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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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The Next Women’s Sports Bar Is Inspired by Tennis’s Barrier Breaker

  • Althea Gibson will be the namesake for a new spot on New York City’s Lower East Side.
  • It’s the latest women’s sports bar in a growing trend across the country.
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Althea Gibson was the first Black athlete to break the color barrier in tennis and women’s golf as well as the first to win a Grand Slam.

Raised and trained in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, Gibson won 11 major titles between singles and doubles. In singles competitions, she won one French Open (1956), two Wimbledons (’57, ’58) and two U.S. Nationals (’57, ’58), the predecessor to the US Open, played in Queens. She trained for golf at the Englewood Golf Club in New Jersey before joining the LPGA Tour, served a decade as New Jersey’s commissioner of athletics, and showcased her talents in film and music, including stops at the The Ed Sullivan Show in midtown Manhattan. She died in 2003 in East Orange, N.J.

Now Gibson’s wide-ranging legacy is set to touch down in another New York neighborhood: the Lower East Side.

A pair of women’s sports fans, Lauren Louise and Allison Zerkle, grew up loving tennis. Zerkle’s parents played tennis their whole lives and always had it on TV, while Louise, a Melbourne native, grew up attending the Australian Open every year. They knew that Gibson, for all her ties to New York and prominence in women’s sports and Black history, would be the perfect namesake for their new business: a bar dedicated to women’s sports called Althea’s.

“There are so many women and particularly women of color in sports history that certainly never got their flowers while they were alive,” Zerkle says. “If there’s one way that we can continue to honor somebody who was so incredibly important to sport [and] to breaking barriers, socially and historically, that’s I feel like the least that we can do with something like this.”

Zerkle and Louise, who runs another bar in the Lower East Side, say they’re close to closing on a space for their bar, which they hope to open in the fall. They plan to include a back room to host events for the women’s sports community, as well as a rotating wall of fame highlighting different athletes, their achievements, and what they did for women’s sports.

The bar’s location is intentional for fairly easy public transportation to the Barclays Center and Red Bull Arena, the respective homes of the New York Liberty and Gotham FC, the duo says.

Support From The Sports Bra

After watching the Liberty’s home opener last year, Louise and Zerkle wanted to keep celebrating at a bar. But they couldn’t find somewhere that matched the “magic in a bottle” they felt inside Barclays Center.

“The energy that existed there and the community that existed there ended when you walked out the door,” Zerkle says.

Women’s sports bars have popped up around the country in the last two years, including, most prominently, The Sports Bra in Portland, as well as A Bar of Their Own in Minneapolis, and Rough & Tumble in Seattle. With Louise’s experience running a bar and Zerkle’s background in small business management, the duo realized they were the right people to start one in New York. The two reached out to friends in the Lower East Side bar scene, as well as other women’s sports bar owners, to get their idea off the ground.

“Jenny is a gem,” Louise says of The Sports Bra’s founder and owner Jenny Nguyen. “She led the way for everyone from the beginning.”

The growing number of these bars speaks to the rising mainstream popularity of women’s sports and the desire those fans have for spaces where they can watch games together.

“We really feel confident and hope that we can do the community justice,” Zerkle says.

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