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A Rainbow of Rare Birds



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

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