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The Bristol Hotel — Panama City

Avenida Aquilino de la Guardia

Panama City's premier boutique hotel exudes a patrician sophistication that combines with its superb restaurant, hip bar, and an unbeatable location in the heart of the tony Marbella district to earn the laurels as the city's all–round finest hotel.

Bristol HotelA modern construction in quasi–neo–classical style, this gracious hotel evokes images of a clubby hotel in downtown Paris or London––a feeling enhanced by its close proximity to many of the city's leading restaurants, nightclubs, and stores. This stylish hotel is recessed from the street with just sufficient room for your taxi or car to alight beneath the small port cochere entrance, where bellboys are usually (although not always) on hand. Mahogany–and–glass doors open to a shining reception lobby with oriental rugs atop a gleaming marble floor. Orchid arrangements add notes of soothing calm, while tasteful contemporary art adds a further note of color. No reception counter here. Instead, the well–groomed receptionist and concierge welcome guests behind more personable mahogany desks.

A few short steps lead to the hotel's signature Sal Si Puedes restaurant, helmed by local celebrity chef Cuquita Arias de Calvo. where the deep–green and mahogany–paneled walls, gilded wall lamps, and period–themed prints really bring out the London–club theme. The wait staff are friendly without being too personal and during our visit service was prompt, attentive and courteous throughout. Plantain won tons, grouper in ginger, Bristol Hotel Diningand sea bass in tamarind sauce are some of the cookbook author/chef's specialties. Fresh local ingredients are used throughout, blended with exotic ones passing regularly through this nautical crossroads.

The adjacent bar has a more contemporary motif that formerly attracted the young and monied on weekends, but it has become more of a sedate hotel bar though since early 2013, when the newer and larger 8°58' Lounge opened on the fifth floor of the newer tower. It often has a performer at the grand piano, an array of international small plates, and colorful cocktails.

A glass–enclosed solarium is an airy venue for breakfasts. Room service is offered around the clock.

The hotel boasts a small air–conditioned gym with a modicum of modern equipment. The Bristol is a popular venue for executive meetings utilizing the Bristol Room, which can be broken into four smaller rooms. And a small business center provides the basics required, including Internet service &$40;for a charge). Laptop computers can be rented 24/7. There's no shop on site, but the shopping district is mere steps away. Valet parking is offered at a steep price; parking at the hotel is restricted to less than half a dozen slots.

Bristol Hotel RoomThe rooms here offer soothing sophistication, melding elegant Edwardian touches into a contemporary chic. Graciously combining blood reds and bottle greens and whites and golds, the overall effect is harmonious and inviting, enhanced by original works by Panama's leading contemporary artists. Fresh orchids await your arrival, as does a fruit plate. Half–canopied mahogany king beds with orthopedic mattresses are standard in most rooms (seven rooms have queens), and bathrobes and slippers are laid out with nightly turn–down service. Standard features include an overstuffed lounge chair, executive desk, an armoire, side tables and lamps, the to–be–expected minibar and safe, plus iPod docks and CD/DVD players. Gleaming with pink marble, the gracious bathrooms boast huge walk–in showers and separate tubs, heaps of towels and toiletries, plus hair–dryers. If you want a view of the city, opt for a corner room on the top floor or a suite in the new tower. The latter are really full condos put into a rental pool and are ideal for families or those staying more than a few nights.

With good reason, The Bristol is a member of the &Leading Hotels of the World.&

Web Address:
Total Number of Rooms: 56
Published rates: $349 to $670

Review by Christopher Baker, photos by Timothy Scott.

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