Bar Revitalizes Downtown

How a charity bar revitalized downtown Houston: The inside story

How a charity bar revitalized downtown Houston: The inside story

OKRA Charity Saloon bar with customers
Documentary film Glass Half Full presents the behind the scenes story of how a group of Houston bar and restaurant owners decided to establish the OKRA Charity Saloon. Photo by Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

"We really wanted to represent this very interesting project and the circumstances behind that project."

Last fall, University of Houston student Jake Fiedler and four of his classmates made a documentary about the beginning of the OKRA Charity Saloon as part of the University's Gulf Coast Food Project. Titled Glass Half Full, the film provides a behind-the-scenes look at the bar that kicked off one of 2013's most intriguing trends: the latest attempt to revitalize downtown. 

 "That was the lifeline of our project, talking to these people as the project came together." 

 Fiedler explains that one of his classmates, Saurabh Pande, read an article about OKRA's plans to open the bar and suggested it to the group. "We agreed it would make an interesting subject for a short documentary," he tells CultureMap.

They contacted the various people involved and set up a a series of interviews. Two of the interviews took place at the OKRA Saloon while it was under construction, one with Anvil co-owner/OKRA president Bobby Heugel and another with Grand Prize co-owners Brad Moore and Ryan Rouse and Antidote/Poison Girl/Black Hole co-owner Scott Repass. 

They interviewed Paulie's owner Paul Petronella at his restaurant, and Repass's partners, Miriam Carrillo and Dawn Callaway, at Black Hole.

"We're very proud of each (interview)," Fiedler says. "I would say that our interview with Bobby Heugel was a very memorable experience . . . to see someone who had an idea see it becoming completed. That was the lifeline of our project, talking to these people as the project came together." 

The film ends with the bar's opening night at the end of December. Since that day, six other concepts have opened within two blocks and at least three more are coming, mostly driven by OKRA members. 

There's also been plenty of national attention, too. Stephen Colbert famously wagged his finger at the idea of drunk donating, and Playboy named it one of America's best new bars. 

"People will take what they want from (the film)," Fielder says. "We just wanted to represent the circumstances as best we could."

See the documentary video here:

"Like" the Gulf Coast Food Project on Facebook for more information about its work.