OKRA-Run Charity Bar to Open Downtown

OKRA Bar 011.jpg
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
The new home of the soon-to-be-named OKRA charity bar.
Imagine a bar run by Houston's best bartenders and mixologists where 100 percent of the proceeds would be donated to a local charity at the end of each month. It's not just a wild-eyed fantasy; it's about to become a reality in the former Red Cat Jazz Café location at 924 Congress.

That's where the Organized Kooperative on Restaurant Affairs is planning on opening a nonprofit charity bar this fall. One of OKRA's first initiatives when it was founded late last year by Anvil Bar & Refuge owner Bobby Heugel was to eventually open just such a bar. Now, pending some final financial contributions to fund its opening costs, that bar is almost a reality.

OKRA has always existed in order to support the local restaurant and bar community as well as encourage better public transit and use of dense urban corridors in Houston, all while raising money for charity at the same time. And it's these reasons that led the group to choose the downtown location at 924 Congress.

It's only a short light-rail ride away from OKRA supporters such as Mongoose versus Cobra, Leon's Lounge, Reef, The Continental Club, Double Trouble and Tacos a Go-Go. Its neighbors will be local businesses such as Niko Niko's, La Carafe, Hearsay, Warren's, Bitterman's Market Square Bar, Char Bar and the incoming Barnaby's.

But how will the charity end of the bar function?

OKRA Bar 010.jpg
The beautiful space at 924 Congress has been begging for a tenant.
Says the press release:

Once open, 100% of the bar's proceeds will be donated to a different Houston-based organization or social cause each month. Bar patrons will have the opportunity to select which charity is chosen as a beneficiary by voting from among four nominees for next month's elected charity. For each drink purchased, guests will receive one vote that they may cast before leaving the bar for the evening. The hope is that by benefiting a new charity each month and nominating four for the following, funding will be acquired for elected charities and awareness will be generated for other nominees. The space will also be available for events and activities that benefit additional organizations in Houston in need of a gathering space.

People familiar with the old Red Cat will recall just how gorgeous that space is, too. Built in 1882 as the Casino Saloon, the bar is located just off the new Market Square Park, directly in the middle of one of Houston's most vibrant historic districts. The original Casino Saloon served as a bar until Prohibition, when it became a barbershop.

OKRA Bar 007.jpg
A close-up of the distinctive, oval-shaped bar.
Scott Repass -- OKRA co-founder and owner of Poison Girl, Antidote and Black Hole Coffee House -- feels the space represents a unique opportunity to "do what we love and contribute in a meaningful way in a building that is gorgeous." The inviting space has a large, central, oval-shaped bar surrounded by brick walls decorated with gas light fixtures and a high glass ceiling in the rear of the bar that resembles an elegant Victorian-era greenhouse.

The new bar -- which has yet to be named -- will feature a well-chosen spirit selection and emphasize local craft beers as well as include a small collaborative food program from OKRA's culinary members, including Revival Market, Oxheart, The Modular and Paulie's.

It will be at least four months before the bar is open, but OKRA members are already excited. Says Justin Yu -- OKRA member and chef and owner of Oxheart -- of the long-awaited project: "The bar gives OKRA an outlet to support the community that supports our businesses every day."



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Location Info

Map

Anvil Bar & Refuge

1424 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Mongoose Versus Cobra

1011 McGowen St., Houston, TX

Category: Music

Leon's Lounge

1006 McGowen, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Reef

2600 Travis St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Continental Club

3700 Main, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Double Trouble Caffeine & Cocktails

3622 Main St., Houston, TX

Category: Music

Tacos A Go-Go

3704 Main St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Niko Niko's

2520 Montrose Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

La Carafe

813 Congress, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Hearsay Gastro Lounge

218 Travis, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Bitterman's Market Square Bar & Grill

311 Travis, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Char Bar

305 Travis, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Poison Girl

1641 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Music

Antidote Coffee

729 Studewood, Houston, TX

Category: General

Black Hole Coffee House

4504 Graustark St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Revival Market

550 Heights Blvd, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Oxheart

1302 Nance St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

The Modular

, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Paulie's

1834 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

My Voice Nation Help
9 comments
Tim
Tim

Surely they are registered if they are claiming to be a non-profit. Most non-profits have empolyees and you have to pay off the initial cost (drinks, servers, bus boys ect.) for "fundraisers" in oder to be able to operate. So there is no possible way that when you spend $5 on a beer that they can hand all $5 to Literacy Advance and expect to keep all the bills paid. Too bad you cant write this off though.

Anonymous
Anonymous

 I hope that they've done a thorough analysis of the complex legal framework that is going to govern this. It would be a shame to see it end up being a short-lived idea if they haven't ensured compliance with all aspects of the law. Will this be a 501(c)(3)? Are they really donating all proceeds and not just profits? It would be no fun for this not to work out if it hasn't been thought through very carefully with the help of a good lawyer.

Texmex01
Texmex01

Eliminate the middle man and just let the homeless drink for free, this will put the money in the end users hand instantly, and clean up our underpasses at the same time! :) (humor)

Nightmare on Bagby
Nightmare on Bagby

I've liked the idea of OKRA (as well as the Greater Houston Entertainment PAC) ever since I heard about both organizations - the parking ordinace and the noise ordinance are just the latest manifiestations of Houston's screw-the-little-guy mindset - especially in any attempt at urban revitalization, which apparently should just be left to deep-pocketed, politically connected corporations. Still, though, guys and gals at OKRA - it would really help build your grass-roots creds if you had an occasional public meeting or updated your website... which you haven't done since freakin' January!

Urban Swank
Urban Swank

This is such a smart idea! I can't wait to drink for a good cause.-SG

Houstess
Houstess

How very, very kool.  Awesome is as awesome does.

Kyle
Kyle

Excellent! I've been waiting for someone to make a good use of Red Cat, and this is perfect. I still remember vividly coming downtown often from Spring around 1999 or so to watch some jazz. Teenagers were allowed in with a cover.

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