Text and Photos: Roberto Quintero
Nightlife in Panama City’s Historic Quarter acquired a new lease on life with the emergence of rooftop bars nestled on top of the country’s oldest buildings. Each one has its own style, but all offer amazing views of the city’s old and new neighborhoods, not to mention a sweeping panorama of the Pacific Ocean.
We check out the new venues, while also taking a look at the pioneers. One of the most iconic rooftop bars is Barlovento, which overlooks the renowned Avenida Central. This bar under the stars —which also serves food— is known for a tranquil ambience during the week, with lounge and minimalist music; the energy goes up on the weekends, when the terrace plays the best dance hits.
The rooftop bar of the Tántalo Hotel is one of the most popular party spots in the Historic Quarter, since it offers something different every day. The terrace gives guests a place to admire absolutely magnificent sunsets and the nights are perfect for a smashing party. Mojitos and tapas are the specialties of the house. The hotel restaurant on the ground floor is likewise outstanding.
Just next door sits Gato Blanco, a small lounge bar with a distinctive atmosphere where excellent underground and electronic music prevail. The most popular music genres at this rooftop bar are jazz, melodic house, minimalist, house, disco, and deep house. Get there early, since it fills up by eleven p.m.
The New Kids on the Block
Casa Casco, a party HQ, offers five floors of different, yet perfectly complementary styles of entertainment, giving guests an all-around experience. The first three floors feature restaurants: Mano de Tigre (fusion cuisine), Nación Sushi (Southeast Asian food), and Marula (international signature cuisine). The party starts one floor up: the fourth floor is home to a club-disco with room for 240 people, ideal for dance fans. The top floor boasts a deluxe terrace with a 360º view of the city. “The rooftop is one of the building’s best draws. You can admire the city landscape from any place in the bar and get a sense of the Panama City of today: the modern city, the Historic Quarter, the Panama Canal, and icons like Mt. Ancón and the Bridge of the Americas; everything is laid out at your feet,” notes operations manager Leonardo Herrera.
The rooftop bar at Casa Casco changes DJs every day, offering revelers various types of music. There is also a shortened version of the restaurant menu so dancers can order snacks without going downstairs. The Casa Casco mojito, made with rum and tequila, is a worthy cocktail choice. It’s definitely a hit! This is a very popular place, so reservations well in advance are recommended.
Central Panamá is a gastropub specializing in creative cuisine with Panamanian roots. “Tortillas, torrejas (corn fritters), tamales…all the fried snacks that we like form the basis of our cuisine, but we try to give classic dishes a new twist,” explains chef Ana Torres. To enjoy this gastronomic adventure, try the One Pot, a traditional dish from Portobelo in Colón province. The gastropub prepares it with rice, octopus, shrimp, arañitas (“little spiders” or small bites of octopus or squid), mixed with Gouda cheese. The cocktail list likewise pays tribute to local ingredients, as is evident in the Panamanian Gin (prepared with a touch of cilantro!), and the Eusebio A. Morales, named for the Panamanian writer and politician who lived in the house where the bar is now located.
The venue has a multi-faceted personality. The main walls of the two-story building consist essentially of enormous windows that look out on a panorama of Panama Bay. The Panamanian decor showcases local taste with a sophisticated touch, complemented by gentle light and soft music. Upstairs is the cherry on the sundae: a bar nestled on a small outdoor rooftop, offering the intriguing juxtaposition of comfort and relaxation with drinks on an excitingly high perch. “This is the highest rooftop in the Historic Quarter,” states owner José Pino proudly. Its opening hours (5 p.m. to 1 a.m.) make Central Panamá an ideal place to kick off the evening. There is live music on weekdays and DJ selections combine with wind instruments from Thursday to Saturday.
Finally, there is Lazotea, on top of the Hotel Casa Panamá. Its slogan: “Food, drinks, and music” sums it up nicely. This is a simple, straightforward rooftop bar in the best sense of the word. It offers a cool, informal, alternative party vibe done in quiet good taste. This is the only rooftop in the Historic Quarter to boast a swimming pool, which guests can enjoy for a 25-dollar minimum drink charge. For those who prefer a more serene atmosphere, there is also a separate intimate and elegant salon that serves signature cuisine by chef Pablo Viluce. One of his celebrated cocktails is the refreshing Gin & Tonic, made with red fruits. An impressive list of Panamanian and international DJs lights up the night from Thursday to Saturday. As if this were not enough, the view of the Pacific Ocean and the Panama City skyline is magnificent.
Rooftop bars may be all the rage right now, but they are not the only novelty in nightlife in the Historic Quarter. Pedro Mandinga, a recently opened venue, is dedicated not just to rum, but to the first Panamanian-made artisan rum. “Our rum is unique. In addition to being artisanal, it is the first rum to be made with organic, unrefined cane sugar brought directly to us from the Chiriquí highlands,” notes general manager Jacky Jaffe. The added treat of tasting the rum on site means that all the bar’s rum cocktails are prepared with ingredients that emphasize the flavor of the cane sugar.
The decor immediately transports guests back in time to a typical Caribbean bar of earlier days. Before dipping into the cocktail menu, ask to sample the two types of rum: Silver, with notes of banana, cotton candy, and caramel with a soft mouth feel; and Spiced, with predominant notes of orange, vanilla, and cinnamon, with a subtle and exotic spiciness that creates a naturally sweet flavor. Here’s a tip: take advantage of happy hour until 6 p.m., and if you are a true lover of rum and artisan processes, ask about free tours of the Pedro Mandinga distillery for the complete experience. And of course, there is a full dining menu to accompany the drinks.
La Séptima Central is a restaurant-bar that is pega’o (hot), as we say in Panama. One of the biggest attractions here is the eclectic decor, which is both wild and striking: tall tables and chairs, like in a tapas bar; a sort of hanging garden flowing over wood boxes that enclose lamps; various examples of graffiti on the rustic walls; and a huge floor-to-ceiling bar that stretches across the main wall.
This is the place for couples or groups of friends to savor a delicious meal accompanied by delectable drinks. The chef’s recommendations include a starter consisting of a typical dish from the Venezuelan coast: “Vuelve a la vida” (Corpse Reviver), a mixture of seafood (octopus, clams, shrimp, etc.) marinated for four days in vinegar, lemon juice, and tomato sauce, served in leche de tigre (seafood broth) with red fruits. And for a main dish, the catch of the day: today we have mahi-mahi served on a fennel puree with grilled vegetables. Pure bliss! Wash this down with one of the bar’s most popular cocktails: the Budú, a blend of vodka, triple sec, blue Curaçao, Red Bull, and passion fruit juice.
There is more to come. If you feel like shaking your booty, starting at midnight every Thursday through Saturday, the tables are pushed aside and the DJs put on good dance music, so you can party until four in the morning.
We would be remiss to talk about the nightlife of the Historic Quarter without mentioning the Teatro Amador. It may not exactly be new, but it is indeed a symbol of Panamanian nightlife. Aside from setting the standard in Panamanian electronic music, this is where the best local DJs learned their craft. This venue welcomes famous international artists and provides a versatile stage for concerts, plays, comedy shows, film screenings, circus acts, exhibits, and of course, some of the best parties in the country.