Nightlife in El Cangrejo centers around the big hotels and casinos  and a handful of venerable old restaurants. When I was in high school, this was one of my favorite places for a night out, and I still go back for the occasional meal or drink.
But though it’s still popular with some Panamanians and resident expats, today many of its nightspots strike me as overrated and/or overpriced. For instance, I’ve never understood the appeal of Caffé Pomodoro and Wine Bar, both of which are on the ground floor of the building that houses the Las Vegas Hotel Suites, but they’ve been popular for years so you may want to judge for yourself. More recently, the Vía Veneto hotel strip has become notorious as a place for prostitutes to meet customers.
One place I do like in the area is the Istmo Brew Pub (Avenida Eusebio A. Morales, tel. 265-5077, noon–late daily in the dry season). It’s an open-air venue, right across the street from Wine Bar and Las Vegas Hotel Suites, with a friendly atmosphere, a pool table, and a big-screen TV showing whatever game happens to be on.
This is the only place in Panama I know of that makes its own beer. It only makes three kinds, and on any given day only one may be in stock. The beer definitely tastes homemade rather than “artisanal,” and at nearly $5 a pint is steep for Panama, where a local bottle is easy to find for a tenth of that price. Still, the home brew is light and refreshing and this is a comfortable spot to hang out and people watch.
The only real misstep at this place is the disdain for Panama’s own perfectly respectable German-style lagers. They serve no domestic beers, only “imported” beers along the lines of Amstel Light, Corona, and Budweiser. As these cost nearly $4 a bottle, the pints are a far better value. There’s a daily happy hour until 8 P.M. The pub also serves bar food.
Some predict Vía Argentina may become more of a nightlife destination as high-rise construction puts the squeeze on the area. For now, though, it remains primarily what it’s been for decades: a place to have a quiet meal, coffee, or late-night snack. The bar and club options thus far will appeal mainly to those who think karaoke or a bar band doing Journey covers makes for a fine night out.