better opportunities for watching women’s sports on TV, and they all had lightbulb moments that prompted them to launch their own spaces.

      The Sports Bra’s Jenny Nguyen, a self-described “lifelong lover of basketball,” had to watch Notre Dame’s thrilling 61-58 win over Mississippi State in the 2018 NCAA women’s final on a silent screen in a bar with 30-odd TVs. Rough and Tumble’s Jen Barnes struggled to find a bar that would show a 2021 US women’s soccer friendly against Australia. She recalled: “The manager told us they’d have to turn it off if it overlapped with the Seahawks game.”

      Today, if Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa can attract record-setting crowds in the new Professional Women’s Hockey League, Vancouver at least deserves PWHL games on big screens with pitchers of Pink Boots Society-approved craft beer. (Incidentally, The Hockey News just released fan polls ranking Vancouver and Seattle as the top choices for PWHL expansion franchises.)

      Women’s sports bars are also great places to eat, with many prioritizing chef-created, gastropub-style menus—from Charlie Ray’s scallops with parsnip purée at Watch Me! to Jonathan Jones’ gluten-free breaded chicken sandwiches at Icarus Wings and Things. Inclusive, diverse, and family-friendly venues are another recurring theme.

      It’s not hard to envision where a concept like this could thrive in Vancouver, be it Commercial Drive, Main Street, or even North Van’s Shipyards District.

      The “nobody watches women’s sports” narrative is toast. Just look at the two-billion-plus viewers who tuned into the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023. Having the Christine Sinclair Community Centre is great and all, but Vancouver also needs a watering hole for women’s soccer fans—especially with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC team joining the new Project 8 women’s soccer league in 2025.

      Opening a women’s sports bar isn’t just a social-justice gesture—it’s a ground-floor opportunity. Deloitte forecasts that in 2024, women’s sports will generate global revenues of $1.28 billion USD. So why not get your piece of the pie in the city that holds the single-game Olympic women’s hockey attendance record (16,805) from the 2010 Canada-US final?

      North Vancouver’s Chloe Primerano—the 2024 U18 women’s world hockey championship MVP—is poised to become women’s hockey’s answer to Quinn Hughes. People will want to watch her raise the bar, and they should have a dedicated place to do it.