Originally constructed in the 1880s, the building at 924 Congress that houses the Okra Charity Saloon has a rich history of doling out drinks. It first opened as the Casino Saloon in 1882, functioning in that manner until Prohibition came along and turned it into a barbershop. Following Prohibition, the building went through other incarnations, including the “Circle Bar” and, more recently, the Red Cat Jazz Café (which has since moved its digs down Franklin Street). Last summer, Houston’s Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs — or Okra — announced plans to transform the space into a charity bar.
Okra is a charity formed by like-minded restaurant and bar owners in Houston. In addition to pursuing charitable community initiatives, the group promotes progressive industry standards and advocates for responsible urban development.
The concept of the charity bar, which has been tried in a handful of cities with moderate success, is relatively new. Here’s how it works: patrons buy drinks (and food). The bar covers its costs, including rent, utilities, supplies and labor. Any profits are then given to charity. In the case of Okra’s Charity Saloon, four charities are nominated each month, and customers receive a ticket for each beverage purchased. They use the tickets to vote for one of the charities. The month’s profits are given to the winner, securing some additional funding while also raising awareness for the other charitable organizations. For more information on Okra and how charities can apply, visit www.friedokra.org.
They keep it simple at Okra Charity Saloon, as stated by the motto at the top of the menu: “common bar service for the Houston community.” No riding recent bar trends such as meticulously concocted cocktails or the craft-beer frenzy. There’s no wall of taps here — in fact, there’s hardly anything on the walls, and there are only four taps.
But a handful of good beers — from industry favorites to craft selections — and cocktails are available. According to the menu, the staff makes around 20 classic cocktails.
A limited selection of wine is available by the glass for a very reasonable $8. It’s definitely a go-to stop for service industry folks: Lone Star is just $2 (as it should be), and shots of Fernet are always available for $3. Distractions include a loaded jukebox, shuffleboard, pool and the second-floor landing at the back of the room.
Food consists of paninis as well as smaller bites, such as marinated olives, waffle fries done three ways, fresh baked cookies, a few flavors of gelato and, of course, fried okra.
While it may not be typical, at the end of the day, Okra’s Charity Saloon is just what it strives to be, a regular bar for the people.
Marc Brubaker is a freelance writer.
Okra Charity Saloon
Hours: 3 p.m.-2 a.m.