Business Spotlight: Panama Hotel & Restaurant

Tucked away in Gerstle Park, this boutique hotel and popular local restaurant is a one-of-a-kind place that adds to the unique mix of diversity of San Rafael.

4 Bayview Street

What do they offer?

There is a special place tucked away under arching tree branches just past the hustle and bustle of Third Street in downtown San Rafael. Music can be heard three nights a week and weary travelers can find, at least for a time, a unique sense of place. The Panama Hotel & Restaurant is not just a 10-bedroom hotel or a cult-status local restaurant. Tt’s a community gathering spot, a local landmark and a window to the world outside of chain companies and universal themes.

Who are they?

Current proprietor Dan Miller has been at the helm since 1984. A graduate of and a Marin County native resident, Dan spent 10 years owning and operating a bistro in his mother’s native England before returning to the Bay Area and finding the Panama Hotel available for purchase.

Being owner/operator of the B&B and the restaurant has allowed his love of cooking to be used to the fullest potential. Miller can often be found in the kitchen creating new dishes, but never fear, he’s seamlessly enmeshed his own style with the famous foods of previous eras. For example, he’s hasn’t removed some of the cult favorites such as Maria’s Pueblo Chicken Soup, a dish dating back to original owners and operators the Gargiulos.

He brings his personal experiences to the business, as the eclectic collection of artwork, knick-knacks and photos are a mix of his own and what was already in the restaurant.

How long have they been there?

The original restaurant located at the Panama Hotel & Restaurant is one of the oldest continuing restaurants in Marin County. Opened originally in 1926 by the Gargiulo family, by 1937 Maria Gargiulo was known far and wide for her cooking.  

The stucco building in which the restaurant is now housed was added to accommodate the clamoring cries from hungry travelers and locals. This first restaurant, known as Maria’s Pueblo, was run by the Gargiulos for over 50 years before being sold to a fun, loving couple who bought the adjacent building and created the now famous tropical patio that draws hungry diners longing for outdoor dining.

Miller bought the business is 1984 and has brought the Panama Hotel & Restaurant to its current status as a hidden gem and a fabulous sense of escapism all mixed up in a warm homey setting.

Why are they in our Business Spotlight?

Miler believes in his community, and many of his employees are also local and have been working at the restaurant or B&B for many years. The 10 rooms have been renovated and decorated by Miller himself, each one different from the next. People get a kick out of staying in Lady Bracknell’s Boudoir, Ken’s Safari Room or Mimi’s Bungalow.

The restaurant in itself is a food lover’s sight to behold, and to taste. Favorites such as the or the swoon-worthy, retain a cult-like following.

“The menu retains certain standard offerings at all times,” Miller said. “There is fierce loyalty to some of them and so we don’t change it for fear of an uproar from our patrons.”

The patio is one of the largest, most lush and enjoyed in Marin County. San Rafael’s micro-climate of warm summer evenings make for a trip to Central America or the tropics without even leaving town.

Music can be heard and enjoyed three nights week, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays. The music nights increased as the word got out and Gerstle Park residents discovered an intimate venue for enjoying musicians such as James Moseley and Wanda Stafford.  There is no cover charge for the music, as it is a dinner show.

Did you know?

The Panama Hotel & Restaurant offers a Yappy Hour every night, from 4 p.m. tp 5:30 p.m. Save some cash on favorites such as Maria’s famous soup, or the red beet salad. Enjoy $2 off all wine and $1 off all beer.

juanita June 25, 2012 at 05:38 PM
i love the panama hotel restaurant--never had a bad experience or bad food. more than once, also have been warmly welcomed when showing up with a 6-8 person group and no reservation. haven't stayed at the hotel, but i've told my friends that if i ever disappear from home, that's where i'll likely be found! :)
Linda Binda June 26, 2012 at 02:53 AM
The only complaint I have is that they stopped having that WONDERFUL French Toast several years ago... Lost me as a regular brunch customer...


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