The Best Gay Nightlife and Restaurants in Santa Fe

Smoked-sage margaritas at charming Secreto Lounge, in the historic St. Francis Hotel
••• Andrew Collins

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 (unless you count going out to a concert, or a performance at the world-class Santa Fe Opera). 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 an especially long period of time - the most recent LGBT hangout, the fun and centrally located Rouge Cat, lasted a few years but, sadly, closed its doors in 2014, then became the Blue Rooster, but that also is gone.

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 enthusiastically welcome both gays and lesbian in with the rest of the mix.

Top Spots

In the historic and atmospheric Hotel St. Francis, the hip yet easygoing Secreto Bar (210 Don Gaspar Ave.) 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. A block from the Plaza in a cloistered and quiet courtyard, Taberna La Boca (72 W. Marcy St.) 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.

Arguably the top draw among local and visiting gays and lesbians is Vanessie Restaurant and Lounge (434 W. San Francisco St.), a gay-popular piano cabaret inside a very good steakhouse and next to a small, classy boutique accommodation (the Inn at Vanessie). In the cabaret, talented and internationally acclaimed pianist and crooner Doug Montgomery is a regular fixture, but many talented guest artists perform here as well.

Just down the street from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, the intimate and friendly TerraCotta Wine Bistro (304 Johnson St.) is a lovely spot for sipping vino and noshing on stellar, shareable modern American fare, including bruschetta with creative toppings. It's not uncommon to find a small LGBT crowd here during the generous happy hour, and it's a fine spot for dinner, too.

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, divey, un-touristy vibe. 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.

The Railyard District

In the city's trendy and hip Railyard District, you'll find the highly popular cinema and bar-tavern the Violet Crown (1606 Alcaldesa St.), a rather swanky place to watch a film and enjoy craft cocktails and tasty food. It's just a few steps from another great, gay-friendly watering hole, Second Street Brewery at the Railyard (1607 Paseo de Peralta), 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 - it's a closer option if you're staying at one of the hotels or motels out around Cerrillos Road.

Cerrillos

Farther out near Cerrillos, it's worth making the trip to Duel Brewing (1352 Rufina Circle), a Belgian-style taproom serving first-rate ales and tasty food, too. It adjoins one of the coolest arts-nightlife experiences in the West, Meow Wolf (1352 Rufina Circle), which is open daily (except Tuesdays). Duel also has an Albuquerque location (not surprising, given that the craft-beer scene is absolutely blowing up in Albuquerque, and it's pretty impressive in Santa Fe, too).

Other Places to Check Out

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.), a historic Spanish tapas restaurant and live-music bar on art-gallery-lined Canyon Road; the nearby Teahouse (821 Canyon Rd.), a charming spot for fine teas and coffee, healthful food throughout the day (until 9 pm), and breezy patio dining; the Staab House (330 E. Palace Ave.), a swank lounge inside the snazzy La Posada de Santa Fe Resort.

Other great bets include the rollicking Cowgirl (319 S. Guadalupe St.), 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), 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.

Venture to Albuquerque

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).