By Emmanuel LaRoche, VP Marketing and Consumer Insights
Vacation is all about stepping away from your day-to-day life to gain a new perspective. This is what I did during eight days in Panama this year. I enjoyed my stay there so much a year ago that I wanted to explore it further. Casco Viejo (also called Casco Antiguo) is my favorite neighborhood in Panama City. This old district of Panama City has a taste of Cuba and it is a blunt contrast with the modern metropolis and skyscrapers from the other side of the bay.
It is the hip and trendy area of the city to be in as it has undergone a major facelift in recent years. Casco is a mix of restored Spanish colonial buildings that are now boutique hotels, apartments, rooftop bars, and restaurants. I even noticed a real evolution of the bar scene compared to my trip last year.
The majority of the nightlife in Panama City has now moved to the historic district and Casco Viejo is synonymous with entertainment and night-life. Following the recent gastronomy trend, the art of making cocktails is now at its prime and new menus and establishments offer superb experiences.
If you search online for bar recommendations in the Casco Viejo you can find more than 30 locations. There is a flavor for each palate. But what is most interesting is that some bars evolved from making cocktails to mixology and studied the infinite possibilities when creating a drink. They are now making their own distillates, infusions and syrups combining local fruits, botanicals and spices.
For my trip around the historical district I chose a route that included seven stops: Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar, Stranger Club, Donde Jose, Caliope, Blu, Ochoymedio and Numen Rooftop Gastro Lounge.
Pedro Mandinga Rum Bar
Avenida A. Entre Plaza Herrera Y Calle 8A, Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama
This bar was few yards from my Airbnb and was already part of my tasting last year. The name of this establishment comes from 100% artisanal Panamanian rum made from sugar cane. Pedro Mandinga rums are distilled in a small copper pot still. And their aged rum is matured in American white oak bourbon barrels. From honey syrup to coconut infused rum and spiced rum to beer and rum cocktails, the taste of these cocktails are unique due to the nature of their house rum.
Portal de Caldas: Pedro Mandinga Spiced Rum, Appleton V/X, grapefruit juice, spice syrup, and bitters
The Strangers Club
Calle B Avenida Central, Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama
Did you know that the bar Employees Only from Manhattan now has a sister bar in Casco Viejo? Open only a few months, the menu offers classic cocktails as well as six unique cocktails. The bartenders have created a kaffir lime infusion, lemongrass and cinnamon syrups and produce daily fresh juices: passion fruit and lime.
Angie: Gin shaken with fresh passion fruit, Lemongrass syrup and egg white
1100 Av Central, Panamá, Panama
Besides the fantastic tasting menu from Chef Jose Carles, Luis Chino behind the bar recommends one of their emblematic drinks based on an infusion of Seco Herrerano.
Chamadre: Fresh lemon juice, mint syrup, Seco infusion with spearmint and mint leaves, housemade hot sauce, powdered dehydrated lime and nasturtium flowers
Av Central, Panamá, Panama
The bar at Caliope offers a fusion of local and foreign flavors. The bartender asks you for your favorite flavor or which distillate you want to try and from there he will create your own cocktail.
El Mariachi: Watermelon, passion fruit juice, tequila, triple sec, lemon and paprika
Av. B 7-53, Casco Viejo, Panama
They are aware that customers today are looking for more crafted artisanal experiences. They strive to prepare their own components and do things that are out of the ordinary.
Blu 1996: Vodka infused with cardamom, green pepper and natural coloring, agave syrup and lemon Juice
Calle José de la Obaldía, entre la calle 8º y la 9º, Casco Viejo, Panama
The menu comes from the mixologist Carlos Maestracci and Chef Andres Madrigal. The juices, infusions, herbs (Mastranto, Hierbabuena) and honeys are produced daily in the garden bar.
Beliver: Bacardi 8, watermelon, hierbabuena leaves, sugar cane honey and passion fruit juice
Numen Rooftop Gastro Lounge at the Concordia Hotel
Avenida Central con Calle A y Calle B, Casco Vijo, Panama
The Concordia has one of the best-kept stories in the Casco Antiguo. A building that survived from a great fire in 1906 is now a newly renovated building full of magic and essence. The striking 360º view of Panama City’s skyline offers a priceless way to admire the city’s iconic landmarks. A place where one can enjoy a fusion of Japanese and Mediterranean Peruvian inspired cuisine.
I Am Groot: House recipe of Caribbean syrup, Plantation Gran Anejo Guatemala Rum, Grand Marnier cognac, lemon juice and grated coconut