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Pentagon City Takes Notoriety in Stride Style Showcase

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 25, 1998; Page A23

The lounge of the Ritz-Carlton hotel at Pentagon City is a hushed, darkened place, all somber dark wood and plush floral carpeting. Tucked next to the lobby of the four-star hotel, the small, well-appointed bar was quiet yesterday except for the tinkle of ice in crystal tumblers and the ethereal sound of harp music.

Not to mention the noise of reporters stomping around.

This, you see, was where sources say Monica Lewinsky -- former White House intern and alleged paramour of the president -- was secretly photographed and recorded by investigators as she had drinks with her friend Linda Tripp earlier this month. At the same hotel a few days later, Lewinsky, 24, was confronted by FBI agents, who whisked her up to a room and later accompanied her as she browsed and dined at the Fashion Centre mall next door.

It also happens that the Ritz-Carlton was where sportscaster Marv Albert assaulted a Vienna woman.

This kind of thing is not considered good publicity for the 345-room, $225-a-night hotel, where employees and managers alike refused to say a word yesterday about Lewinsky -- and where security guards quickly surrounded those who asked.

"We are not going to give out any information," said Helen E.A. McDaid, the hotel's director of rooms. "We protect the identity of all our guests. That is all we have to say."

One dapper customer at the bar, wearing tweed and sipping whiskey, had no idea of the significance of where he was sitting. "I don't know anything about that," he snapped, quickly turning back to his drink.

Washington has its batch of odd pop-culture meccas. There is, of course, the Watergate complex of Nixonian fame -- which also happens to be where Lewinsky spent time in her family's apartment. There's the former Vista Hotel, where Marion Barry was videotaped smoking crack cocaine. Will the Ritz-Carlton and the mall next door join the list?

If the reactions of many shoppers at Fashion Centre yesterday are any indication, perhaps not.

Thousands fled to the Arlington mall yesterday to escape gray skies and make their Saturday rounds. Lewinsky was there Jan. 16, according to sources, accompanied by FBI agents, as she waited for her mother to arrive by train from New York.

One of her reported stops was Crate & Barrel on the second level, a glistening chain store gleaming with bleached wood and specializing in items such as brushed aluminum wall clocks ($29.95) and stainless steel cocktail shakers ($13.95).

"We've had a lot of customers ask about it," said cashier John Grimm, standing near a towering display of champagne flutes. "They ask if I worked that day, if anyone remembers seeing her."

Grimm didn't, and they don't. Jasmine Milone, the store manager, said she's baffled by the interest.

"I don't know how anybody would remember anyway, since nobody would have known who she was when she was here," Milone said. "We didn't even know she was here until today . . . I don't know why anyone would really care. I don't get it."

The mood was similar across the atrium at Mozzarella's American Cafe, where Lewinsky and her entourage had dinner.

No, said hostess Frances Andrew, no one remembers waiting on Lewinsky and a group of agents that day. "I don't know what she ate or anything," Andrew said.

"Maybe she had what we're going to have," laughed Craig Kesner, a District resident and seminarian waiting for a table with friends.

Kesner and most of the others milling around the two businesses hadn't made the connection to Lewinsky as they went about their day. But there were a number of media types making the link for them.

Most, like a BBC crew hanging around the Ritz lounge, were exploring the connection from a conventional journalistic angle. But humorist Bill Shein, who writes a column for America Online, was pursuing a decidedly sarcastic approach -- quizzing tie salesmen about the right pattern for President Clinton and snapping pictures at the hot-pink Victoria's Secret store.

"I asked if anyone came in wondering what to get for an affair with the president," Shein quipped. "They swore no one had."

Back at Crate & Barrel, Shennell Coit, 34, of Alexandria, came out of the store looking a bit disappointed. Was she expecting a brush with Lewinsky? Secret agents thumbing through the glassware?

"No, no," Coit said, laughing. "I didn't even know about any of that. I was just looking for some red plates. They had these red glasses and plates around Christmas, but they're gone now."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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