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.
A 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 a gleaming marble floor. The look has evolved over the years and is now a mix of traditional furniture with contemporary art that adds a further note of color. Expansion into a second building has opened up the lobby and allowed a real reception desk that can handle more than two guests at a time.
A few short steps lead to the hotel's signature Salsipuedes restaurant, 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 service is generally prompt, attentive and courteous throughout.
This remains one of the best restaurants in the business district and the outdoor seating is popular on cooler nights. Fresh local ingredients are used throughout, blended with exotic ones passing regularly through this nautical crossroads.
The adjacent bar gets crowded when there are more than 20 people inside it, but it's an inviting space with high ceilings and a natural light coming through the ample windows facing the street. There is a newer and larger 8°58' Lounge on the fifth floor of the newer tower, but it is only open when occupancy is high or there's a special event going on. When it's active there may be a performer at the grand piano, an array of international small plates, and colorful cocktails.
Breakfasts are served buffet style, with the food laid out in an adjoining space. You can expect a wide array of local and international goodies and strong coffee. Room service is offered around the clock.
The hotel boasts an expanded gym in the newer wing with a range of modern equipment. While the newer wing got everyone excited with its promise of a swimming pool, when guests ended up with is an architectural oddity that's rather unsatisfying. It's a lap pool up a few steps from the deck area that can only host eight at most, shaded from the sun half the day. The full spa on the 25th floor got the square footage instead, apparently, with a variety of treatment rooms plus sauna and steam rooms. There are no other amenities on site apart from meeting facilities.
The rooms here offer soothing sophistication, melding elegant Edwardian touches into a contemporary chic. They have gotten lighter and whiter over the years, with the original wing taking on the color scheme of the new add-on. So the main differences are in the size and layout, all mixing contemporary and traditional in a soothing whole. Even the smallest rooms are more than 400 square feet and have ample funiture, while the top executive suites are more than 1,000 square feet, like a spacious city apartment. These are really full condos put into a rental pool and are ideal for families or those staying more than a few nights.
Bathrobes and slippers are laid out with nightly turn–down service. Standard features include an executive desk with complimentary WiFi, an armoire, side tables and lamps, the to–be–expected minibar and safe, plus large TVs with English channels. 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.
While there are other luxury hotels in Panama City with a wider range of amenities, the Bristol is a favorite with returning business travelers and tourists for its prime location, gracious service, and some of the best rooms in the city.
Web Address: www.thebristol.com
Total Number of Rooms: 56
Published rates: $199 to $859
Review and photos by Timothy Scott