Hanging at certain Richmond bars sometimes feels like sitting on a bench in Monroe Park. You see a lot of pigeons and sparrows. You see a lot of squirrels. They're cute and even friendly, especially if you have a pocketful of Cheez-Its. But they're pigeons and sparrows and squirrels. You are unlikely, for instance, to see a goldfinch or a jackalope or a resplendent strutting peacock.
So when we grow weary of the same old faces in the yapping khaki crowds, my buddy and I like to head to places where more exotic species perch.
Barcode at 6 E. Grace St. is a good bet. Less cruisy than Godfrey's and cozier than the warehouse-sized Z2 other fine bars that cater to predominantly gay crowds this exposed-brick and French-ad-poster setting is home to a crowd of faithful regulars.
Because the flavored martinis at Three Monkeys have become our favorite way to drain a paycheck, we were delighted by Barcode's Thursday-night martini specials. They're just as luscious, minus the plastic monkey swinging from the glass rim, and half the price at $3.75. A couple of key limes and you'll forget what your mother told you about staring. A seat at the front tables allows thorough perusal of everyone who comes in the door.
On a recent night we spotted two specimens of interest: Clingy Shorts and Hustler Dude. Our perennial favorite Runway, famous for his fine-tuned sashay, failed to make an appearance. We scrutinized the mating habits of interesting pairs like Young Buff and Gray Skinny, who leaned toward each other over a small window table.
A series of men in crisp button-downs walked in, sat down alone, eyed the clientele, had a drink and left. Each one chose the same stool at the end of the bar the "DL seat," as one friend calls it, referring to that shy species, the "down-low" male. The most fascinating creatures are nocturnal, of course but it was a weeknight and we had to give up our studies by 10:30.
Another night, after some preliminary mojitos downtown, I was ready to resume our nature observation. "Let's go somewhere that has french fries," I suggested to my buddy. So we rode on down to Babe's of Carytown.
We ordered beers and fries good crispy ones and looked around. The only one dancing was Odd Bird, a woman with a bowlish bob and a long floral dress who smoked butt after butt and swayed to the music. Box fans wedged in the ceiling beams blew down smoky air.
After a little while, the place began warming up. Striped Polo flirted with Cargo Shorts. A few Tough Little Cookies played pool. We ordered another round and examined a group of the Ambiguously Oriented. ("She looks like she's with that girl." "But he was holding her hand.")
The DJ scowled from his booth. A girl threw up on the floor outside the bathroom. We ordered some shots. A tattooed minx with a cue in her hand tossed her head and gave me the eye. A group of happy men and women celebrating a commitment ceremony did the electric slide. One bride wore a blue tropical shirt. The other bride wore a lovely blue-gray satin dress. I went up to her, a little unsteadily, and told her she looked just beautiful. She smiled and gave me a curious look. I realized maybe I was an Odd Bird too. But at Babe's, that was all right. S