Panama City is Central America’s most cosmopolitan city by far, and its nightlife does not disappoint. Here is Inside Panama’s guide to the best bars, lounges, pubs and live music venues in the capital city:
Tantalo: This small boutique hotel launched Panama City’s first rooftop lounge nearly two years ago, and it remains one of the most popular bars in Casco Viejo (the old town). On the ground floor, there is an excellent restaurant serving tapas-style meals, so you can grab dinner before heading up to the rooftop to take in views of the cathedral, the old town and the Panama City skyline. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, the crowd is quite young and “ye-ye” (as the affluent locals are known) and the music can be quite loud. No cover charge before 9:00pm (after which, a $10 charge applies), but drink prices are on the high side. Valet parking is available.
Barlovento: Also located in Casco Viejo, Barlovento’s rooftop lounge has a more tropical feel and is a little more relaxed than Tantalo. There is a $10 cover charge on weekends. Check out their Facebook page for information on the theme nights they frequently promote.
Calle Uruguay: This is Panama City’s original “entertainment district”, home to multiple bars, lounges and discotheques that attract the 18-30-year-old crowd on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. The clubs fade in and out of popularity, but the most prestigious options are Privé (beautifully decorated lounge with electronic music); Pure (large outdoor terrace with DJ) and Alta Bar (two-story discotheque with outdoor lounge areas). Cover charge is generally $10, although you can usually get in for free prior to 10:00pm. There are many smaller bars in the Calle Uruguay district which change names frequently, but there is usually no cover charge and drinks are much cheaper.
Isabella: In the mood to dance and lounge with the beautiful people of Panama? Isabella is still the most prestigious club in town, featuring elegant decor and multiple lounge and dance environments, both inside and on the large terraces. Don’t be fooled by its location within the popular Multiplaza shopping mall in Punta Pacifica: there is almost always a cover charge ($10-50, depending on the night and the event), and drink prices are the highest in town. Open Thursday-Saturday from 10:00pm to 6:00am.
Li-Bar: Looking for Latin music and a slightly older crowd (30+)? Li-Bar is the place to meet friendly locals and expats from predominantly South American countries (Colombians and Venezuelans predominate). There are plenty of lounge areas, in case you aren’t much of a dancer, and the food and service are consistently good. The place can be a little hard to find, but tell your taxi driver that it is located on Calle 76, directly behind the Sheraton Hotel in San Francisco.
CLASSY PLACES FOR COCKTAILS
Manrey: This boutique hotel in the Calle Uruguay district has a large bar on its lobby level with friendly, bilingual bartenders and great drinks. After a few drinks, head to the hotel’s “Ten Bistro” fine dining restaurant for great fusion cuisine. The hotel’s rooftop also has bar service at night, so you can take in the stunning city views as you relax on lounge chairs by the pool.
Trump Ocean Club: The Trump hotel boasts an elegant lounge and bar, Cava 15, located on the 15th floor of the Trump complex (select level “SL” in the elevator), with views of the Punta Pacifica neighborhood. The caipirinhas and mojitos are among the best in town here, but expect to pay $14-16 per drink. Cava 15 boasts an extensive wine list, but most are sold by the bottle only. On the ground floor of the Trump building, there is a unique wine bar called Vinarius, where you can purchase wines by the glass. The waiters will provide you with a plastic card, which you use to sample wines from automatic dispensers (with options for small tastes, 6-oz or 9-oz pours) located around the perimeter of the establishment. At the end of your evening, your card will be read to determine the value of your total wine consumption.
Salsipuedes: The small bar at the Bristol Hotel in the city’s financial district is a classy, cozy place to grab a drink. Their selection of wines by the glass is excellent and the bar menu is one of the nicest in town, with dishes prepared by chefs from the adjoining Salsipuedes restaurant, one of Panama City’s best fine dining establishments.
Habana Panama: This beautifully restored dance hall at the entrance to the Casco Viejo old town is an amazing venue for live Latin music (Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays) and the occasional rock band for special performances during the week. Entrance fees are reasonable (usually $10) and the setting is spectacular, especially if you reserve one of the red leather booths alongside the dance floor. If you are not an experienced dancer, they have professional dancers on staff who will show you the moves. The atmosphere is probably the most authentic in town, and the bands are consistently good (many hailing from Central American and Caribbean countries).
Hard Rock Megapolis: The “Stage” bar located on the Mezzanine level of the Hard Rock Megapolis Hotel features live local bands playing classic rock and more recent tunes, seven nights a week. The bar is usually packed with hotel guests (primarily South Americans), generally in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. There is no cover charge.
Cafe Chic: This small restaurant at the end of Calle Uruguay has free live jazz on Wednesday nights at 8:00pm. Reservations are highly recommended, as the seating capacity is very limited. The menu features predominantly French cuisine at accessible prices. Both the food and service are excellent.
Live shows: The best source of information on live music shows in Panama is The Visitor/El Visitante, a free weekly paper that is published each Wednesday and distributed in various tourist-friendly establishments around town. (The best place to find it regularly is at any of the Riba Smith supermarkets.) The editors do a great job staying on top of Panama’s growing cultural scene in the “Coming Events” section of the paper. This is the best way to find out about major concerts that are coming to town, as well as festivals, plays and art exhibitions.
PUBS AND SPORTS BARS
La Rana Dorada: Panama’s first micro-brew pub has two convenient locations: one at the entrance to Casco Viejo (next to Habana Panama dance hall) and one in the popular El Cangrejo district, just off of Via Argentina near the “Cabeza de Einstein” monument. They currently offer four custom beers — Pale Ale, Premium Pils, Belgian White and Porter — as well as a good selection of wines and mixed drinks. Prices are reasonable, and the atmosphere is relaxed.
The Londoner: This unpretentious British pub is located on Calle Uruguay, at the entrance to the city’s entertainment district, and is one of the few places where you will find both Guiness and Strongbow cider on the menu. The atmosphere is very casual, with multiple pool tables, a dart board and televisions showing predominantly European football (soccer) matches. Open from 5:00pm onward, every day except Sunday.
Steinbock: This German-owned pub is a little far from downtown (on Via Cincuentenario, just before the ruins of Panama El Viejo), but well worth the trip. The food is highly authentic and there are multiple European brands of beer and wine available.
El Sitio del Casco: This charming little gastro-pub on Avenida A (between Calle 4 and 5) in the Casco Viejo historic district is one of the best places to watch live sporting events. The Panamanian owner is a big NFL fan, so American football games will always be shown in season. The servers are friendly, and the typical pub fare (burgers, nachos, ribs, etc.) is excellent.
A FEW NOTES ON NIGHTLIFE CULTURE IN PANAMA
Dress Code: When in doubt, err on the side of overdressed. Panamanians will always dress more formally than North Americans and Europeans, and most trendy establishments enforce strict dress codes. If you are wearing shorts, flip flops, sports sandals or sneakers, you will likely not be able to enter most places listed above (with the exception of those described as having a casual/relaxed atmosphere).
Terminology: You may have noticed that the term “night club” has not been mentioned in this article. While a night club in North America describes a bar with a dance floor, in Panama it is used to describe a “gentleman’s club” (strip club). If you are asking locals for recommendations for a dance club, best to use the word discoteca. The term bar generally refers to pubs and lounges, most of which will not have dance floors.
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