Design, Travel

An Ace in the Panama pack


[Ian Macready]
The second floor courtyard

Straight after the opening of the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch (London’s hipster neighbourhood and home to the VW+BS office natch), the next opening for this group was obviously set to be Panama City. Hmm…I bet you did not see that one coming. The new hotel is a joint venture between a Panamanian company Conservatorio (on a mission to restore some of the extraordinary buildings to be found in the Casco Viejo, the 350 year old historic quarter of Panama City) and Ace Atelier, the in-house creative team from Ace Hotels.  Working once again with Commune Design, the LA based studio behind the interiors of the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, the doors opened on this once derelict property and former home to drug gangs, last December. A few weeks later Viewport turned up to give it, the American Trade Hotel, the once over. And boy, did we love it.
As the manager pointed out immediately on arrival, we were amongst the first guests to stay there and not everything was yet up and running, no restaurant and worse still, there was some very patchy wi-fi reception. There are big plans for the future: a jazz club, a coffee bar, an organic restaurant,  and a banqueting hall next door in the Art Deco building.  But there were enough delicious cocktails (served with roasted honeyed walnuts… mmmmmm…) to see you through, a small pool on the third floor terrace, a library and courtyard on the second floor and some very good places to eat immediately in the neighbourhood. Most importantly the staff are fantastic. And many of them have come from the neighbourhood, through a scheme to transform the lives of abused women.
Design wise it’s a combination of vintage light switches, tiled floors, mid century Bertoia chairs mixed with bentwood rockers, coach hide loungers from Texas company Garza, and hardwood waxed floors in the bedrooms reclaimed from logs that were sunk in the Panama Canal. Although it is all new, the place has an eclectic homely feel, that feels less interior designed and more like an accumulation over time.  A very contemporary touch is the concrete staircase up to the first floor, lined with photographs of the creative graffiti that is all over the old town.
Close by and preferably after a few cocktails, you can stroll around the old town and shell out a fortune on a proper Panama Hat (actually they are from Ecuador but let’s not quibble) with the Montecristi symbol of authenticity. This might not be a bad investment, because there are apparently only a few dozen makers left with the skills to weave these beautiful soft hats and so they may become a thing of the past.  Still, at more than £1500 a pop, you’ll need to be going to a lot of fancy summer parties to make it worthwhile.

The facade of the restored century old building
The lovely tiled floor of the lobby
The second floor library
The third floor pool
The rather masculine bedrooms
The staircase from the lobby to the first floor
A random Panama Hat on a sofa
That all important sign of authenticity