Bella Vista and Marbella
Most of the popular clubs and bars in this area are on or near Calle Uruguay, Panama City’s major nightlife destination. Places fold and new ones pop up at lightning speed, so it’s impossible to say what will be there when you visit. The best bet is just to stroll around late on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday night and follow the crowds.
Monster venues that were closed down when I was last there, but will most likely have a new incarnation by the time you visit, are located across the street from Crepes & Waffles (Avenida 5B between Calle Uruguay and Calle Aquilino de la Guardia) and—sad but true—next to the Panama City Hooters (Calle 49 and Calle Uruguay).
How much longer this dynamic nightlife zone will stay intact is uncertain. This area is seeing more skyscraper construction than any other part of central Panama City.
Note: Street names are confusing around here. Calle Uruguay is also sometimes known as Calle 48 Este, and the cross streets have all kinds of names. Fortunately, “Calle Uruguay” is winning the battle. The cross streets are often called simply Calle 45, 46, 47, and so on, even though they are officially low-numbered avenues. In any case, the area is too small to get lost for long.
A few other nightlife mainstays are a short cab ride from Calle Uruguay, primarily on Calle 53 in Marbella.
S6is (Calle Uruguay between Avenida 4A and 5A, tel. 264-5237, Tues.–Sun. nights until late), pronounced seis (the number six), is a DJ bar/cocktail lounge in an old house that projects the air of a party in a pleasant, minimalist apartment. It attracts a midtwenty-something and older crowd.
Sahara (Calle Uruguay and Calle 48, tel. 214-8284, 9 P.M.–late Tues.–Sat.) has been around for a few years. It’s popular with gringos who like reggae and classic rock, and probably should be avoided by those who don’t. However, it has outdoor seating in front, which can be appealing. The club next to it changes identities constantly but tends to attract a somewhat hipper crowd. Across the street is Moods (tel. 263-4925, Wed.–Sat. nights), which attracts significantly fewer gringos.
Uruguay, at the north end of Calle Uruguay, and The Loft, at the south end, were popular when I was last in the area.
TGI Friday’s (Avenida 4A Sur near Calle Aquilino de la Guardia/49 Este, tel. 269-4199), ghastly though it may be, is mentioned here just because it’s a perennially popular destination for young singles on the prowl or just hanging with their friends. There’s another one attached to the Country Inns and Suites on the Calzada de Amador (Amador Causeway).
As a Panama kid who now lives in London, there was no way I’d skip a Panama pub called The Londoner (Calle Uruguay between Avenida 5A Sur and Avenida 5B Sur, tel. 214-4883, 5 p.m.–late daily). I found it’s actually owned by a South African, it doesn’t have beer on tap, and the Panamanian bartenders were puzzled by the concept of a gin and tonic, in any language. On the other hand, they were gracious and eager to learn—noticing my dismay at their ice-filled concoction, they actually tossed it and started from scratch, asking me for pointers. That’s service you rarely find in Panama. Bottled imports include Guinness, Newcastle Brown Ale, and Strongbow cider.
The Londoner is a homey place with a pool table and, a less gringo-heavy crowd than other expat magnets: It’s a good place to encounter Brits and Commonwealth types. It’s where I’d head to watch a football (that is, soccer) game on a big screen rather than resort to a sports bar. The English pub grub (US$5–11.50) includes shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, and fish and chips. But US$11.50 for fish and chips? I thought only London itself had the audacity to charge that.
Club Velvet (Plaza New York, Calle 53 Este at Calle 50, tel. 265-3284, schedule varies) is another club that morphs constantly. But whatever it’s called, for several years now the venue has tended to attract the best electronic music in the city (granted, there’s not much competition) and occasionally hosts international DJs and music festivals. Because of that, it’s worth venturing over to the venue, which is in a large shopping plaza. The main promoter for the space is an outfit called Level Club: http://levelclub.blogspot.com/.
© William Friar from Moon Panama, 3rd Edition