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Rough and Tumble: the new take on a sports bar

“I was pretty rough and tumble as a kid”
Feed it Creative
Main room in the pub featuring several activities including a photo booth, pool table, televisions, and a main seating room.

Growing up as what many described as a rambunctious little girl, always needing to ‘get my wiggles out’ as my mom used to call it, cycling through sports from rock climbing to ultimate to soccer, I thrived in the wake of Title IX’s revolutionary impact on equality in sports and education. 

The industry has come a long way, though it still leads a long path to change. But to celebrate the wins we have had is to continue the fight. 

On December 9 of 2022, the Ballard women’s sports bar and pub Rough and Tumble first opened. From the pub’s name, the space, the food, to its huge community of friends, families and fans, Rough and Tumble has and continues to become a hub for inclusivity in the world of sports that we all need.

“I was pretty rough and tumble as a kid,” owner Jen Barnes said. 

Seeing the next generation of athletic, “rough and tumble,” young folks like herself, Barnes hoped to “show them that they can be all the things they want to be and do all the things they want to do.”

She also drew inspiration from the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC of England. In the early 1900s the team grew to fame while the men were at war, selling out stadiums across England. As the men returned, the Football Association banned women’s soccer in 1921. 

“The women, they said no,” Barnes said. “They kept playing, and they would actually break into men’s only stadiums to be able to play.”

The team ended up playing worldwide and became world champions despite the ban on women’s soccer remaining in place until 1971. They were referred to, derogatorily, as the “Rough Girls,” for breaking the rules. 

“I wanted to pay some homage to that grit and gumption,” Barnes said. “It would have taken a lot of courage back then to say no, I’m going to continue to play.”

Establishing a space completely new and different to the community, Barnes took these inspirations from the name itself to all aspects of the pub. 

“One of my biggest wants was for it to be all ages,” Barnes said. “I love watching sports, it’s one of my favorite things, and I don’t think just because you’re not 21 that you shouldn’t be able to enjoy that.”

Not only did it open up a sports bar atmosphere for parents of young kids to enjoy, but it fed into her hope to show youth the opportunities they have. As Barnes put it, “if you don’t see it, you don’t know that you can be it.” 

And the space has never disappointed. Every time I walk in to grab a bite or cheer on my favorite teams I see young girls in their lil’ kickers uniforms and families playing a game of pool. The atmosphere of Rough and Tumble automatically promotes community unlike any other, something Barnes specifically had an eye on while designing the set-up. 

“All the four tops we have can be made into two tops, six tops, eight tops, secret groups or small groups, big groups or wild parties,” Barnes said. “All of it was very intentionally about creating shared experiences and community space.”

It’s my biggest fascination with what Barnes and her team have set up that to every last detail, they have made sure to promote equality and community. Contemplating the pub’s menu, Barnes brought her overarching goal into action yet again, striving to rejuvenate the food of sports bars which she said is “usually an afterthought” in typical sports bars. 

The lunch and dinner menu is full of beautiful rotating salads and delicious chicken sandwiches and amazing vegetable starters including my personal favorite, the Wambroccollini. 

Their menu items are inspired and named after sports teams and female athletes, like the brunch menu’s Shae’s Savory French Toast (after Shae Holmes drafted to the Reign in 2023) and the Alanacado Toast (after Reign and USWNT player Alana Cook). 

Rough and Tumble’s kitchen manager, Merilyn Ijaya, who previously worked at Climate Pledge Arena, finds the theme of the menu to impact the public’s favorites. 

“This is my first time where the menu is so focused on a theme,” Ijaya said. “So it’s really cool to see what people gravitate towards based on what it’s called.” 

Barnes and Ijaya work together to create the best possible menus for the community. One specific focus of theirs is where they source their food from. 

“We love supporting anything local,” Ijaya said. “All the produce we use for the brunch menu’s Ballard Farmers Market Frittata either Jen or I will buy from the Ballard Market every Sunday morning, trying to focus on women-owned farms.”

And everything Barnes and the entire Rough and Tumble team has done and continues to do pays off, creating a community for many, every day bringing in old and new faces, smiles and conversations. 

Like many in the hospitality industry know, the world is ever-changing which lends itself to engender the most unique and incredible communities. 

Rough and Tumble server Katie Donkers, who has worked at the pub since opening day, finds the community to have been a place this city needed, that Barnes and the team have “tapped into a unique community in Ballard that there wasn’t a space for before.”

The pub is open to anyone, not just those who fit a certain appearance or stereotype, those places can feel few and far between, which is what makes the space so impactful. 

“This space, it’s family friendly, it’s queer friendly, it’s dedicated to women’s sports, it’s not afraid to voice what it stands for,” Ijaya said. “That’s so important to have and Seattle was the perfect place to launch it.”

However, the Rough and Tumble family is not limited to Seattleites, people from all over will plan their trips around the pub. 

“It never ceases to amaze me,” Barnes said. “Like, I’m just Jen Barnes. I just had this idea of equality and we did this thing and now hundreds of thousands of people have come through this space in the last year from all over the world. And that is mind blowing to me. It’s so reflective of how much space like this is needed and I hope someday it’s not as hard to find.”

The fight for gender equality in sports is a long time coming. From the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC to the USWNT to the little girls and youth growing up today, a fight has been and continues to be had. There have been countless victories, and still there remain many disparities to conquer; but until then, Rough and Tumble is here, fighting, and having fun doing it, excited for more to join the family.

Jen Barnes, owner of Rough and Tumble Pub sought to establish a space completely new and different to the community. (Feed it Creative )
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