Santa Fe may be the most popular gay destination in New Mexico, but it tends to draw a relatively couples-oriented, arts-minded, romantic crowd - not too many singles seeking out nightlife options. Similarly, many of the gays and lesbian who live in Santa Fe are over 35 and in relationships. For this reason, Santa Fe has never supported a full-time, dedicated gay bar for any long period of time. But having said this, the city has almost always had at least one mainstream bar with a substantially gay following, and virtually all of its downtown hangouts have tended to welcome both gays and lesbian in with the rest of the mix.
The swanky and fun Rouge Cat ((101 W. Marcy St., 505-983-6603) is just a block from the Plaza, and it is LGBT-owned and draws a sizable gay crowd, although it welcomes everybody. Run by longtime Santa Fe DJ Oona Bender, this eclectic spot has two distinct spaces. At street level, there's a relatively cozy and somewhat swank cocktail bar, where you can also light food. Head downstairs, and you'll discover a mid-size dance floor and bar where some of the area's top DJs (including Bender herself) spin tunes.
A relatively less-known downtown Santa Fe bar called The Matador (at the corner of San Francisco and Galisteo Sts.) also has something of a gay scene. It's a tiny basement space with a funky, dive-y, un-touristy vibe, and the scene seems to be especially on the gay side on Friday nights. It's just off the Plaza, close to many of Santa Fe's top restaurants - you may be surprised, once you check out this dark little haunt, that downtown Santa Fe has a bar that's so happily anti-precious.
In the trendy Railyard District, a friendly restaurant and bar called Max's Santa Fe (505-984-9104) has developed a considerable following the gay and lesbian community. It's a full-service restaurant until 10 or 11 pm, depending on the evening, and the menu offers a mix of international tapas and larger plates. In the evening, this friendly and attractive little cafe is also a social hangout and bar, drawing an eclectic bunch. In warm weather, you can dine or hobnob on the charming patio.
Next to Max's, the bar and grill Corazon is a festive place with live bands most evenings and affordable, tapas-style food is quite popular with the City Different's GLBT set.
A short walk from Max's you'll find Santa Fe's first branch of the Albuquerque-based, gay-friendly cafe, coffeehouse, and bar, Flying Star, which opened in the snazzy new Railyard District (at 500 Market Street).
On the south side of town, just off I-25, one nightlife option many visitors might not think of is the Silver Starlight Cabaret at RainbowVision Properties, the GLBT retirement community that opened here in 2005. At the center of this 13-acre residential community is a clubhouse, with the cabaret inside, and it's open to both residents and the general public. The bar tends to be most popular earlier in the evening, and it's a great spot to meet other gay Santa Fe locals. Silver Starlight has become a real fixture in the community.
Elsewhere in town, among the several mainstream bars you'll find here, a few are especially charming and fun as well as being quite welcoming of gay visitors. Will you likely see other gay folks at any of these places? Maybe - maybe not. But you're apt to have a good time, if all you're looking for is a warm and inviting place for a cocktail. These establishments include El Farol, a historic Spanish tapas restaurant and live-music bar on art-gallery-lined Canyon Road; the Staab House, a swank lounge inside the snazzy La Posada de Santa Fe Resort; Secreto Bar (formerly the Artist's Pub), a handsomely redesigned and renamed old-world bar and grill inside the venerable Hotel St. Francis; Vanessie Restaurant and Piano Bar, a gay-popular piano cabaret attached to a very good steakhouse; and the see-and-be-seen Dragon Room, a favorite gathering spot at the esteemed Pink Adobe Restaurant.
Other great bets include the rollicking Cowgirl (319 S. Guadalupe St., 505-982-2565), a rambling barbecue and New Mexican food restaurant and bar with live music most nights and a charming patio; and Harry's Roadhouse (Old Las Vegas Hwy., 1 mi south of the Old Pecos Trail, 505-989-4629), a hugely popular locals' hangout on the southeastern outskirts of town, where you'll find outstanding and affordable food, super margaritas, and an eclectic, fun-loving crowd.
If you're a big fan of gay bar-hopping, you can always make the hour-long trip down the road to Albuquerque, where you'll find a few fun gay bars and clubs. Also don't overlook the funky and gay-friendly community of Madrid, which lies just 25 miles south of Santa Fe on the scenic Turquoise Trail and is home to the lesbian-owned, all-welcoming Mine Shaft Tavern (home to one of the better green-chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico).