When Jamal Hassan began bartending, it was a creative outlet. One of the restaurateurs behind Sesame Collective (Mediterranean Exploration Company, Shalom Y’all) grew up in his parents’ food cart, transitioning into restaurants after high school. He dove deep into the world of wine, learning the intricacies of the different growing regions and varietals; after a while, however, he found himself feeling restricted. “There weren’t a lot of opportunities other than food pairings that allowed me to be creative,” he says. “When I had the opportunity to start working on cocktails, I immediately fell in love with it.”
Years later, after opening several restaurants across Portland, Hassan is finally getting a bar of his own. Icarus, opening this October in the former Kask space, will showcase a spectrum of cocktails ranging from the restrained and elegant to the unapologetically wild. “As a group, we bite off more than we can chew sometimes, and we sometimes say, ‘We fly too close to the sun,’” Hassan says. “We want to do that with our cocktail program, really push ourselves.”
For those unfamiliar with the Greek myth, the inventor and artist Daedalus builds his son Icarus wax wings, warning him not to fly too close to the sun; Icarus ignores his advice, and, to his detriment, falls to his death, the wax melting in the heat. It’s a story often evoked when talking about radical risk-taking, part of the inspiration behind the cocktail bar’s menu. The menu will be split into two sections, “Rise” and “Fall”: The former will include minimalist, simply presented drinks, while the latter gets into goofy, extravagantly garnished cocktails in ridiculous glassware.
For example, on the Rise menu, a gin fizz made with mascarpone will be clarified, arriving in its glass in a bright shade of white. On the Fall menu, things get weirder: A michelada seasoned with pizza spices, a play on pizza and beer; Hassan says he and bar manager Josh Kaleel want to call it Will You Help Me Move? Another drink, a riff on a piña colada, will come with black lime and grilled pineapple popping boba. “We’re very serious about making delicious cocktails,” Hassan says, “but we’re not going in the direction of it being too cerebral or too intricate or too obscure.”
The bar, next to Sesame Collective Italian restaurant Dolly Olive, will serve slices of Sicilian pizza made by its neighbor, based on the restaurant’s focaccia recipe. The bar will offer three rotating pies, though actual varieties are still in development. “Pizza is the universal party food,” Hassan says.
The space itself is meant to reflect that lively, energetic atmosphere, with an Italo disco vibe and aesthetic. Andrew Young of Splint Media designed an exploding disco ball for the bar, revealing a flock of hanging foil birds flying from its core. Kask’s gravel rock bar remains in the space, as well as some of its dark wood tones; they’re offset by a bright ’70s color palette. “We’re really trying to throw a party every night,” Hassan says. “We want to throw all the rules out the window.”
Icarus will open October 19 at 1215 SW Alder Street.