A Bar of Their Own

photo by Sarah Whiting

A Bar of Their Own is humming on a midweek evening a few months after the pioneering space opened on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. The all-day waitlists and standing-room-only crowds have lessened a bit, except for big events like the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), a Lynx basketball or Aurora soccer game, or an ultimate frisbee watch party.

“Lots of athletes come in,” says Jillian Hiscock, who invites favorites like Rebekkah Brunson, Billie Jean King, and Emma Greco to add their names to the signature wall.

Only the third women’s sports bar in the country — and the first in the Midwest — A Bar of Their Own emanates a friendly, feel-good, female-focused spirit rarely found amid the forced exuberance of most bars.

At the front door is a cut-out face shot of Maya Moore, the Minnesota Lynx player inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Women’s hockey jerseys and other sports photos adorn the walls, including the iconic shot of then–Minnesota Gophers point guard Lindsay Whalen wrapped in a friendly headlock by center Janelle McCarville.

Each of the 12 television sets — five above the bar and seven in the adjoining dining room — is tuned to women’s sports. And only women’s sports. It may be the new Pro Volleyball Federation; a WNBA game featuring top NCAA recruits Kamilla Cardoso and Angel Reese; a college softball game; or, as it was in May, PWHL Minnesota’s games en route to winning the 2024 national championship.

“If you prioritize the most excluded folks, you benefit everyone,” says Hiscock, 41, a lifelong sports fan who participated in tennis, gymnastics. and softball at Mankato West High School. One of her Scarlets jerseys hangs on the wall.

What “Welcoming” Means

While Hiscock kept the classic wooden bar and the “Established 1979” floor plate from the previous neighborhood hangout, Tracy’s Saloon, nearly everything else has changed. She brightened the dark walls, stocked the gender-neutral restrooms with free menstrual hygiene products, and created food and drink menus amenable to various tastes and preferences.

Alongside the usual beef burgers are turkey and vegan varieties, plus four salads with protein choices. “It’s not just bar food,” Hiscock says. “It comes down to inclusivity.”

That goes for drinks, as well. Sixteen of the 18 beers on tap are brands that are “owned, made, or led” by women, nonbinary people, or trans folks. Those who want an NA beverage can choose from four mocktails.

The least tangible aspect of A Bar of Their Own might also be the most intentional: the sheer joy of the place, the feeling of being welcome, and wanted.

Hiscock asks each prospective employee to “demonstrate an example of how they’ve created inclusive spaces.” A Code of Conduct is posted on the website and displayed throughout the bar: “Everyone at A Bar of Their Own should be safe from harm.” Forbidden behaviors include biased language, sexual misconduct, and “abuse of power.”

There has been some anonymous criticism of the bar, Hiscock says — a social media comment that “nobody watches women’s sports,” an anti-trans “Keep Female Sports Female” sticker plastered to a front window — but the more than 8,000 online fans are standing up to it.

Not for Women Only

Interviewed during the Minnesota Timberwolves postseason run, Hiscock sidestepped whether she’d ever screen men’s sports, even though she welcomes all gender identities, including men, in her establishment. More important to her is the volume of calls from people accustomed to not finding their favorite women’s sports on TV, wondering whether a particular game is being aired. “It’s not easy to be a women’s sports fan,” Hiscock says.

A Bar of Their Own host Kristen Hutchison, 33, played rugby in college and is a competitive rower. “My whole life I never thought there would be women’s sports on TV in a public place,” says Hutchison, who is also a medical writer. Older women customers tell her they didn’t get the opportunity to practice or play as girls. Hutchison relishes seeing parents bring in their daughters.

Hiscock grins when asked what prepared her to run a socially progressive bar: “I’m a woman accustomed to being underestimated and overlooked.”