adieu, o.k.r.a.

Houston's original downtown charity saloon shutters — but new bar is coming

Houston's downtown charity saloon shutters — but new bar is coming

OKRA Charity Saloon bar with customers
The Original O.K.R.A. Charity Saloon has closed. Photo by Julie Soefer/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Downtown’s Original O.K.R.A. Charity Saloon has closed, but the space won’t stay vacant for long. Operators the Organized Kollaboration on Restaurant Affairs have sold the bar to its long time general manager Mary Ellen Angel for $10, the organization announced.

Angel tells CultureMap that she will open a new bar in the space at 924 Congress Ave. that will still have a charitable component. She’s tentatively looking at a May opening, assuming she can obtain the necessary permit approvals by then.

“I’m so excited. I’ve always been the type of person that wants to help people,” Angel says. “I think this is my way to do it.”

In addition to a new name, Angel plans to work with chef Dax McAnear to develop a small food menu. The charity saloon’s baked-to-order chocolate chip cookies may stick around, though.

Opened in December 2012, the Original O.K.R.A. Charity Saloon had an innovative concept; it donated its profits to a different charity organization every month. In total, the bar gave away $1.3 million during its run.

The bar also kicked off a wave of new concepts on the 300 block of Main Street. Within a few months of the charity saloon’s opening, its various members had opened establishments such as Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar and Spirit Lodge, Little Dipper, the Pastry War, and Goro & Gun (later Moving Sidewalk).

Officially closing the bar now — its been functionally shut down for a year — allows its board members, including Anvil owner Bobby Heugel, Paulie’s owner Paul Petronella, and Little Dipper owner Miriam Carrillo, to concentrate on their own concepts. That includes reopening the Pastry War and taking advantage of the More Space: Main Street program that will close the street to vehicular traffic so that bars and restaurants may expand their patio seating.

“Building O.K.R.A. with my peers in the industry remains my proudest accomplishment in my career, but I feel confident in this transition, knowing that Mary Ellen will continue to maintain the bar as a cornerstone of Houston’s downtown experience,” Heugel said in a statement.