There’s a restaurant in Portland, Oregon called Kann. It’s Haitian cuisine from James Beard Award winning chef Gregory Gourdet. It was already a popular place, but when it was announced he had won the James Beard Award, it became a lot harder to secure a reservation. Below the restaurant is Sousòl, a bar whose name is literally the Haitian-Creole word for “basement”. This place has been in our sites for over a year, and as part of our 2023 Portland Bar of the Month tour, we finally made our way to the Buckman neighborhood of SE before the new year (better late than never).
You cannot access Sousòl from the restaurant—you have to go out and around to the side entrance, then down the stairs. We have not been as excited about a sub-level speakeasy concept since Pépé le Moko, and we were not disappointed! A security attendant checked our IDs and directed us down the steps to an elegantly-curtained doorway. Beyond the curtain, your eyes begin to adjust as you pass warm sconces casting golden rays over dark green forest mural wallpaper opening into to a dimly-lit room with a bar to your left and an array of lounge areas setup for intimate conversation. The back wall is lined with modern tufted cushioned seating in luxurious pink velour. Every arrangement is appointed with two tiers of tables to hold drinks food and the menu, lit from above with down-light spots. The open areas are host to lounge chairs and tiny table lights.
The layout and size is reminiscent of Abigail Hall, but instead of thick crown moulding and architectural tradition, Sousòl is windowless but still manages to feel cozy while avoiding any distracting art on the walls. We think this approach inevitably leads your eye to the artistic creations upon plates and in glasses.
We started with Jungle Phoenix, the most expensive cocktail on the menu. Served like an Old Fashioned over a block of clear ice, this is a twenty-five dollar rum blend with clarified coconut milk punch and Campari—sublime, exotic, and smooth. Our first round also included the Pi Ché Lé, an agave spirit swizzle with Opal liqueur, pineapple, and mint to make a totally different yet equally delicious combination.
Our second round included the Coco and Co, a coconut-infused Cognac riff on the Manhattan with sherry and mole bitters which was every bit as delicious as that sounds, and the FWI Pasyon, a zero-proof passion fruit lowball featuring a spiced banana shrub. Both Kann (the restaurant) and Sousòl take low ABV options very seriously. As we have written before, this trend seems to be growing. The low alcohol or alcohol-free challenge is met with surprising skill here, bringing the diverse flavors of the Caribbean to bear, resulting in flavors as good as or better than boozier counterparts. We think it’s a great development throughout the city (and probably elsewhere) and we are now on the lookout for innovation like this everywhere we go.
As you might expect, the small bites are nothing short of incredible, and while it probably doesn’t compare to a seat upstairs, Sousòl does offer a glimpse of what might be possible. We can’t wait to return to Kann for a blow-your-mind dinner, but we were pretty happy with this visit to enjoy a few sips to celebrate 2023. Here is a link to all of our bar of the month visits in chronological order.