My friend and I were strolling downtown headed to dinner at Batanga when a peak at the inside of OKRA Charity Saloon literally stopped us dead in our tracks. We are two girls who grew up in Cypress, so we love opportunities to explore downtown spots. We just had to stop inside before heading to dinner next door.
This. Place. Is. Gorgeous. The building is framed by a huge curved archway. There is a small loft area towards the back with a glass roof providing such great lighting to the bar. When you first walk in there is what I believe to be a shuffleboard (someone correct me if I am wrong!) then the large bar in the middle plus a pool table behind the bar. There really is not a lot of furniture in the bar, which is perfect because the space really speaks for itself. Who needs a lot of paintings on every corner when you have the original exposed brick all around the building?? I wanted to evict OKRA and make this place my own hipster loft pad!
In my mind, I imagine Houston to be a prairie lands back in the 1800s. Little did I know, we actually had a small bustling downtown and some of those beautiful historic buildings still stand. According to OKRA’s website, their building dates back to 1882. My spirit connects to old historic buildings because they tell a story and are living history. I just love it! This building originated as the “Original Casino Saloon” and had later reincarnations as a jazz club and a barber shop. The website also claims that the gorgeous archway that caught my attention from the street is original to the building! * Swoons*
Of course we asked what is a “charity saloon.” Our bartender told us that once all of the expenses are paid out, the owner gives all of his profits to charity. I glanced around and thought sooooo all of you guys are working in here for free?? That is some interesting volunteer work! Sign me up! But clearly staffs’ wages fall under “expenses” so only the owners profits are being passed on to charity. The bar proudly hangs a large chalkboard, which lists the current monthly beneficiary and the past beneficiaries. There even is a little area that is styled like an old school voting booth for patrons to donate directly to various charities.
The website also gives a good accounting of who the money has gone too and how much. The smallest contribution I saw was $15,000. Some of these are smaller charities, so I imagine the contributions from OKRA make a huge difference. There is also a place on the website where you can petition for your organization to be the monthly beneficiary. The cynic in me says I am sure this is a great tax write off for the owner, but it takes a real charitable person to give up $607,000 plus (to date) to various charities. I cannot say I would do the same under the same circumstances, so I give the owner major kudos for this great concept.
Lest we forget this place is still a bar. We ordered the “house punch” as I would call it. I was too enamored with the beauty of the place and the overall concept so I missed all of the ingredients and the name, but I remember it includes gin because my friend noted “gin will make ya sin!!!” No sinning went on, but that drink was really good! OKRA also had a small food menu that looked good from the food descriptions. The website credits the owner of Paulie’s with establishing their menu, so I am going to guess it is pretty good since Paulie’s is on Houston Chronicle’s top 100 Restaurants List. On my next visit, I will definitely try the grub and let you all know how it is!