Coffee and brandy.

Today the old boys' ritual has been democratized, thank goodness -- for the traditional, warming combination of coffee and brandy is a most civilized way to cap a good meal and make the evening last.

Two people out for an intimate celebration are reluctant to break the spell.

Or a group of friends is clicking conversationally over dinner, but closing time was 20 minutes ago. Or perhaps you economized with hamburgers at home so you could spend the rest of the evening at a lovely spot without the expense of dinner.

Whatever, some establishments seem to have been created for lingering over coffee and brandy or even tea and Chambord or hot chocolate and Cointreau. Here are some places that stay open late, are convenient and conducive to conversation.

The next time you don't want to go straight home, tarry at one of these. But please note that many restaurants' closing hours are flexible. If they have customers, the hours may be extended; and on slow nights they may close early. For restaurants not listed here, it's best to check ahead to see if they welcome patrons wishing to order only afterdinners drinks. BISTRO FRANCAIS -- The cafe section offers a slice of Paris in Georgetown . . . red Formica tables, bistro chairs, wall posters. On a recent evening, three French-speaking women at a nearby table conversed intensely over coffee while Charles Aznavour's torchy recordings played in the background. But noise level can be high, too.

The big attactions: late, late hours (5 a.m. on the weekend) and a tempting list of coffees and hot chocolates, like Cafe Pucci (coffee with amaretto, rum and whipped cream) and Chocolat a I'Orange (hot chocolate and Grand Marnier under a fluff of whipped cream with orange peel).

To accompany your coffee, tarts made with the season's fruits are prepared on the premises daily. 3128 M St. NW. Open 'til 3 a.m. Sun.-Thurs.; 5 a.m. Fri. and Sat. Parking on the street and in nearby lots. AE, DC, MC, V. 338-3830. s CAFE DE ARTISTAS -- Clean and crisp, Cafe de Artistas features white walls and a soaring ceiling cut with skylights. With appealing symmetry, the floor is dotted with tables; fig trees stand at each end of the room and a piano at center. Affiliated with the Washington World Gallery, the cafe is hung with prints, photos and other art.

After around 11 during the week and midnight on weekends, you can have coffee at tables inside, or on the secluded patio in warm weather. Any earlier in the evening and you'll probably have to sit at the bar, but that's no sacrifice. The bartenders are attentive and cheerful and the elevated platform running the length of the room is a great vantage point.

A full range of special coffees is offered; the most popular dessert is flan de queso (cheese flan) -- or try amaretto cake or pudin diplimatico, a mix of custard, cake and fruit. 3065 M St. NW. Open to 2 a.m. Mon.-Thurs.; 3 a.m. Fri., Sat. and Sun. Parking on street and nearby lost. AE, MC, V, DC. 338-0417. CHARLE'S GEORGETOWN -- The piano bar at Charlie Byrd's new digs is sprawling, accommodating and dimly-lit. Pianist Bobby Diener's pleasant melodies provide the backdrop for relaxing, sipping coffee and talking into the wee hours. The only jarring note: big, curtainless windows frame a parking lot.

If you're feeling energetic, check Charlie's Backroom for dancing to big band sounds from the old Wurlitzer juke-box. 3223 K St. N.W. Open to 3 Sun.-Thurs.; 'til 5 Fri. and Sat. Parking on street or in lot across K Street (free after attendants leave around 11). AE, DC, MC, V. 298-5985. FAIRFAX BAR -- The wood-paneled, clubby bar in the Fairfax Hotel is perfect for late evening coffee and conversation. The front part is by far the most inviting, with tables and chairs set in nooks and crannies: the choicest, the second table on your right as you enter, is practically a private room.

Oriental rugs, horsey prints and fat armchairs and couches in paisley, velvet and leather make you feel like you're lounging in a rich uncle's well-appointed library. No wonder local preppies love it. In the back room, John Eaton coaxes fabulous sounds from his piano 'til at least one every night except Sunday.

Sweet tooth? Ask about dessert from the restaurant; unless it's very late, says food and beverage director Peter Finkhauser, they'll be able to rustle up a tasty tidbit or two. 2100 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Open to 2. Complimentary valet parking. AE, DC, MC, N, CB. 293-2100. FOUR SEASONS HOTEL -- The "Garden Terrace" is a treat for your eyes, ears and palate. Stroll through the lobby, past the tropically thick greenery and down several steps into a quiet, utterly refined -- but never stuffy -- world of soft colors, lights, music and voices.

Upholstered furniture and glass tables are spaced for private patter. Coffee, served in china cups and saucers with an oriental motif, comes with a spare little pot at the side. The piano repertoire of Ron Smith, who plays on weekends, is studded with oldies you thought everyone but you had forgotten.

If hunger strikes, try the cheese platter, English (deli) plate, open-face Parisian sandwiches or a selection from the pastry tray. And if you like your coffee flaming, the Garden Terrace is ready with Irish, Mexican, Italian and Jamaican varieties. 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Open to 1 a.m. Sun.-Thurs.; 2 a.m. Fri. and Sat. Pay valet parking. AE, CB, DC, MC, V, Four Seasons. a342-0444. GANGPLANK LOUNGE AND TOWER -- The view's the thing at the Gangplank. Where else can get the mystery and romance of a darkened marina with your late-night coffee? The Gangplank's been around for years, but their new "Tower" bar, glass all around, has ben open about six months.

When it's cold outside, gather in the Gangplank lounge where there's a fireplace. 600 Water Street NW. Open to 12 Sun. and Mon.; 'til 1 Tues.-Sat. Validated parking in their lot. AE, MC, V. 554-5000. HAY-ADAMS HOTEL -- The bar in this landmark hotel is a classic, and coffee an event. Enjoy the elegant but warm ambiance -- fireplace, chandeliers, dark wood -- while your coffee is served in charming Luxembourg porcelain on a silver tray.

Desserts, including fresh berries in season, are available in the bar as are serveral kinds of coffee: espresso, cappucino and Irish.

If you like a lively crowd, Michael Terrence's piano and enthusiastic fans may be just the thing, but they may seem a little loud for the gentle tones this grand old room deserves. 800 16th St. NW. Open 1 a.m. Complimentary valet parking. Ae, dc, MC, V, CB. 638-2260. MAXIME'S -- A long, narrow gallery of white wrought-iron, leafy trees, bentwood chairs and Mexican tile tables, Maxime's is charming and friendly. It's the sort of place where you see a customer sitting alone contentedly drinking espresso and reading a magazine.

This fall, owner George Koropoulos promises a new selection of coffee with liqueurs -- for example, cappucino with amaretto or sambuca. A word of caution: you may come for coffee, but the luscious fruit tarts are almost impossible to resist. 5300 Wisconsin Ave. NW, in Maza Gallery, enter from Jenifer Street. Open to 11 weekdays, 12 weekends. Free parking in rear lot. MC, V. 244-7666. PUBLICK HOUSE -- You'll know the Publick House by the cheery yellow chrysanthemums lining its windows. Inside, the plant-hung, airy spot is saved from being just another light-hearted California restaurant by yards of important-looking dark wood.

In this Americanized English pub, you can enjoy coffee and drinks while listening to Burnett Thompson or Eric Fritzwolter on the ivories. Irish and Jamaican coffees are offered, while the dessert menu entices with carrot cake, triple chocolate cake or a fruit and cheese plate.

Although dinner is served until late, you'll likely be able to sit in the main dining room for coffee after 9 or so. 3218 M St. NW. Open to 1:30 a.m. weekdays; 2:30 Fri. and Sat. Parking on street or nearby lots. AE, MC, V. 333-6605. TABARD INN -- For the uninitiated, a first trip to the Tabard for after-dinner refreshments can be unnerving. If you arrive after 9, chances are it's strictly self-service. So trot to the bar for your drinks, then settle into the genteel shabbiness of the living room or "brown parlor" a half flight up from the bar. Dirty glasses on unattened tables aside, to know the Tabard apparently is to love it. A group of six new customers debated the unusual experience: "The TV," said one, "is even like mine: it has foil on the antenna."

"Well," her husband conceded, "at least no one's pressured us to keep ordering drinks."

"I'll bet," added another, "every one of us will be back here again."

Guests often mingle with other customers at this 40-room hotel made from three old row houses. A perpetual fire in the fireplace keeps the living room cozy.

Ask the bartender for desserts. The house speciialty is American cakes: the almond dream cake or, for chocolate freaks, the "Queen Mother." Coffees include espresso, Irish and Jamaican. 1739 N St. NW. Open to 1 during week; 2 on weekends.Street parking. Cash or personal checks. 785-1277.