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Panama City's Casco Viejo Old Quarter is Newly Hip

A neighborhood on the rise, Casco Viejo is hitting its stride

Newer isn\’t necessarily better: Casco Viejo veteran restaurant
Ego y Narisco, in Panama City, serves excellent Peruvian ceviche on Plaza Bolívar.
A neighborhood on the rise, Casco Viejo (aka Casco Antiquo or just Casco) is hitting its stride as hip new restaurants and hotels move into colonial buildings with restored facades.

Panama City’s oldest district houses impressive 17th- and 18th-century buildings, such as the Presidential Palace and the San Jose Church (with famed golden altar). It’s an ideal canvas for revitalization. “I saw a rumble of creativity [in Casco Viejo],” says New York–based real-estate mogul Matthew Blesso, who transformed a run-down neighborhood building into the chic Tántalo Hotel, Kitchen, and Roofbar in 2011. Just across the street in an 1873 building is another example of pioneering entrepreneurship, the elegant Casa Sucre Boutique Hotel and Coffeehouse, opened by Rich and Alyce Sherman in 2009. Casco Viejo “has the history and culture of Panama that we greatly appreciate,” says Rich.

Casco is most certainly up-and-coming, and likely soon to arrive—if imminent openings are any indication. On the near horizon are the Frank Gehry–designed BioMuseo and the American Trade Hotel, created in collaboration with the team behind Ace Hotels, based in London and New York.

Appealingly, the transformation doesn’t seem to detract from the district’s rough-around-the-edges charm (at least, not yet). Spectacular street art and graffiti remain rampant and long-standing residents of this formerly dicey neighborhood have not been displaced. Casco isn’t a cleaned-up-for-tourists attraction—it’s part of a living city, and the revitalization is intended as much for Panamanians as it is for visitors.

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