Café Coca Cola in Panama City, Panama


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Photo by ©Omar Upegui R.

Café Coca Cola is the oldest cafe in Panama City, Panama or so they say.  A Panama City icon, opened its doors  in 1875, making it the oldest café in the city. It is also the only café in the world to be named “Coca Cola,” a namesake endorsed by the Coca-Cola corporation.

Nobody knows for sure when Panama City’s Café Coca Cola acquired the nickname that has made it famous for most of the 20th century. The truth is that it was one of the first places in the world outside the United States where the famous beverage was sold and served.

In 1906, Panama, along with Cuba, became one of the first countries to operate Coca-Cola bottling plants outside of North America, just in time to refresh the thousands of laborers brought to build the Canal during those years. Therefore,  2006 marked the 100th anniversary of Coca-Cola on the Isthmus.

A neighborhood institution near Plaza Santa Ana, Café Coca Cola is an old-school diner, complete with chess-playing señores and no-nonsense waitresses. It’s also air-conditioned and chock full of TVs playing the latest Latin American football matches, which makes Café Coca Cola something of a hang-out spot for Casco Viejo’s working class.

The place is full of history. If you walk to the end of Avenida Central you will see the Café Coca-Cola; this is where Che Guevara stayed when he was passing through Panama on his way to Guatemala and later Mexico around late 1953 or early 1954. This is also where Noriega’s men beat up the opposition, after the opposition had won the elections of 1989.

This is where Guillermo, “Billy” Ford, the Panama Vice-presidential candidate, was beat up on the street during the Military Dictatorship. Those days are gone and Panama is a now safe place to visit. As you walk down Avenida Central notice the apartment balconies above the storefronts. Many of the families who live in these apartments came to Panama from Gujarat, India; the home province of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

They came to Panama with virtually empty pockets, but have since prospered, thanks to their money lending business called ferri. They charge exorbitant interest rates for giving petty loans to the lower and middle class Panamanians.  This practice continues even as we speak.

And now you know a bit more about Panama, the land kissed by two of the largest oceans of the world and home of the famous Panama Canal.

Good Day!

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16 thoughts on “Café Coca Cola in Panama City, Panama”

  1. What a neat place, and what a fun history. Here’s a question: is Coca-Cola still bottled there? If so, do you happen to know if they use sugar, rather than corn syrup? It’s generally agreed here that Mexican Cokes are better, because they use cane sugar. I’m not much of a Coke drinker, but I do think the ones from Mexico have a “purer” sweetness to them.

    1. Hi Linda:

      Yes Linda, Coca Cola is bottled in Panama. It is widely sold and accepted by the population.

      I’m sorry, but I don’t know if they use sugar or corn syrup. We don’t drink carbonated sodas because they adversely affect our reflux problem.

      McDonald’s is the main seller of Coca Cola in this country. It’s amazing how well this beverage is marketed in Panama.

      Regards,

      Omar.-

    1. Hi Ana:

      That is one of my goals for keeping a blog about Panama. The idea is to promote the knowledge of Panama to other people in far away countries like Ukraine. Small countries like Panama are almost invisible in the large map of the world.

      I’m glad you liked the blog post. 🙂

      Best Regards,

      Omar.-

  2. Good morning, Omar! Very interesting history in your country and it is certainly on our radar to visit one day. Wonderful job in your posting historical informative facts. Have a great Wednesday!

    1. Morning Barbara:

      One of the goals of the blog is to write about our country and about Panama City. Fifty years from now, many of the structures, streets, bridges, and so on will vanish in the name of progress.

      I have taken into myself the responsibility of taking pictures of Panama City as it looks now for future generations. Many buildings and other infrastructure will only be remembered in pictures because they will surely disappear with the passing of time. This will my legacy to my country when I have to go upstairs.

      Thank you for your kind comment.

      Bye,

      Omar.-

  3. well unless It has been seriously cleaned recently, do not ever use the bathroom of this place. In my entire life I had never seen sur horror……

  4. Well this only thing about that place ( unless of course it has been cleaned recently) is do not ever use the bathroom unless you want to see something seriously awful…

    Obviously when you see that it makes you winder about the kitchen…

    1. Hello Stephanie:

      Thank you for the information. I have neither eaten nor used their bathroom. I was only interested in the historic building when I took the shot. Its history goes back a long way as I mentioned in my post.

      Regards,

      Omar.-

  5. I visited the place for the reasons you mentioned, and your article is very well written… It was very “Panama”in the atmosphere and we had dinner food not bad before attempting using the bathroom… You just do not want to see the pictures I took because I think I had never seen that in 45 years… Now that I know Panama a little better I know that all extremes are possible here…

    1. Hi Stephanie:

      Yes, like in all big cities, you will find the good, the bad and the ugly. Panama has changed a lot, specially in the last three decades. It’s almost like a brand new country. Many times when I go out for a ride, I find myself in the weird situation of being a foreigner in my own country. There are many speedways I have never driven afraid of being runned over.

      Things are changing so fast in the metropolis that it is very difficult for us (my wife and myself) to keep up. Remember Alvin Toffler’s book, “Future Shock”? Well, this is pretty much what is going on in this neck of the woods even as we speak.

      Glad to have you here in Lingua Franca. I like your comments. Please come back again. Keep them coming. 🙂

      Cheers,

      Omar.-

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