TL; DR: The American Trade Hotel is located in the centre of Panama City’s Casco Viejo neighborhood, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the very aesthetically pleasing brainchild of the uber-hip hospitality group behind the Ace Hotel in New York and Conservatorio, a Panamanian real estate group working to restore Casco to its former glory.
• Central location in Casco Viejo neighborhood
• The gorgeous lobby and restaurant – Instagram-worthy corners errywhere.
• WELL-BRANDED EVERYTHING (down to coffee cups and amenities)
• The incredible balcony views out onto the Plaza Herrera.
• Local coffee roaster attached directly to hotel – easy morning caffeine fix
Here is a picture I took of myself for my social media, posing artfully with a glass of wine while staring off in the middle distance at ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. It was very well received.
Conservatorio purchased the building in 2007, when it basically a dilapidated shell; a far cry from its start as a luxury apartment building, replete with a bank and department store (hence the name “American Trade”. Various foreign companies were headquartered there; but those were in the building’s early, glory years. Those who have seen Casco evolve over the past few decades have a different memory of the building. One of my best friends lives mere minutes from Casco, and her parents told me that they remembers the days when people would hesitate before walking around the square where the American Trade Hotel sits. “There were drugs, robberies, all kinds of things,” he recalled. “Each floor would be controlled by a different gang. Bet they won’t tell you that in the official history of the hotel…” I don’t see why they would leave out this M.A.A.D City-esque part of its history, though, since it makes the American Trade’s renovation all the more impressive.
LOOK AT THIS BEAUTY! The tables and chairs were specially commissioned from design firm Commune for American Trade Hotel and handmade in Nicaragua.
• FIRST LOOK, aka IS THE LOBBY INSTAGRAMMABLE?
Fuck YES IT IS. Not going to lie – besides my best friend from university who I miss intensely since she moved back to Panama (and who lovingly housed me, fed me, translated for me, and welcomed me into her amazing family); THIS LOBBY was the second biggest reason I decided to take the plunge for Panama. And can you really blame me? The weavings, the tile floors, the tropical leaf-patterned banquettes; this is just good design. It screams YOU ARE NOW ON VACATION, bitch! Enjoy!
I expected the lobby atmosphere to be similar to Ace in NYC, full of freelancers and people wearing moccasins in a serious manner and sipping drip-coffee but both the lobby and the restaurant were fairly quiet during my stay.
• FOOD & DRINK : aka HOW ABOUT FRENCH FRIES AT 3AM?
This is where I feel the hotel really could do better. You’re the showpiece of a UNESCO-designated neighborhood. Your opening revitalised the neighborhood. Moreover, the restaurant is the highlight of the hotel itself: it takes up most of the ground floor space. And so on the gastronomical front, it would of course make sense to serve up those good ol’ Panamanian classics of, um, bacon cheeseburger and pasta carbonara….? The most Panamanian item on the menu was an appetiser of empanadas – very disappointing. Expand the menu (there were maybe ten items total), adjust the prices, utilise local ingredients and expand the menu to include Panamanian cuisine – and the restaurant probably wouldn’t stand empty 80% of the time, like it did when I was there.Thankfully, there are a ton of other dining options in the neighborhood. I did not test if I could order French fries at 3AM. I am guess that you could. For morning caffeination, there’s a particularly sleek branch of local roaster Cafe Unido also connected to the hotel.
Casco Viejo has become the center of Panama City’s nightlife in recent years, and there are a ton of beautifully designed bars and lounges within a stone’s throw of the American Trade (I went to the rooftop at Tantalo my first night, as well as Casa Jaguar) and those were happening – stuffed to the rafters with rowdy crowds. The American Trade does open late but it’s more suited for jazz and a glass of wine: probably because there is in fact a jazz bar connected to the hotel: Danilo’s Jazz Club.
ROOM SERVICE ON THE BALCONY, plus MORNING SUNSHINE = Bliss.
• THE ROOM: WHAT KIND OF FREE TOILETRIES CAN I SHAMELESSLY PURLOIN?
I got a sweet upgrade upon checking in; and was very lucky to have my room facing the main square, Plaza Herrera. I highly suggest requesting a plaza-facing room as soon as you book; because the difference in views from the rooms at the back of the hotel is dramatic. The room was fitted with faux-retro appliances: the alarm clock, the lights (which took me at least five minutes to figure out), etc. but the bed was a modern-day dream. Toiletries for you to steal: Aesop, baby. That shit is expensive! Clean sweep. Took everything. I know I spent a good few sentences above harping on the food options, but you can’t mess up breakfast. Got eggs and toast delivered to my room for a cool 18USD, and ate it on the balcony as the sun lit up the crumbling buildings of Casco. Felt like being in a movie.
HELLO, HOT DOG LEGS. The classic pool-side photo op Excuse the veins.
• HOTEL FACILITIES: SO…IS THERE A POOL?
Yes, there is a pool. Despite scorching temperatures during the summer (and well, high temperatures all year round) Panamanians don’t seem to prioritise pool time, and it shows. I think this is probably the only decent pool deck in the city, and it was miniscule. Do not book this hotel (or any one in Casco, rather) with the aim of spending all day pool-side. There is no pool-side dining (*RIDICULOUSLY FIRST-WORLD PROBLEM POUT*) and let’s be real, you cannot do laps in a pool the size of a postage stamp. You can take a picture where your legs look like hot dogs, though!
So the pool is meh and the gym is also so small as to simply not exist at all but who cares because this is a hotel FOR VACATIONERS and no one needs to go to the gym on their vacation. It’s always good to exercise the mind, though – and for that there is A LIBRARY! Yes, a library. Painted in soothing dark blue tones, with dark wooden tables and….not a huge selection of books. But you can take a picture of it for your social media (!) which is the important part. And there is this beautifully tiled deck where you can relax while you edit and post your picture on Instagram. What I love about this hotel is just how hushed it is – like all truly great hotels I’ve been to, it always feels like you’re the only one there. (But not in a creepy, The Shining way. Obviously.)
HOW TO BOOK
What, are you an idiot? You don’t know how to book a fucking hotel?*
The American Trade Hotel
* Just kidding. I would actually recommend booking on BOOKING.COM, which I am absolutely addicted to because many times you don’t have to pay until you get to the property and somehow that makes me feel like I’m not spending as much money when I’m planning my trips (???!!!??). Anyway, here’s my special link to book the AMERICAN TRADE HOTEL.