Local hospitality operators opened some fairly singular venues over the past 12 months. Surf-rock-themed tapas bars. A late-night video-game hangout for grown-ups. Multipurpose “nuovo Italo-Australian” spaces. Then along comes Paul Aron, Michael Forde and Brett Robinson – the partners behind inner-city all-rounder Tiny’s – right on the stroke of 2019 to introduce Perth to the pleasures of neotropical drinking and dining.

Opened late December at the former Cyril Mason’s site on William Street, Panama Social is a loud, freewheeling ode to the countries and culture of the Neotropics, a region that includes south and central America and the Caribbean. For general manager Robinson, a big part of the brief was creating somewhere people could getaway to.

“We wanted something that felt like a bar, where you could come and escape but still be in the middle of bustling Northbridge,” says Robinson. “We wanted something that had its own identity that transported you somewhere without having to travel.”

The 120-person space harbours few memories from its past life as an inner-city microbrewery. Bright colours have replaced Cyril Mason’s mostly-black palette, and timber flooring and indoor plants keep the mood relaxed. Colourful artwork from Luke O’Donohoe chimes with the summery, tropical brief, as do the names of the three private booths: Maradona’s Den, Frida’s Blue Room and The House of Ricky Martin.

“We wanted to create a food and booze experience as if you’re travelling through that region,” says Robinson.

While venue manager Tom Kearney and his crew work with rum, tequila, pisco and many a house-made ingredient, easygoing cocktails such as a Pandan Pina Colada are all about fun rather than bartender showboating. The bar will soon launch its full spirits lists, which will have plenty of options for bespoke Daiquiris and Tommy’s Margaritas.

The menu is the work of first-time head chef Chris Howard, a veteran of kitchens such as Cook & Mason, El Publico and Melbourne’s sadly departed Town Mouse. Rather than go for note-perfect renditions of dishes, Howard looked for common ground between all of the region’s various cuisines.

“I just tried to find a palate of flavours rather than an ingredient list and build dishes off that,” he says. “I’m a big believer that everyone eats the same stuff, the same ingredients. What makes things different is technique. The order things go in the pot and how long they’re in there for.”

There’s lots to like about the opening menu, from the fried chicken ribs doused in jerk sauce (a cult dish waiting to happen) to a bright Caribbean-style green curry made with top-shelf seafood. The pao de quejio, meanwhile (Brazilian fried cheese doughnuts) are the stuff of bar snacking dreams and form part of Panama Social’s late-night drink-friendly weekend menu.

Panama Social
245 William Street, Northbridge
(08) 9227 6153

Sun to Thu 4pm–12am
Sat & Sun 4pm–2am