Unfortunately, in recent years, a few of these so-called philanthropubs haven’t worked as a place where people go to drink. United Libations of San Francisco never got past the planning phase, and Shebeen, in Melbourne, Australia, closed last summer after sputtering along for years and producing a relatively paltry $12,787 in donations for world charities. Then there was Cause in Washington, DC, which opened in November 2012, only to close 14 months later after a series of mishaps, some of which fell under “not getting the bar part right.”
On the “charity” side of the equation, the biggest issue revolves around a venue’s status as a non-profit or for-profit entity. OKRA never sought nonprofit status, while the Oregon Public House is in the unusual position of being recognized as a nonprofit by the state of Oregon (arguably the nonprofit capital of the world), but not by the IRS. During the application process, when the feds asked them for previous examples of the kind of business they wanted to run, they couldn’t produce any—because there were none.
In any event, both places operate like any other bar, paying taxes, paying employees and operating costs—and sending all proceeds along to charity. “We wanted to demonstrate that this model can work, without any special privileges,” says Saari. Their status also preserves the crucial profit motive any business needs. “If a nonprofit has a bad month,” says Repass, “they can just do more fundraising and try to make it up. They don’t have to look at the structural problems. Whereas if we have a bad month, we have to look at what’s going on.”
Fortunately, OKRA hasn’t had many bad months, and the beneficiaries of that are listed on the OKRA website. It’s an impressive litany: In May 2016, OKRA customers sipped on Blackstrap Daiquiris and Philly Fish House Punches—and donated $15,628.16 to the Houston Parks Board. In June, they imbibed to the tune of $15,774.42 in charitable donations to a local service-dog training outfit called Give Us Paws. The list goes on: $18,836.34 in July, $15,913.86 in August.