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.
In the historic and atmospheric Hotel St. Francis, the hip yet easygoing Secreto Bar (210 Don Gaspar Ave., 505-983-5700) serves some of the finest and most interesting craft cocktails in town - the smoked-sage margarita is a favorite. On warm evenings, grab a seat on the open-air covered loggia and watch the crowds stroll by. Speaking of people-watching, fewer perches in town offer a better view of Santa Fe's historic Plaza than Marble Brewery's Santa Fe Tap Room (60 E. San Francisco St., 505-989-3565), where you can sit on the balcony, sip some one of the best IPAs in the state (along with about 10 other taps from this Albuquerque-based craft brewery), and order delicious pizza from neighboring Rooftop Pizzeria, which is in the same building.
A block from the Plaza in a cloistered and quiet courtyard, Taberna La Boca (72 W. Marcy St., 505-988-7102) is a fantastic spot for authentic Spanish tapas, an excellent selection of Spanish wines and sherries, and some great afternoon and late-evening happy hour deals. It adjoins the original restaurant, La Boca, which is more intimate and a bit swankier - a better, though slightly more expensive, choice for an intimate, romantic dinner.
A relatively less-known downtown Santa Fe bar called The Matador (at the corner of San Francisco and Galisteo Sts., 505-984-5050) 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 city's trendy and hip Railyard District, you'll find Santa Fe's first branch of the Albuquerque-based, gay-friendly restaurant, coffeehouse, and bar, Flying Star, which is in a snazzy, high-ceilinged space (at 500 Market St., 505-216-3939) just a few steps from another great, gay-friendly watering hole, Second Street Brewery at the Railyard (1607 Paseo de Peralta, 505-989-3278), which serves tasty pub fare and stellar beer, and frequently hosts live bands. There's a nice outdoor patio in this space that adjoins the city's beautiful Santa Fe Farmers Market building, and is close to a number of highly respected contemporary art galleries. Note that Second Street Brewery also has a nice original location a few minutes' drive south at 1814 2nd Street (505-982-3030) - it's a closer option if you're staying at one of the hotels or motels out around Cerrillos Road.
Elsewhere in town, some of the other notable restaurants and bars that are worth checking out, and that tend to draw a fair share of LGBT patrons, include El Farol (808 Canyon Rd., 505-983-9912), a historic Spanish tapas restaurant and live-music bar on art-gallery-lined Canyon Road; the nearby Teahouse (821 Canyon Rd., 505-992-0972), a charming spot for fine teas and coffee, healthful food throughout the day, and breezy patio dining; the Staab House (330 E. Palace Ave., 505-986-0000), a swank lounge inside the snazzy La Posada de Santa Fe Resort; and Vanessie Restaurant and Piano Bar (434 W. San Francisco St., 505-982-9966), a gay-popular piano cabaret attached to a very good steakhouse and a small boutique hotel.
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 some of the tastiest green-chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico).