Published on February 4th, 2014 | by Mark Chesnut
Panama City: A Guide to Central America’s Best Bars & Nightlife (PHOTOS)
It’s no surprise that Panama City, the fast-growing capital of Panama, is a hotspot for bars, casinos, nightclubs and other forms of exciting nightlife. After all, this is Central America’s boom town, a magnet for both business trips and Central America vacations. It’s home to an expanding Panama Canal, an ever-more-stylish historic center, Central America’s first metro rail system and first Waldorf Astoria hotel, and Latin America’s first museum designed by star architect Frank Gehry (the BioMuseo, which opens this year). It’s no wonder that Panama City was named one of LatinFlyer’s 6 Hot Cities in Latin America for 2014!
During my most recent trip to Panama, I enjoyed several nights of fun in the capital. Here are 4 fun ways that Panamanians, residents and visitors spend time after dark in Central America’s most sophisticated city:
1. Wandering the Casco Antiguo: In recent years, the Casco Antiguo — also called the Casco Viejo, Panama City’s historic center, which is dotted with an eclectic mix of architecture ranging from Colonial to Art Deco — has found new life as a hub for the capital’s most stylish nightlife and an array of cool independent hotels. Tántalo hotel has a happening lobby bar/restaurant, as well as a rooftop bar that offers great views of the old and new city. Just a few steps away is Gatto Blanco, a smaller but hip rooftop bar that sits atop the Hotel Casa Nuratti. At Gatto Blanco, tasty signature cocktails include the Maracuba (rum, coconut, azucar machado, maracuya) and listening to DJ Giselle Oro spin. On the same block is Espacio Panama, an open-air nightclub set in the shell of an abandoned building. The recently opened American Trade Hotel is also attracting lots of attention as a nightlife magnet as well, while restaurants like Ego y Narciso and Lovaina also offer good opportunities to take a seat outside, people watch and dine or imbibe.
WHERE WE STAYED: Las Clementinas is a stylish, super comfortable boutique hotel, with spacious suites that feel like apartments, within walking distance of all the Casco Antiguo’s nightlife (and it has its own wonderful bar and restaurant as well).
2. Bar hopping around Calle Uruguay: This short street is a long-time favorite for people looking to have lively fun, and it gets crowded with traffic and people after dark. For an elegant start to the evening, have dinner and drinks at nearby Rosa Mexicano, the famed Mexican restaurant, or try a beer tasting at La Rana Dorada, the microbrewery bar that operates a hip drink and food truck less than a block away, where you can sample La Rana Pale Ale, La Rana Premium Plus, La Rana Blanche/Belga and the darker La Rana Porter (La Rana Dorada also has more traditional permanent locations on Vía Argentina and in Costa del Este).
WHERE WE STAYED: The Waldorf Astoria Panama is the first hotel of this brand in Central or South America, and it features lots of luxurious amenities and what is likely the best overall service of any hotel in Panama City. (It also has its own lobby bar and the spacious Ginger Restaurant Lounge.)
3. Betting on a great night in the casinos: Gaming isn’t for everyone (the most I do is put a dollar in a slot machine and call it a night), but there’s no denying that Panama City offers lots of casino excitement, especially in several of the largest hotels in the El Cangrejo district. Among the best options are the Hotel El Panama Convention Center & Casino (a member of Summit Hotels & Resorts), which has more than 20,000 square feet of gaming space and live entertainment some nights. The Veneto, A Wyndham Grand Hotel, is another top option, with value-priced hotel rooms, lots of amenities, and a lively casino with slot machines, table and poker games, as well as live musical performances daily (the casino is hosting the Veneto Poker Tour from April 9-13, 2014). In the second half of 2014, the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower is to debut a $45.5 million new casino, operated by Sun International.
WHERE WE STAYED: Hotel El Panama Convention Center & Casino has an amazing swimming pool, and The Veneto, a Wyndham Grand Hotel, offers amazingly low room rates — and both hotels allow you to go gaming without leaving the building.
4. Painting the night gay: Panama isn’t known as a gay tourism hotspot, but Panama City’s gay nightlife is fun and well-known among locals. Unfortunately for foreign visitors, the gay bars and clubs are dispersed around the city, making it necessary to take taxis. The largest gay nightclub, Icon, packs in a young crowd every weekend, while Xscape Bar is a smaller but more attractive gay bar option, but with a tiny dance floor. Distinción, located in the Punta Paitilla district, is the closest gay disco to most hotels.
WHERE WE STAYED: The Trump Ocean Club Hotel & Tower Panama, set in one of the city’s most striking skyscrapers, is less than 10 minutes by taxi from Distinción.
MORE PANAMA TRAVEL TIPS:
• PHOTOS: Beautiful Faces of Panama’s Embera People — A Tour Back in Time
• AIRLINE REVIEW: Copa Airlines Boeing 737-800, Economy Class Service
• “My Panama” — Travel Tips from David Gold, Casco Antiguo Spanish School
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