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The Five-Point Weekend Escape Plan

Taste the Roots of Fusion Cuisine in Panama City

As Panama’s famous canal turns 100, its capital’s diverse foodie scene—from the bustling fish market to experimental restaurants—is experiencing a rebirth, placing the city at a culinary crossroads.

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1. Where to Stay

Unique work by local artists enlivens the rooms at Tántalo Hotel.  

Check into one of the newest members of the Ace Hotel family, the 50-room American Trade Hotel (from $249), which opened last December in the city’s rapidly gentrifying walled Colonial District, Casco Viejo. Constructed in 1917, this neoclassical building once housed a department store with luxe apartments, but much like the rest of the area, it was eventually abandoned and covered in graffiti, even becoming the headquarters of a notorious street gang by 2000. You’d never be able to tell now: Thanks to meticulous restoration by local agencies Conservatorio, Hache Uve, and the astute curatorial eye of Atelier Ace, the hotel’s minimalist and uncluttered design smartly blends Old and New World styles, from Mexican modernism to Austrian secessionism, while the masculine but airy guest rooms feature hardwood almendro flooring, leather accent pieces, and Aesop bath products. There’s plenty to explore outside your door and still within the hotel space, too: Chef Clara Icaza’s farm-to-table Dining Room, the intimate Danilo’s Jazz Club, a rooftop pool, and an onsite café roasting custom house blends.

Go green at the Tántalo Hotel (from $143, including breakfast), which opened in the shell of a derelict 1970s apartment building in Casco Viejo in 2012. Ecofriendliness crops up in ways both understated (insulation made from old newspapers and phone books, tables upcycled from used cable spools) and monumental: There’s a two-story living wall, made up of nearly 1,000 plants nourished by reclaimed rainwater, in the hotel atrium. Each of the 12 guest rooms was designed by a different local artist on themes ranging from Charles Bukowski to Panamanian pop culture; try the Dosel room, where Juan Antonio Tarte created a cubist re-imagining of the Barro Colorado Island rainforest with geometric paintings of the birds found there. Start your morning with a complimentary rooftop yoga class, and close out the day at the bar with a cocktail muddled with local tropical fruit, like citrusy lulo or tangy tree tomato.

Ensconce yourself in the intimate Las Clementinas (from $250), opened in 2010 in a reclaimed 1930s apartment block. Every detail in the space comes with a story: floors made with guayacan wood salvaged from the bottom of Lake Gatun, antique desks from the city’s old British embassy, and hand-painted tiles made by Colombian artisans. The six spacious suites are subdued and vaguely Colonial in decor, with pops of color from bright modern paintings and verdant potted trees. Relax in the back gardens, lush with exotic fruits, chiles, and herbs, then sample those very ingredients in dishes like sea bass ceviche with passion fruit and micro cilantro ($8.50) at the onsite restaurant. The hotel’s history is still on fine display on the wall, papered with a custom-made print incorporating old photographs, postcards, newspaper clippings, and retro advertisements from the owner’s family collection.

Published on Mar 27, 2014 as a web exclusive.

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