Panama Dining Room
Fair to say that the name Panama conjures up images of the South American country, but visit Panama Dining Room and there’s nothing to link it with the Republic of Panama.
The official meaning of the word Panama is “abundance of fish, trees and butterflies”. This also has nothing to do with Melbourne’s Panama Dining Room, as far as I can tell.
Therefore I must declare that the origins of the name are a mystery to me, making this introduction pretty much pointless.
What I do know is that Panama Dining Room is one of Melbourne’s most enduring bars and restaurants. Everyone has at least heard of it and Panama is a Melbourne icon.
A Humble (Not So Humble) Abode
A converted warehouse at the top of an arduous stairwell, I’d describe Panama Dining Room as a lavish, loft style apartment. It is spacious, grand and atmospheric. I always feel a sense of anticipation when I enter off grungy Smith St and begin climbing those concrete stairs.
The feeling I get when my foot hits the top step is mapped in my memory. It’s the vestibule, with its flamboyant arrangement of faux flowers, glitz and gold, and the softness of the wallpaper against the luscious timber details. You arrive with an “Ahhh” and it feels much like you’re a guest at someone’s extravagant penthouse.
A generous open-plan divides the dining room to the right and the lounge bar on the left. Eclectic styling and vintage details make Panama Dining Room warm and inviting.
Huge arched windows provide an abundance of natural light, as well as dramatic views of Fitzroy, Collingwood and the Melbourne CBD. Retro lamps, faux foliage and crystal glass displays create a sense of being in someone’s lounge room. And the clever mix of textures – timber, tiles, leather, washed white, exposed brick – and blend of old and new, make Panama such an edgy, interesting and enjoyable space.
I wouldn’t put Panama Dining Room in Melbourne’s elite cocktail bar category, but the bar offers a good, honest two-page menu of house cocktails, as well as classics and apertifs.
This time, I tried the Pink Light District and Kaffir Lime Fizz. I love their descriptions.
Pink Light District
“Blitzed raspberries stirred down with lemons, blossom water and vodka over crushed ice and finished with a crown of sparkling wine and mint.”
I found this cocktail just a little bit tart. It could be sweetened up to suit my taste, but it was still a yummy, refreshing drink and I’d order it again, I’d just suggest prosecco instead of sparkling wine for balance.
Kaffir Lime Fizz
“A refreshing dip into a tropical lagoon with gin, aromatic kaffir lime leaf, lemon, sugar & a splash of soda. Served up tall and super refreshing.”
This drink just kept getting better as the kaffir lime leaf infused through the drink. It would be sensational made with house infused gin or if the kaffir lime leaf was bruised a bit first to activate those flavours. Fizzy and refreshing, I could imagine this drink paired with Thai for dinner – yum!
Level 3/231 Smith Street, Fitzroy
Open 7 days, from 5 p.m. til late
“The way to drink a cocktail is quickly, while it’s still laughing at you.”
– Harry Craddock