Introducing the Tantalo Hotel:
A Panamanian-flavored mix of food, drinks, arts, and culture with a splash of boutique-hotel panache, at the artsy Tantalo, “The space is designed to be either peaceful and serene, or vibrant and frenetic, depending upon the time, use, and desire,” Rosenberg adds.
Tantalo strives to be everything for everybody — or, at least, everything for a young, hip, jetsetting crowd. On most counts it succeeds, establishing itself among the hottest spots in the hottest neighborhood in the city.
Casco Viejo, Then and Now:
After the original Panama City settlement was plundered and burned to the ground by renegade English pirate Henry Morgan in 1671, the city was moved across the bay to the more easily defended peninsula now called Casco Viejo. As the city limits expanded in the 1900s following the completion of the Panama Canal, however, many of Panama City’s wealthy elite left Casco Viejo, and the area fell into ruin.
Today Casco Viejo lies at the heart of the city’s rebirth and has a proliferation of trendy new bars, cafes, shops, and art galleries. Plazas are packed on weekend nights with tourists, locals, and expats wining and dining in the shadows of imposing 18th-century cathedrals.
The sense of a neighborhood in the midst of a complete transformation is indeed palpable. “Casco Viejo, unlike most of Panama City, is pedestrian friendly, and everything is within reach of our location,” says Rosenberg. “Our guests can easily take in the plazas, the historic architecture, and a multitude of restaurants within a short walk from the hotel.”
The Rooms at Tantalo:
Each of the 12 spacious guestrooms has been uniquely designed and decorated by different local artists, under the direction of visual artist and Tantalo art curator Mariery Young. Decorative room themes range from a photographic spotlight of well-known Casco Viejo personalities to the playful, sexually charged bondage seen in graphic artist Gladys Turner’s “Love. Ouch!” Art in the rooms is available for purchase.
Some units have a balcony. All are equipped with iPod docks, 42-inch flat-screen TVs, complimentary wi-fi (we had some difficulty getting a steady signal), rain showers, and stocked minibars. We slept well on the queen-sized mattress with soft, 300-count bedding, though during the afternoon music from the housing complex across the street was so loud it felt like it was coming from inside the room. Suites have a massive wraparound balcony and a living room area, and can be connected to adjoining rooms on request.
The Restaurant at Tantalo:
Located on the ground floor, and characterized by moody lighting and long, communal-style tables made from wood salvaged from the Panama Canal, it’s a cozy spot for tasting a variety of affordable dishes and kicking back a bottle or three of reasonably priced wines sourced from around the world.
We loved the “tasting table” approach of Tantalo Kitchen, and plates of fish & chips and mini-beef sliders served to the group seated next to us were tantalizing temptations to dig even deeper into the menu.
Highlights of our meal included hangar steak, which was served atop a bed of charred onions on a sizzling black skillet, as well as the lightly crisped golden sea bass cakes, made from locally caught corvina mixed with peppers, onions, and feta cheese and topped with caper mayo. The mac‘n four cheeses with shrimp was rich and super creamy, though its baby shrimp were somewhat lost in and overpowered by the cheese. Tia Michelle’s jumbo shrimp were big and juicy, but the secret sauce/rub was a little bland, and the mini-hamburger buns that accompanied the shrimp were superfluous.
The Bar at Tantalo:
Encima attracts a lively mix of artists, fashionistas, locals, and traveling hipsters who collectively transform the space from a quiet spot for sipping generous pours of wine during the week to a throbbing party place on the weekend.
On Friday and Saturday nights, expect a packed house, an eclectic mix of live entertainment, and a line at the first-floor elevator entrance that snakes through the lobby, restaurant, and perhaps right out the door.