Judging by its name, the American Trade Hotel may sound like an humdrum establishment closely related to an American diner or an International House of Pancakes, but it’s not. In fact, it’s cut from the same cloth as the trendy Ace Hotel, with locations in New York, Los Angeles and London. Situated in Panama City’s Casco Viejo, or Old Quarter, the American Trade Hotel epitomizes the historic and trendy district by having both a vintage charm and vibrant hum. It also sits within walking distance of numerous restaurants and cultural hotspots, making it the ideal starting point when exploring Panama’s capital city.
The hotel takes its name from its history. In 1917, the building was constructed to house luxury apartments, a bank and a department store. It was later passed on to several American and foreign trading companies, who used it as their headquarters. In 2007, Ace Hotels and Conservatorio, a real estate company dedicated to preserving the history of the area, renovated the building and were able to keep its structure intact. Today guests can walk inside, through grandiose halls and under high ceilings, and see that the revitalized hotel stills retains an old-fashioned charm.
If You Go
Drink: A short walk east of the hotel is DiVino Enoteca. Here they host wine tastings that allow visitors to sample from an assortment of international cabernets, pinot noirs, chardonnays and more. In addition, visitors can at snack on tapas-style foods, like cheese, spreads or meatballs, and listen to live music.
Eat: Having matured into a cultural melting pot, Casco Viejo has a wide variety of Panamanian and international dining options. Las Clementinas is a quaint spot where they use fresh ingredients from their garden to riff on Panamanian mainstays like crispy-skin red snapper with a barley shrimp risotto, and a trio of stuffed fritters.
Do: Casco Viejo is a historic district, so museums are a must. Consider the History Museum of Panama and the Panama Canal Museum. And for those that long for the outdoors, a day trip to Lake Gatun or a hike to the summit of Cerro Ancon are within reach.
The hotel and its rooms are painted white, sky blue, lemon chiffon yellow and decorated in polished wood, a reflection of the country’s tropical lifestyle that also keeps with the modern standards that have become synonymous with Ace Hotels. In total, there are 50 rooms, ranging from their cuarto chico (one king bed) rooms to a lavish two-roomed suite. Every room is outfitted with locally made reclaimed wood furnishings, 32-inch plasma TVs, high ceilings, rain showers, Aesop bath products and (in most cases) balcony views looking out on Plaza Herrera or the greater Casco Viejo area.
Like other Ace properties, American Trade is as much a social gathering place as it is a boutique hotel. There’s Cafe Unido, a craft roaster bakery where the Chemexes brew Panamanian cultivars; at The Dining Room, chef Clara Icaza cooks a meat- and fish-focused menu inspired by her Latin American roots and northern California experience; in the Lobby Cafe and Bar, you can snack on empanadas and drink mojitos made with seasonal fruit; and Grammy-winning Panamanian musician Danilo Perez holds court at Danilo’s Jazz Club. The American Trade also has a rooftop pool, courtyard and lounge areas to just kick back and relax.
But the real magic of the American Trade Hotel is its location. Panama City’s old quarter was first settled by the Spanish in the early 16th century. It was then nearly destroyed by pirates at the end of the 17th century. Today the city still looks out over the Pacific, but its stone walls don’t guard against invaders. Instead, they protect a World Heritage Site — which UNESCO declared in 1997 — that’s on the cutting edge of Panama’s culinary, music and art scenes. So while the Ace might tempt you with its cool clientele, strong coffee and reliably good food, don’t forget to get out and explore the city.