Adventures of an American in Casco Viejo

Mojitos Sin Mojitos justo en Plaza Herrera

This post is also available in: Spanish

By Andrew Callero

I start out the night at “Mojitos Sin Mojitos,” a cool little spot just off Plaza Herrera. If you’re lucky you can catch live music in the plaza, lending a European charm. Mojitos’ subdued lights shine on the ancient brick walls of its back patio.

Casco Antiguo's scene

An evening scene in “Casco Antiguo.

As I make my way to the bar, I notice a guy wearing a San Francisco Giants hat. Mistaking him for an American I strike up a conversation. He turns out to be a Colombian who had spent some time in the U.K., giving him a rather peculiar Anglo-Colombian accent. We start talking about what we are both doing in Panama, he’s an entrepreneur and I am seeking teaching and journalism jobs. He introduces me to his blonde girlfriend and we start drinking…a lot, from his personal bottle of rum. Later on we decide to go to another venue. So we walk down the road, as the Colombian continues to talk incessantly about his business ventures. His girlfriend tags along indifferently.

We end up at a place called “Relic” on Calle 9 near the entrance of Casco and the west end of Cinta Costera. We walk in past Luna’s Castle hostal, down the steps into a red brick cellar.

The scene is animated; people happy to be there, happy to be alive. There is a patio bar on the outside serving cold beer and cocktails. I grab a drink and take in the moment. I gaze up at the moss covered brick walls, the hostal to the left and to the right an apartment building that has been there for centuries.

Relic is the epitome of Casco Viejo’s combination of culture, style and hip urbanism.

Mojitos Sin Mojitos just off Plaza Herrera

Backlighting on the ancient wall in Mojitos Sin Mojitos. Careful, it’s tough to get a mojito in here.

Well-dressed expats and Panamanians converse enthusiastically with the music keeping a cool tone, low enough for people to talk yet loud enough for an upbeat mood.

I attempt to chat with two Panamanian women who get a kick out of my broken Spanish. After twenty minutes of that, my patience is spent and so is my cash.

So I walk outside just as I see that the Colombian I had met is getting kicked out of the bar for trying to sneak in a bottle of rum in his pants! I’m trying to enjoy my night in this fascinating new place and I’ve had enough of his company. I walk a couple of blocks searching for a little more fun. Once I realize most of the bars are closed, I walk to the edge of Casco Antiguo where the street meets the Cinta Costera.

I climb over the cement barrier and onto the rocks and peer across the water as the city skyline reflects along the calm ocean tide. I think I’m going to like this place, I say to myself.

-Night 2-

Its my 27th birthday, I’m in a new town and I must go out!

I’m eating alone at place called Tantalo located on the corner of Avenida B and Calle 8.

I’m low in cash so I order the cheapest meal on the menu, which happens to be fish and chips, Panamanian style, cooked thick and deep-fried.

After dinner I leave to find a “happening” bar but realize I cannot do better than the rooftop bar of Tantalo.

It is Southern California or Miami in style. The view is epic! Not only are you perched up against Cascos’s tile roofs but you have a picturesque view of the burgeoning Panama City skyline and the Cinta Costera round the bay.

I meet an American who had lived in Panama City before; we end up chatting with some Panamanian girls who study medicine; later on that night one of them tries to teach me to dance merengue, which goes surprisingly well. As the drinks continue to flow and my vision and speech becomes more impaired by the minute, the crowd continues to thicken. I had definitely found the right place celebrate my 27 birthday.

-Night 3-

After having a few Balboas at “Mojitos, Sin Mojitos” I escape the predominately American crowd and search for a more authentic Panamanian scene. It doesn’t take long to find. I turn into an alley that leads me to a place that had been transformed into a “funky reggae party” just like the Bob Marley song describes.

I quickly realize that I am the only white person there. The Rastas in African robes peer at me with cautious eyes and just as I’m beginning to feel awkward and uninvited, I notice a pretty, golden brown skinned girl looking my way. After a minute of hesitation, I go and sit down next to her.

Fortunately she speaks near fluent English. I gain her trust and seemingly that of the Rastas.

The girl and I go for a walk just up the alley to an art show at a bar called La Casona, just another hidden gem, in Casco’s endless array of entertainment offerings.

The art show featuring paintings from local artists was dimly lit just enough to see the creative and beautiful work. This was no uptight Manhattan crowd of pretentious elites arguing over the meaning of art that they did not understand. It was a low-key gathering open to anyone who had happened to stumble upon it, as we had. No special invitees or top dollar entrance fees, just a free art exhibition catering to curious minds.

These are some the things to expect when arriving in a place where spontaneity is the norm. A contradiction of sorts but check the place out for yourself and you will understand.

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2 Comments

  1. Karina Corrales said:

    Why don’t you write more about your experience in Panama.

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