Panama City is still a place where gay bars have to keep a low profile, but you don’t hear horror stories of police raids, gay bashings outside of clubs, and so on — not, at least, among the relatively affluent. It’s more a matter of people wanting to be cautious and discreet. Gay bars and clubs are either in remote locations or hidden in plain sight — it’s possible to walk right past one and not know anything’s there at all.
Like other clubs, they come and go quickly. A mega-club on the outskirts of Panama City, known variously over the years as Boy Bar, Box, Glam, etc., has closed down. That leaves BLG as the longest-established of the prominent gay clubs, though a newer one, Lips Club, has the busiest events calendar. The Internet is the best source for current information, though websites are underfunded, often out of date, and go bust constantly. Start with @GayPty. Facebook searches can often turn up current information (in Spanish), though usually written for those already familiar with the clubs and lacking in detail.
The three clubs listed here are the most prominent and popular spots that are most likely to still be around when you read this. They draw mostly a gay male clientele (the one lesbian bar closed many years ago), but lesbians and straight singles or couples are welcome. Lesbians seem particularly well-represented at Lips Club. Regardless of one’s sexual orientation, visitors will likely find the vibe at these places friendlier, more low-key, more inclusive, and less macho than at many of the city’s straight bars and clubs.
There are also so-called “camouflage” bars — ostensibly straight bars that draw closeted gays — and rough dives. Neither kind is included here, for reasons of privacy and safety.
BLG (Transítmica and Avenida Brasil, 265-1624, 10 p.m.–late Wed.–Sun., US$5 cover most nights), also known as Balagan’s, is the most upscale gay bar in Panama. It moved a couple of years back from the Calle Uruguay area to a spot that’s much less convenient for visitors, along the Transístmica near the Colpan Ford dealership. Even though it’s relatively new, it’s already had a renovation and a grand reopening in March 2012. Look for the “BLG” out front. The club draws men, women, and some straight couples. The music is mostly electronica. It has transformista (drag) shows, comedians, and other special events on some nights.
La Gota Fría/Lips Dance Club (Avenida Manuel Espinosa Batista near the intersection of Avenida Simón Bolívar/Transístmica and Avenida Ricardo J. Alfaro/Tumba Muerto, no phone, 10 p.m.–late Wed. and Fri.–Sun., US$5–10 cover) has the most organized club schedule. It has a stage and frequently hosts transformista (drag) shows and other events. Foam parties are a popular shtick these days, which fit nicely with the car-wash motif. It hosts special shows throughout Carnaval. The club manages the neat trick of being in one of the most visible spots in the city but staying well hidden. It’s on the 2nd floor of a building behind the Splash car wash, which is next to the large roundabout at the intersection of the Transístmica and Tumba Muerto. Everyone in the city knows this area, even if they don’t know the club.
Icon Club (Tumba Muerto and Avenida Juan Pablo II, cell 6230-0378, 9 p.m.–3 a.m. Thurs.–Sun.), formerly called Oxen, is the massive warehouse club of choice these days. Like its predecessors, it can be bloody hard to find the first time. To get there from Tumba Muerto, first look for Plaza Edison, the distinctive cone-shaped office building. The cross street is Avenida Juan Pablo II; turn west onto it. The club is in the commercial complex on the right side of the road. The club hosts especially elaborate transformista (drag) shows from time to time. These can be entertaining even (or especially) when they’re not particularly skilled.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Panama.