Women’s sports bars are on the rise. Nashville’s will be a first for the South. (2024)

Women’s sports bars are on the rise. Nashville’s will be a first for the South. (1)

Marianna BacallaoWPLN News

The Lipstick Lounge's newest addition will give fans of women's sports somewhere to watch in Nashville.

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Lesbian bars across the country experienced historic losses during the pandemic. But four years out from COVID, the bars are making a comeback with a little help from women’s sports fans.

The owners of Nashville’s only lesbian bar, The Lipstick Lounge, are poised to become the first in the South to join a growing trend of sports bars dedicated to women’s leagues.

It’s a big moment for Lipstick. The bar had a star-studded groundbreaking for Chapstick Sports Lounge in May. On Saturday, it became the site of Nashville’s first permanent rainbow crosswalk.

Women’s sports bars are on the rise. Nashville’s will be a first for the South. (2)Marianna Bacallao WPLN News

The Lipstick Lounge’s resident drag queen, Kennedy Ann Scott (middle), helps paint the intersection outside the bar on Saturday, June 29.

Members of the community came out in the hundreds to help paint the intersection the bar calls home.

“I’m a huge women’s sports fan … So it’s nice to have a dedicated space,” Emily Davis, a Nashville native and longtime patron of Lipstick, said. “Can’t open soon enough, in my opinion, but I know they have to build the building. So, I’m waiting.”

“We’ve always wanted to show sports,” Christa Suppan, the co-owner of Lipstick and Chapstick, told WPLN News. “It was just never quite the right time. There was never enough money. There was never enough of anything.”

That had been especially true during 2020. A tornado ripped the bar’s roof off, and a few weeks later, COVID shut it down entirely.

During the pandemic, Lipstick survived on PPP loans and equity Suppan had amassed from owning the property outright.

“If we didn’t have that building, then we wouldn’t still be open. We couldn’t pay, you know, $20,000 a month in rent,” Suppan said. “It gives you security. It gives you something to leverage.”

Women’s sports bars are on the rise. Nashville’s will be a first for the South. (3)Marianna Bacallao WPLN News

Outside the Lipstick Lounge during Pride Month 2024.

That leverage came to the tune of a $1.5 million loan. The money will go towards maintaining the building and expanding the bar’s back patiointo Chapstick.

Lipstick’s expansion comes at a rare moment for both women’s sports and lesbian bars. Over the past 40 years, the number of lesbian bars in the country has shrunk from nearly 200 during the 80s to less than 20 during the pandemic.

Now, that number is rebounding.

“Really, from 2021 to now, we’ve seen an enormous growth of lesbian and queer bars across the country,” said Erica Rose, co-founder of the Lesbian Bar Project, which tracks the number of lesbian bars in the country. She puts the current tally at 32.

Several of those openings focus on women’s sports. The Sports Bra in Portland opened in 2022, and since then, there has been a steady uptick in lesbian bars catering to women’s sports fans — ABar of Her Own in Minneapolis, Rough and Tumble Pub in Seattle, and upcoming bars like Althea’s in New York City and Watch Me in Long Beach, California.

When Chapstick joins the ranks of those bars next year — in time for Super Bowl Sunday, Suppan hopes — it will be the first to come from the South.

Women’s sports bars are on the rise. Nashville’s will be a first for the South. (4)Marianna Bacallao WPLN News

Christa Suppan (middle) helps paint the crosswalk outside her bar.

“This is a microcosm for what’s happening in America broadly,” Rose said. “Certain cities are economically more privileged. There’s more opportunity, and you’ll generally find more allies able to patronize your bars, because at the end of the day, these bars, in order to survive, need allies to come and support.”

Lipstick bills itself as being a bar for humans, and support from the community — both queer and not — has buoyed business. Suppan said its far beyond what she’s seen in the past. After more than 20 years in business, she finally got her first paycheck as an owner a year and a half ago.

“It’s the allies,” Suppan said. “It’s the people behind you who are rooting for you behind closed doors. It’s the people you don’t know that are on your side that are making such tremendous impacts.”

Among those supporters are Nashville Mayor Freddie O’Connell and Tennessee Rep. Aftyn Behn. At a groundbreaking event for Chapstick, Behn, read a proclamation, declaring May 15 as Lipstick Day. O’Connell joined her in donning hard hats and taking up purple and gold shovels.

Women’s sports bars are on the rise. Nashville’s will be a first for the South. (5)Marianna Bacallao WPLN News

(From left to right) Nashville Mayor Freddie O’Connell, Metro Councilmember Olivia Hill, Lipstick Lounge co-owners Jonda Valentine and Christa Suppan, and former Councilmember Brett Withers break ground on the new sports lounge.

“It’s great to know that as we celebrate the arrival, in a real way, of women’s sports, as our daughters become athletes, as they look at role models, that we get to have a place in Nashville that will be a sports bar for humans,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell has hinted at his support for bringing a professional women’s sports team to Nashville as the industry is having its own moment.

Revenue for women’s sports is projected to surpass $1 billion this year for the first time — a 300% increase from just three years ago.

While other industries took a hit during the pandemic, women’s sports saw viewership quadruple. Women’s sports went from roughly 4% of the overall sports market to 16% during that time, according to a study by Wasserman. Shelly Pisarra, who led the Wasserman research team, said that’s largely thanks to digital streaming.

“The growth in new platforms … far outpaced what was happening in men’s sports,” Pisarra said. “And it doesn’t mean to say that men’s sports was declining by any stretch. Actually, the entire pie is growing, but the share of women’s sports is growing faster.”

Fans of women’s sports tend to be more loyal, too, Pisarra said.

“We know these fans will work really hard to see women’s sports. They’ve had to work hard forever. And as this next generation of fans come in, and we continue to grow the pie, we need to make sure that we’re continuing to serve them as they want to be served,” Pisarra said.

Women’s sports bars are on the rise. Nashville’s will be a first for the South. (6)

The Lipstick Lounge co-owners Christa Suppan (left) and Jonda Valentine (right) applaud Rep. Aftyn Behn’s proclamation.

While bars like The Sports Bra in Portland have seen unprecedented success — its owner told CNBC she made $1 million in just eight months of business — there are other challenges to contend with as a small business owner. Icarus Wings and Things, which prioritized women’s sports in Salem, closed after one year in business.

“I don’t think anybody knows how hard it is to own a small business, especially a restaurant bar. It is so much work and so much time, so much energy, and I have so much gratitude that we even have this, this opportunity,” Suppan said.

“We live in a country and a society and a system that does not support small business owners, and especially small business owners that cater to marginalized communities,” Rose said. “It shows that Lipstick Lounge is an institution that has an infrastructure and a community rallying to support it, that ensures longevity. I think that the ownership has done a really great job organizing with the community and making sure that it’s become a staple in Nashville.”

Women’s sports bars are on the rise. Nashville’s will be a first for the South. (7)Marianna Bacallao WPLN News

Community members gather outside the Lipstick Lounge to celebrate the new rainbow crosswalk.

While there has been an outpouring of support since Chapstick’s announcement, Suppan said a lot of the messages she gets areabout the parking situation.

“Several people have direct messaged me, ‘What’s the parking situation going to be? Where are we going to park?’” Suppan said. “We’re going to have a 25-spot parking lot instead of 27, which is pretty cool for any place in East Nashville. Most places don’t even have parking, let alone free parking. So please, everyone be at rest. It will be fine.”

Women’s sports bars are on the rise. Nashville’s will be a first for the South. (2024)

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