When Jen Barnes tried to find a place to watch the 2021 semifinals match for the OL Reign, not a single one of the bars she contacted said they were showing the game. A lifelong sports fan, an athlete in her own right , and a coach, Barnes decided to take matters into her own hands. She opened Rough & Tumble Pub last Friday. This new sports bar in Seattle’s Old Ballard neighborhood will prioritize women’s sports in its establishment, only the second place in the world to do something like this. Other Seattle sports teams, including the Seahawks, Mariners, etc. will still be shown, but central to Rough & Tumble’s mission is broadcasting women’s games.
The move was a combination of leveling the playing field for female athletes and serendipity: “I just got really fed up, honestly. And I was at a career transition point trying to figure out what was my next adventure. And I have a really strong entrepreneurial spirit. And I was like, ‘that’s it. I’m going to change it. I’m going to create a place for other people.’ This shouldn’t happen to women athletes. It’s just wrong that they don’t get to be watched…so I decided to change it,” says Barnes.
The reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Even before the grand opening, Barnes was getting dozens—sometimes hundreds—of emails a day from around the world. Athletes, fans, coaches, journalists, have been reaching out to her. There is certainly a hunger for this type of place; it is addressing a long-ignored need. Barnes’s family-friendly tavern may influence the next generation as well. She reports mothers’ messages saying, ” ‘Oh my gosh. Please tell me you’re going to have space for me to bring my kids, because my daughter’s already noticing that it’s just boys on the TV all the time.” And fathers saying, ‘We can’t wait to show our sons and our daughters what it’s like to see equality on the screen and not just have it be one gender all the time.’”
Rough & Tumble’s name was inspired by a 1920s soccer team in Europe called the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Club, but derisively nicknamed the Rough Girls. They were banned from playing sports because of gender, but rebelled against the sexism they faced. “We just loved that and wanted to embrace it,” declares Barnes. “And it’s really a nod to their courage and their grit to follow what they love doing. And they continued to play regardless and became world champions.”
Barnes recognizes that her pub is not just any pub. “It feels like an honor. It also feels like a lot of responsibility. I feel like I’m doing this for every single woman athlete and every little girl and every teenage girl and every collegiate athlete out there right now. And not just in the city, but nationally and internationally.”
But Rough & Tumble is not only about closing the gender gap and filling a societal void; it’s about the fun and the experience, too: “I like all the sports, but I do get really, really excited about the women’s teams. And I find that other folks do as well. And so, there’s a sense of electricity and vibrancy and excitement that happens at a women’s game that is quite a bit different than the men’s games,” Barnes says. “And a place like Seattle has a loyal fan base for the Rain and Storm teams especially.” Patrons of the pub can enjoy games on 18 television screens while eating and drinking fare that was carefully selected by Barnes, which includes veggie, gluten-free and non-alcoholic options—not to mention a weekly brunch.
As for Barnes’s hopes for the place? “I hope that when people walk in here, they feel at home. I really hope that people feel welcomed and seen. And I hope that everybody feels safe and comfortable. And I hope that this is as big of a success as I think it’s going to be.”