There was really a party in the streets last night as thousands teemed thick as starving young artists to downtown Washington's new 406 gallery. Police had to monitor the crowd flow at the door as Bob Lennon, one of the building's landlords, became the evening's bouncer.

"Amazing," he said of the crush, then spotted a friend at the door. "Officer," he called, "it's all right. Let her in." And in she wiggled to a party as hot as a September high noon on the Mall.

Also approved for entry was National Security Affairs adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose wife Muska is a sculptor. After winding up a private dinner party of his own in McLean, he got in through the politely rumbling mob, he said, "by knocking them over. I'm good at that."

But he had nothing to say of yesterday's outbreak of full-scale war between Iraq and Iran. "Art and oil don't mix," he decreed.

Eventually, everybody else was admitted. The party was the black-tie inauguration for Washington's newest and biggest commercial art gallery, which marks a shift in the local art scene from P to 7th Street NW. And judging from the thousands of exotically dressed folks who turned up last night, it also marks the growing importance of Washington as the nation's second-largest arts market.

Six dealers -- four of them local -- are housed there. Last night, squeezing and bumping from one to another, you would have seen and heard this: The Angus Whyte Gallery

"You take that painting into your house and it could change your whole life. Can you imagine putting that in your bedroom? It could transform you. lAnd much cheaper than a psychiatrist."

This was Manfred Ibel, a New York architect who wore an all-white suit and a red carnation. The painting in question was "Viaduct View" by Franklin Tartaglione, which at $7,500 may only be cheaper than long-term analysis.

Ibel was talking to a New York choreographer, who wore a black shirt immodestly unbuttoned as well as dark leather boots over white pants. Generally, an invitation reading "black tie" for an art opening means you can wear Armani corduroys dyed hot pink with your two-tone aviator sunglasses. And somebody did. The Lunn Gallery

The reigning star at this place was Viva, late of the Andy Warhol films. Now she takes pictures. She's also very skinny.

"I'm supporting myself by being a photojournalist," she explained. "Although hopefully, somebody will come along and drop something in my lap and then I won't have to do it anymore. But let me tell you, from my experience, the rich never part with a cent."

Viva was sitting by herself in Lunn's office. "I will culminate this interview," she then said, "by saying that my experience in Washington this evening has only further confirmed my budding Communisim." The Diane Brown Gallery

Whrrrrrrrr. A camera. Then a microphone.

"Tell us a little about the show," said the women at the end of the microphone to Diane Brown. The woman at the end of the microphone had an impressive head of frizzy hair, pink toe-nails and purple eye shadow that matched her dress. She was Margery Goldberg of the Arts and Entertainment Service, and she walked around interviewing everybody and saying things into the mike like: "As you can see, there are just incredible amounts of people here."

And there were. "This is crazy," said Nancy Cusick, executive director of the Washington Women's Arts Center. "You'd think they were giving pictures away. I can remember when art was nothing and you were lucky to get 10 people at an opening. It must be in." The Osuna Gallery

This was a big, big white space enclosed by sharp angles. You had to wander, labyrinth-style, before you got to the bar.

Ramone Osuna, owner: "It's the beginning of the '80s. We're at the threshold of something very big for the arts in Washington. More than anybody knows . . . "

He looked around. "I hope there's enough liquor for everybody," he murmured.

Hank Willard, real estate developer: "Mr. Hirshhorn, Mr. Mellon, move over."

Peter Malatesta, former host-about-ttown: "I will start giving parties again very shortly."

A woman in a black dress to a woman in a beige suit: "I'll tell you, I've had two encounters with people at parties who were very attractive -- and married." The McIntosh/Drysdale Gallery

"This doesn't seem like 7th Street at all," artist Jim Duckworth was saying to Pat Moella, another artist. Duckworth wore a 20-year-old tuxedo, one dangling Persian earring and black jungle boots. "This seems like 57th Street."

"This is high D.C.," added Molella. "HoHo D.C." The B R Kornblatt Gallery

Lots of food. Cheeses, vegetables, steak tartare, strawberries you could dip and smother in chocolate. One person was doing a lot of dipping.

"Are you keeping score?" he asked. "Okay. Put down 30." This eater was Andrew Krieger, who described himself as a "hack artist."

Near the door was Barbara Kornblatt, owner. Through the window she could see the people squashed outside, and right in front of her, she could see the people squashed inside. Right next to her, the band was into some hot number. p

"This is a little mind-boggling," she said.