It was just another playdate last night for local bandleader Morgan Baer, even though he was returning with his orchestra to the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel he'd helped open in 1926.

"Do I remember it? I'll never forget it!" said Baer of the opening-night gala where he performed 54 years ago. There's no comparison, he said, between today's hard-driving capital and the cool, suave, society Washington of his younger days.

Baer's band and associated hoopla -- fake Breek columns, flapper-costumed cigarette girls and booze in teacups -- marked a belated 50th-anniversary party for the hotel, delayed by four years of renovations. Several hundred Sheraton executives milled about the bar and buffet and pink-canopied outdoor dance floor. Waiters wore their hair center-parted; couples cha-cha'd and Charlestoned with more enthusiasm than skill.

"I wouldn't put this monkey suit on for a customer if he paid me $10,000," said Baer, who was packed into a white vest and tails. "But she [hotel general manager Rose Narva] talked me into it."

Among Baer's reminiscences was playing fiddle at the old Variety Club with "a pretty lousy piano player" -- Harry S. Truman.