Santa Fe may be the most popular gay destination in New Mexico!

In summer 2010, the swanky and fun Rouge Cat ((101 W. Marcy St., 505-983-6603) opened near the Plaza, and it is LGBT-owned and aiming to be more of a gay hangout, 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 have 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. Santa Fe had lacked a predominantly GLBT hangout for a few years until Rouge Cat opened, and its popularity has been huge right from the start.

It’s also just a short walk from Rize Nightclubat 135 West Palace Avenue (505-955-0400), which had previously been known as Fusion and before that Swig, both of which had significant gay followings. Rize opened in summer 2010 and seems to be drawing a mostly mainstream crowd, but it is very gay-friendly and you’ll generally find a mix of types and styles there.

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, Santa Fe saw the opening of a fun new bar and grill called Corazonearly in 2009, and this 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 so popular that Out Magazine ranked it in fall 2007 as one of the Greatest Gay Bars in the World.

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.