"When St. Peter sees him coming he will, leave the gates ajar, "For he knows he's had his hell on earth, has the man behind the bar."

Taverns, bars, saloons, pubs, whatever you call them, have a place in history going back to ancient Egypt and maybe up until last night.

Tom Jefferson sat at a table in the Indian Queen Tavern in Philadelphia and came up with the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.

George Washington made his headquarters in Fraunces Tavern in New York City's financial district.

In 1775 the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia became the place where the U.S. Marine Corps was formed.

The records tell all this, but no one seems to remember who stood behind the bar when history was being made.

Today a new breed of bartender pours the drinks. Ask them their profession and they will say they're really writers, painters, lawyers, musicians, actors -- or maybe doctors.

Sometimes they are right. A former bartender who now manages a restaurant said, "I worked with two bartenders who said they were writers, and they're now out in California writing columns for newspapers."

But pointing to a waiter he added, "He's been a waiter ever since he graduated from Georgetown Law school five years ago. He doesn't tell people he's a waiter, he tells them he's a lawyer."

A bartender who left the business to work in an ad agency said, "I can see how they get trapped into staying on the job, because the writing and art worlds don't pay much, and a lawyer would start low with some firm. In the restaurant business the money is there, the company is good, it's sort of a loose way of earning a salary, so they postpone the inevitable." i

Tending bar is not easy. You work long shifts, do a lot of walking and bending, and usually have to restock the bar after tallying up in the wee hours of the morning.

As Danny Marshall, bartender and restaurant owner, said, "At the end of an evening if you've had a busy bar you may have walked 10 or 15 miles.

"Bartenders today have to know a wider variety of drinks, be personable, diplomatic, have a sense of humor, and good hearing. An eye has to be kept out for the troublemaker who has one too many at a different place and brings his load to your bar."

There was a generation of bartenders who worked to support the family and tried to get a kid or two through college. Tim Costello was one. A sober man, he spent long hours in the Third Avenue saloon named for him in New York.

The drinks were plain and strong, and if a customer had ever ordered a banana daiquiri or a pina colada Costello would have called the cops.

"My boy is going to R.I.P.," he would proudly tell a patron, never able to get the initials of Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute in the right order.

Costello had a tender ear for the man with a problem, he could frown upon a man who had too much to drink, and with great concern he could put a Coke with a cherry on top in front of a little girl sitting alongside her father.

He could keep up with the best of them. It might be James Thurber who once drew cartoons on the walls, or actor Burgess Meredith, or New Yorker writer John McNulty, or the creator of the "Pogo" comic strip, Walt Kelly.

Costello never worried about the menu because it seldom changed. He didn't like to serve meat on Friday and closed for midnight mass on Christmas Eve.

A little further up Third Avenue Jimmy Glennon, who never owned the saloon that bore his name, was a bit more on the wild side.

He also sported the white shirt with sleeve garters, black tie, and white apron. A stern family man, he would stay on the wagon for long periods, then go out on a tear that would make a little history in the New York saloon set.

With a bantam rooster build, a wide grin showing a missing tooth in the front, he knew everyone in the bar business, newspapers, politics and theater. One night when Bing Crosby finished his annual "White Christmas" he said on national radio, "I'll bet there isn't a dry eye in Glennon's tonight."

When Glennon felt the urge for a taste coming on, he hired a chauffeured limousine to go from bar to bar. Once he ordered his driver to take him to the airport where he bought a ticket and boarded a plane for Ireland. He wanted to visit his brother, who ran a saloon outside of Dublin. When he arrived, customs inspectors found that he lacked a passport and sent him back to New York.

Not as colorful as some of the New York bartenders, but working toward a reputation, is Washington's own "Baseball Bill" Holdforth, 28.

For the past 6 1/2 years he manned the back bar at the Hawk and Dove on Capitol Hill, but recently he moved to the downstairs bar at Mike Palms. o

Recently he won $1,000 in a beer drink-off that lasted four hours. He consumed 26 budweisers. His opponent threw up after 24 Heinekens.

"I celebrated by having 10 more," Holdforth said.

At the Hawk and Dove, Baseball Bill had a wall full of bumper stickers and slogans from all across the country, brought in by his fans, sportwriters, football players, basketball players, congressmen and Hill staffers. He wondered if they would follow him to Mike Palms. They did. On opening night the place was packed.

The Hawk and Dove back bar was empty, the new bartender busily arranging bottles and a waiter scraping away Bill's stickers.

Bill took the news of his stickers sadly, then brightened up. "Do you know that guy who took my place?" he said. "He's the guy I beat in the beer drinking contest."