about my venture
OKRA’s charity bar, a collaborative idea from the organization’s founders, has finally found a space in the former Red Cat Jazz Café location at 924 Congress Street in downtown Houston. The Original OKRA Charity Saloon will be opening in approximately three weeks following minor renovations and licensing. OKRA is currently looking for financial contributions from individuals in order to fund opening costs. Justin Yu, of Oxheart, and other members have anxiously awaited this project for months because as Yu comments, “the bar gives OKRA an outlet to support the community that supports our businesses every day”.
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.
The history of the building firmly reflects OKRA’s commitment to the local Houston community. When Houston was founded in 1836, Congress and Main was the city’s primary intersection and shaped downtown Houston’s development. OKRA’s new bar space was built in the 1880’s and is located just off of the historic intersection in the hub of the Main Street/Market Square Historic District directly across the street from the Hotel Icon. One of the oldest buildings in Houston, 924 Congress (originally 72 Congress St.) opened in 1882 as the Casino Saloon and served as a bar until Prohibition, when it became a barbershop. Since that time, the building housed several other businesses including the “Circle Bar”, named for it’s original circle arch and barrel vault ceilings still intact today.
Scott Repass, of Poison Girl Bar, Antidote, and Black Hole Coffee, 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 spacious interior is one of the most breathtaking bar spaces in Houston, has a central, oval shaped bar surrounded by brick walls decorated with gas light fixtures and a high glass ceiling in the rear of the bar. Much like the bars and restaurants involved in OKRA, the bar will feature a well-chosen spirit selection, emphasize local brews and industry favorites, and include a small collaborative food program from the group’s culinary members, including Revival Market, Oxheart, the Modular, Paulie’s and others.
OKRA hopes that this bar will inspire Houstonians to embrace the historic downtown area and what it offers our community. With great neighboring concepts, such Niko Niko’s, La Carafe, Hearsay, Warrens, Charbar and others located just blocks from a light rail that also connects Houstonians with establishments such as Mongoose vs. Cobra, Leons, Reef, the Continental Club, Double Trouble, and others, OKRA’s advocacy for density and use of mass transit over increasing Houston’s reliance on parking lots seems far more enjoyable.
The charity bar will be operated by OKRA’s administration, which also independently operates some of Houston’s most successful bars, including Poison Girl, Grand Prize Bar, and Anvil Bar & Refuge among other bars, coffee shops, and restaurants. While there are a few non-profit concepts functioning throughout the US in the hospitality industry, it is extremely uncommon for a group of business owners to come together in this manner. For Brad Moore of Grand Prize Bar and Big Star Bar, it is this characteristic that is most rewarding: “This project not only shows our commitment to giving back to our city, but it also showcases how cohesive OKRA is – we’ve found a way to be creative and have fun, all while helping worthy, local charities”.
In the meantime, OKRA will continue to focus on its other efforts, including continuing to engage local officials on policies that affect independent restaurants, bars, and food trucks. OKRA also intends to push forward with other projects, such as its complimentary bike rack initiative and other public events, which have been delayed recently by a series of restaurant openings that have occupied members, including Underbelly, Hay Merchant, Oxheart, and Pass & Provisions. Rest assured, however, these plans are moving forward along with the group’s new bar!
Anyone interested in more information, may also contact OKRA at [email protected]
* The people in the above video are who make up OKRA. They are in their natural habitats doing what they do best, sprinkled in with interior photos of the Charity Saloon.