As women’s sports rise, Minnesota’s first women’s sports bar takes its shot

People chat in a bar
Jillian Hiscock, owner of A Bar of Their Own, chats with patrons during a pre-opening party for donors and friends of the bar in Minneapolis on Monday.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

In 1935, the first woman athlete graced the box of the Breakfast of Champions. Pictured on a box of General Mills’ Wheaties, Olympian Babe Didrikson Zaharias smiles and holds a basketball ready to shoot.

She’d go on to even greater fame as a multisport athlete and co-founder of the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Yet the business of sport remained heavily skewed toward men. 

Nearly 90 years later, though, the economic landscape has changed significantly. Women's sports are on the rise, gaining more visibility, fans and TV money. That growing demand takes an interesting new step on Friday when the first sports bar in the Midwest exclusively for women’s sports — and only the fourth in the nation —  opens in Minneapolis.

A bar entrance shown at sunset
A Bar of Their Own is located at 2207 E Franklin Ave, Minneapolis.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

A Bar of Their Own timed its opening to next week’s Big Ten women’s basketball tournament in Minneapolis, which — thanks to University of Iowa phenom Caitlin Clark — will shatter attendance records. The conference says it expects a five-day total of more than 109,000 at Target Center, more than double the prior record, which was set last year.

Clark’s presence packed Williams Arena Wednesday night at the University of Minnesota when the Hawkeyes took on the Gophers.

Observers see the bar launch as a natural response to the growing economic muscle of women’s sports. The bar’s owner — who spent years walking into Twin Cities bars and pleading with the bartender to change the TV to women’s sports — hopes tapping into that momentum will sustain it.

“I jokingly say that every sports bar you walk into in the Twin Cities area is probably a men’s sports bar. We just don’t call it that,” owner Jillian Hiscock told MPR News.

Two women kiss
Kate Voss and Abby Molzahn kiss at a pre-opening party for donors and friends of the bar at A Bar of Their Own.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

Inside, photos of local and national athletic icons line the bar's walls, along with 12 televisions. There’s a signed poster from the Rockford Peaches — the Illinois women’s baseball team that inspired the movie “A League of Their Own” along with the bar name — signed jerseys and an LGBTQ+ pride flag.

“As a young kid, I didn’t even know that it was missing because I didn’t know what was available,” Hiscock said of the lack of visibility around women’s sports. “We have to make it easier for kids, and young women in particular, to be able to see themselves on television.” 

While it’s never easy to start a business, and there are a lot of sports in the Twin Cities, Hiscock believes there’s enough momentum for women’s sports now to sustain A Bar of Their Own.

Rainbow colored pens
A bartender shows her rainbow-order pens during a pre-opening party for donors and friends of the bar at A Bar of Their.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

‘We see you. We recognize you’

Women’s sports are at a tipping point in a good way, says Cheryl Cooky, a Purdue University professor and sports sociologist who’s co-authored two books about society and women’s sports.

“The changes in the women’s sports landscape that we have witnessed in a very short period of time is exponential,” she said. “There are more opportunities for people to demonstrate their fandom and act on their interest in ways they haven’t had in the past.”

When spaces are created for women to be centered, she added, it can challenge the ways we think about gender in the game and how we see women in society. 

People chat in a bar-3
Regular hours for A Bar of Their Own will be Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

That became clear in St. Paul in January when more than 13,000 people came to watch Minnesota’s new Professional Women’s Hockey League team. It was a record for the most people ever to attend professional women’s hockey.

Last year the Minnesota Aurora soccer team quickly built a big fan base, averaging 5,000 fans per game and breaking attendance records at their home field, the Vikings' TCO stadium in Eagan. A sellout crowd of some 6,500 fans attended the final match. The success accelerated the team’s timeline to join a professional league and find investors.

The Minnesota Lynx have won multiple championships and maintain one of the strongest fan bases in the WNBA, a league that last year broke its prior records for viewership, attendance and digital engagement. 

Beers on tap
Every beer served at A Bar of Their Own is by a woman owned or led company.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

Yet, the financial question still lingers around women’s sports in a way that it mostly doesn’t with men’s sports. Cooky said she often gets questions about the long-term financial health of women’s sports, but the money is there and growing.

For 2024, women’s sports are predicted to bring in $1.28 billion in revenue according to the Deloitte Sports Business Group, 300 percent higher than the last three years.

She would say she’s hopeful, but she doesn’t think A Bar of Their Own needs it. She is confident they will succeed.

“As a woman, it’s so rare to be in a social space and see yourself overtly centered in a way that is not misogynistic,” Cooky said. “That’s what these bars are doing. They are saying we see you. We recognize you. We value you, and this is going to be a safe space.”

People take a shot
Patrons take a shot with Jillian Hiscock during a pre-opening party for donors and friends of the bar at A Bar of Their.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

‘If you put us on TV, we’re going to show up’

Hiscock’s friends say that if anyone can pull off a women’s sports bar in the Twin Cities, it’s her. She went from announcing her plan on social media on Sept. 15 to opening the doors.

“When she said she was going to do this, my first reaction was ‘Oh, she’s gonna knock it out of the park.’ It was never an idea I thought would fall to the wayside. I knew she would see it through it from the beginning,” Jade Denson said.

Friday’s opening will be with the help of 30 staff members. Hiscock says she had the application live for about 36 hours when she had to close it because she got nearly 200 applications. 

“If you put us on TV, we’re going to show up and we’re going to consume,” said Kate Voss, a friend of Hiscock and loyal Lynx fan. 

“There is not anything I have seen a woman put her mind to that she is not going to accomplish,” she added. “If you’re not investing in women, what are you doing? Turn the channel to the women. We’ve been dominating for years.”

People smile and chat in a bar
A Bar of Their Own is the fourth women only sports bar in the country. The other three are: The Sports Bra in Portland Ore., the Icarus in Salem, Ore., and the Rough and Tumble in Seattle.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

Nicole Lukic, head coach and sporting director for the Minnesota Aurora, feels the same way. Over the last three years she has learned how to sustain interest in women’s sports. And according to her, this is only the beginning. 

“When I was an athlete, opportunities to play beyond college were limited,” Lukic said. “Watching women on TV was very sparse — it’s taken off tremendously. I think it is only going to continue to get better for all women’s sports.”

Sports memorabilia on a wall
Sports memorabilia hangs throughout the bar during a pre-opening party for donors and friends of at A Bar of Their Own.
Nicole Neri for MPR News