Walking into Port Light on Bloor, I feel as though I may have already imbibed several of the bar’s boozy rum cocktails. It’s cavernous, dark, and there are lanterns to dodge and velvet curtains to peel back. But once your eyes adjust, you’ll be rewarded with even more treasures from the genius folks behind Parkdale fave The Shameful Tiki Room.
Between shaking up colourful concoctions, co-owner Alana Nogueda tells me that, despite it initially looking like “an industrial IKEA,” the team was able to put the ship-themed bar (and its cute above-deck patio) together in just two months. Every piece of wood is hand-burned, and the knick-knacks that fill every shelf were found in their storage locker or picked out at antique stores.
“A big part that everyone seems to really enjoy — that I kind of bought as a ‘haha’ — is the bird,” says Nogueda, pointing to the colourful glowing parrot surveying the scene from behind the bar. “People really dig that, so I’m starting to be a fan.”
With nautical doodads decorating the drinking den, there’s definitely a pirate edge. Look closer, though, and you’ll find that there’s plenty of connective tiki tissue. Port Light was named after the cocktail created in 1961 at the Kahiki in Columbus, Ohio — one of the few tiki drinks made with bourbon rather than rum. For a rum-heavy bar, that’s a little weird, says Nogueda. “But it’s a great cocktail. And it’s a simple but known name in the tropical drink world.”
Where The Shameful Tiki Room is a shrine to cocktail culture, Port Light on Bloor embraces the neighbourhood dive bar side of things, with moody vibes, snacks from nearby Windsor-style pizza spot Ambassador, and The Cramps belting out of the speakers until late. “But still with the same passion and the same stuff that we put into our cocktails,” Nogueda notes. “Everything’s fresh, everything’s housemade. We make sure that we don’t cut corners on that.”
From the Scube Ube Doo — a pastel-hued twist on a piña colada inspired by the Filipino dessert halo halo — to the shareable over-the-top pyrotechnic Shipwreck Bowl, Nogueda is satisfying Toronto’s appetite for all things tiki. “For me, there’s a little part of never growing up that I really enjoy.”