You don't have to experience 5 days of Carnaval to know that Panamanians are party-loving people. When the sun goes down, Panama City lights up with a vibrant scene that caters to all ages, interests, and levels of stamina. Nightspots are concentrated in four neighborhoods: Bella Vista (also called Calle Uruguay), the Amador Causeway, Marbella (Calle 53 Este), and Casco Viejo, but underground dance clubs pop up across town like mushrooms, and can be best found by asking your concierge or checking out the Weekend supplement in Thursday's La Prensa newspaper. La Prensa has a daily section called Vivir + which lists nightly events, but in Spanish only. Also try the Calendar at www.thepanamanews.com.
Visitors should be aware that Panamanians are more open-minded about sex than Americans. Prostitution is legal in Panama, and therefore it is common to see prostitutes not just on seedier streets and in brothels but in the nicer parts of town such as El Cangrejo. They're also often at hotel-lobby bars, or employed by one of the many "anything-goes" massage parlors across town. Government authorities demand a weekly health check for all prostitutes, among other regulations, but cases of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are swiftly multiplying in Panama.
Theater, Ballet & Classical Music
Theater tickets can be purchased by calling the theater directly, or you can buy tickets at Blockbuster locations and at the bookstore El Hombre de la Mancha or Exedra Books. All theater productions are in Spanish, with the exception of the Ancón Theater Guild (tel. 212-0060; www.tga-panama.com; admission donation around $10/£5). The well-respected guild has been around for more than a half-century, first opening its doors in Colón to provide entertainment to U.S. troops during World War II. The guild normally produces contemporary dramas and comedy with a mix of native English speakers and Panamanian actors trained in English-language schools.
Classical music productions, plays, and ballet take place at Panama City's turn-of-the-20th-century National Theater, on Avenida B in Casco Viejo, but shows are infrequent. The best Spanish-language theater productions can be found at Teatro la Quadra, on Calle D in El Cangrejo (tel. 214-3695; www.teatroquadra.com; tickets average $10/£5). This cultural center was founded to promote and develop the art of theater in Panama, and they receive acclaim for their nightly performances of well-known plays and children's theater. Teatro ABA at Avenida Simon Bolívar (Transístmica), near Avenida de los Periodistas in front of the Riba Smith supermarket (tel. 260-6316; tickets cost an average of $5/£2.50), produces half its own shows and rents out its 200-person theater to independent groups; productions are mostly comedy, drama, and well-established plays. Check www.prensa.com for theater listings here. Teatro en Círculo, on Avenida 6C Norte at Vía Brasil (tel. 261-5375), is an esteemed playhouse with original Panamanian productions and classic international productions. The historic Teatro Anita Villalaz (tel. 211-4020; tickets average $10/£5), on Plaza Francia in Casco Viejo, is administered by the National Cultural Institute (INAC); the intimate theater is home to folkloric productions, concerts, and plays, some of which are produced by the University of Panama students.
The Club & Music Scene
The nightclubs listed below open at 10pm but don't really get going until midnight or later; during the first hours of operation, however, nightclubs typically offer drink specials. Ladies' night specials are a bargain for women, giving them free drinks and entry. Otherwise, expect to pay between $7 and $10 (£3.50-£5) for a cover charge, more if there is live music. Nightclub partiers tend to dress smartly for the occasion, so don your slinkiest or sharpest outfit or risk being refused entry (or just feeling out of place). For folkloric presentations in a less-trendy environment, try Las Tinajas or Al Tambor a la Alegría. Large stadium bands play at the Figali Convention Center, on the Amador Causeway (tel. 314-1414), or at the Atlapa Convention Center, on the east side of town (tel. 226-7000). For schedules, call or check La Prensa's weekend supplement.
Differentiating between a bar and a nightclub can be difficult these days in Panama City because so many bars have live DJ music, occasional live music, and maybe even a small dance floor and chill-out lounge. Popular hotel bars include the Decapolis , the Peach Monkeys Lounge at the Sheraton Panama, and the Veneto Hotel's lobby bar. Happy hours are the norm here. Office workers spill into bars after work for their 5 to 7pm happy hours; the best deals, however, are at bars that cater to late-night revelers: To reel people in before the late crowd, these bars offer happy hours from 10pm to midnight, and even free drinks (usually for women).
The Amador Causeway is an up-and-coming nightlife spot, with new bars and restaurants opening monthly. As a nightspot, the area tends to draw groups of friends, and an upscale, older crowd. The Wine Bar has the same offerings as their El Cangrejo location, but with a better view (located at the Brisas del Amador area). At the end of the Causeway, within the Flamenco Shopping Plaza, are a handful of bars, dance spots, and live-music venues such as Traffic Island, with Latin music and cocktails, and a windswept veranda with city views; or try Bar Baviera, the Ancla Sport Bar, or Karnak. These nightspots are all next to each other in an American-style minimall -- you could head here and stroll around until you find something to your liking. Closer to the city and the Figali Convention Center is Las Pencas, with live music on weekends and folkloric presentations every Wednesday at 8pm. Bennigan's Irish Grill at the end of the Amador Causeway is also a well-known nighttime hotspot with Panamanian's and foreigners alike.
The Gay & Lesbian Scene
Panama is a mostly Catholic country and although the gay and lesbian scene here is not underground, it is discreet. There are a couple of clubs in the city that operate without much fanfare, and attacks, raids, harassment, and so on are thankfully not very common. For a calendar of gay and lesbian events, check out www.farraurbana.com. There are few, if any, venues or events directed at the lesbian-only scene, yet lesbians are welcome at gay venues. Clubs are open at 10pm Wednesday through Sunday; weeknight cover charges are around $3 to $5 (£1.50-£2.50), $8 to $10 (£4-£5) on weekends. Early arrivals can take advantage of happy-hour drink specials.
The most established gay clubs are BLG, at Calle 49 and Calle Uruguay (tel. 265-1624), with dancing to top DJ music Thursday to Saturday, and other special events like Gay Pride Nights on weekdays; Lips (no phone) at Avenida Manuel Espinoza Batista, next to Café Duran, has nightly drag shows on weeknights and dancing on Fridays and Saturdays. The largest gay dance club is called Glam: The Club (tel. 265-1624), which features nightly drag shows, fashion shows, and more, followed by late-night dancing until dawn (the best nights are Fri and Sat). To get here, you need a taxi; the club is at Tumba Muerto (in the Urb. Industrial La Esperanza neighborhood) on Vía Ricardo J. Alfaro. Punta G, at Calle D in El Cangrejo (next to Ginza Teppanyaki; tel. 265-1624), has barmen in spandex, DJ music, and a dance floor.
Gambling is legal in Panama, and virtually every major hotel in the city has an adjoining casino. You'll find slot machines, video poker, gaming tables, sports betting, and special shows and parties. The hottest casino at the moment is at the Veneto Hotel & Casino. The Veneto has a sophisticated gaming area and often hosts over-the-top parties such as E! Entertainment's Wild On. There is a sushi bar here, too. El Panama Hotel has one of the newer centrally located casinos, which offers cheap drink specials for women. The Sheraton Hotel and Convention Center hotel has a large, elegant casino, but its out-of-the-way location means it's really only visited by guests. The bar here, though, is popular with young Panamanians.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.