Gay Madrid: Feel the spirit of gay liberation

Spain's road to recovery from nearly four decades under fascist dictatorship has resulted in more than a swing to the political left. Perhaps most noticeable is the growing celebration of its huge lesbian and gay community. This is particularly true of capital city of Madrid, where Spanish queers have not only come out of the closet, they ripped off its doors in the process.

In 2004, gay madrile├▒os led the charge for a victorious campaign to lift a ban on same-sex marriage, making Spain the third European nation to do so. Ever since, Madrid's annual June gay pride has become a vast international celebration of gay freedom, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the globe and making the city a prime, international destination.

While Madrid offers an endless selection of good-time spots in many of its neighborhoods such as La Latina, Lavapies and La Puerta del Sol, its gay life centers around its famed queer ghetto, Chueca. Once a haven for the sex and drug trades, Chueca today shines as a glittery hub for trendy shops, restaurants and nightlife, a tribute to the rescue efforts of the city's growing and increasingly affluent gays & lesbians.

From bear bars to drag shows, multi-level discos and girl clubs, Chueca is a veritable queer smorgasbord. The vibe here is loud and boisterous at night when the droves of bar hopping Spaniards pour onto the cobblestone streets. While it's safe to say that in this pocket of Madrid the gays reign supreme, Chueca welcomes everyone and offers a slew of non-gay locales that are just as lively and varied (and mixed) as the gay ones.

Restaurants to check out