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OKRA-Run Charity Bar to Open Downtown

The new home of the soon-to-be-named OKRA charity bar.
The new home of the soon-to-be-named OKRA charity bar.
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt

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?

The beautiful space at 924 Congress has been begging for a tenant.
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.

A close-up of the distinctive, oval-shaped bar.
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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