Panama City is undoubtedly the most glamorous capital city in Central America. As the epicenter of movement, its glittery skyscrapers stretch toward clouds that hide deceivingly behind the force of the sun’s rays. Cars jam the city streets. Upwards of 40 vessels pass through the Panama Canal every day, which, according to canal officials, has been responsible for an estimated $10 billion in direct income for Panama over the last 15 years. The same can be said about Panama City nightlife.
“The contrast between Casco Viejo, with its Spanish and French colonial feel, to the Miami-esque downtown skyline versus the thick, primary rainforest just a few kilometers away at the city’s northern border is compelling,” says Rob Harper, Director of Business Development for Panama Vacations.
Against this backdrop of movement, a handful of new and established hotel bars and venues are shaking things up when the sun goes down. Where might one find these hot spots? Like the high-rises that have etched their way into the city’s enduring skyline, head to Panama City’s Old Town, Casco Viejo and look up.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, this geographically petite neighborhood vibrates with activity at sunset and often continues into the next morning. With sweeping views of the Downtown skyline and surrounding landmarks, twenty minutes from the city center are these three Casco Viejo roof tops:
At night, criss-crossed strung lights of Roofbar at the Tantalo hotel frame the modern Downtown skyline. Open seven nights of the week, expect this hip spot to get loud and crowded, especially on the weekends. Arrive early with friends to commandeer one of the sparse tabletops that dot the perimeter of the wood-paneled space and catch the sunset before the live DJ transforms the atmosphere from “chill” to “electric.” A mojito makes for a likely sunset companion, as is one of Tantalo’s signature cocktails like the Zen-Jito, a party potion of house gin, cucumber juice and ginger infused syrup.
Not to be outdone, CasaCasco aims to entertain with a multi-level boutique hotel concept in Casco Viejo. Since opening its doors a few blocks away last fall, CasaCasco, which flanks Plaza Herrera is literally stacked with sensory stimulation.
From the trendy roof of Terraza, a rotating lineup of live DJs maintains the festivities most nights of the week. Terraza fills to capacity on the weekends, and may require a wait to get in. Although, for sweeping views of the canal in action, Frank Gehry’s shapely Biomuseo along the Amador Causeway and the expansive Pacific a bit of anticipation is well worth it. When in doubt at the bar, order a Ron Abuelo on ice or a splash of cola or ginger ale for a taste of Panama’s local spiced rum.
Inside, find a number of culinary options for any hankering. On the first floor, seafood and tapas are offered at Mano de Tigre, while Nacionsushi has Asian fusion cravings covered. The flavors of Africa and the Caribbean are found at Marula on the third floor, while those itching to dance the night away should head up one more level to the appropriately named, “Club,” on the fourth floor.
American Trade Hotel
Directly across from CasaCasco, the casually sophisticated American Trade Hotel oozes classic yet contemporary charm and features modern amenities and tropical, mid-century modern furnishings. As the largest hotel in Casco Viejo, it is a formidable presence in Plaza Herrera as it reaches across four historic buildings. American Trade Hall, the hotel’s malleable meetings and events venue with a sizeable rooftop terrace, was once a site for bullfights.
Today, the 6,300 square foot venue-for-hire hosts decadent weddings, receptions and film festival after parties as the largest rooftop in the Old Town. Attending an event at American Trade Hall means standing on, quite literally, billions of dollars. The building was originally a branch of the New York City bank that backed the Panama Canal.
In town, but not for a special event? Step into the homey lobby anyway and admire intricate patterned tiles and hardwood touches while enjoying some air-conditioning in a rattan-backed rocking chair. Or, spend the evening listening to local jazz artists at the intimate Danilo’s Jazz Club, hosted by Grammy-award winning Panamanian Danilo Pérez.
Roman Alonso of the LA-based design firm Commune describes the hotel as “a hybrid of old Havana and New Orleans.” They, along with Ace Hotel Group and Conservatorio–a local real estate company dedicated to the revitalization of Casco–helped bring the hotel to life.
La Concordia Hotel, Casco Viejo
While representatives remain tight-lipped about its opening, La Concordia Hotel is expected to add another upscale establishment to the evolving atmosphere of Casco Viejo. When that time comes, guests will be able to head to the roof to take in 360 degrees of the city skyline from Numen Gastro Lounge, described as a fusion of Japanese, Peruvian and Mediterranean inspired cuisine.
By Ligaya Malones