How do you choose among the large, distinguished field in the "Ugliest Bartender in Washington, D.C." contest?

A patron, sizing up "Baseball Bill" Holdforth behind the bar at Runyon's, observed good-naturedly, "He moves with the grace of a baby elephant."

At Bullfeathers, Wally Waetjen stared at his candidate, bartender Wayne Brem, and said, "If ugly were power, he'd win," and went on to use the remark as his campaign slogan.

A woman, placing her vote for Helen Lee Lovette of Mr. Day's, said, "I think she's the ugliest because she is the prettiest."

For this contest, "the word ugly doesn't really mean ugly, it's more like favorite, or beautiful," explained Nancy Brannigan, project coordinatory for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which is receiving more than $48,000 as a result of the zany promotion involving 135 area bars and restaurants.

Bar owners and managers, trying to lure customers who would cast a 25-cent ballot for their man, used every conceivable trick: "Ugly Auction Night" at Dankers, "Ugly Outfit Night" at the Bottom Line, "Ugly Redskin Night" at The Foundry, "Ugliest Customer Night" at the American Cafe on Massachusetts Avenue NE.

To bring customers in to vote for his "ugliest bartender," the manager of the Golden Ox reduced bar rail drinks to $1 and sold 25-cent beer. He also charged customers entering a dart-throwing contest in which the winner threw a pie in the face of the barmaid, Christina Ferguson.

Bartenders sang, danced and made phony campaign speeches, all in the good spirit of raising money.

Beowulf bartender Tommy McClellan chug-a-lugged giant schooners of beer at $50 each donated by the customers for MS research. By the time he finished his third, his eyes were glazed, but the cause was $150 richer.

Holdforth, exuding the spirit of the contest while showing support for a rival bartender, said he visited another bar and sang "New York, New York," and raised $150 for the bartender there.

The first prize for the lucky bartender was a two-week, all-expenses-paid trip for two to Jamaica. "If I win, I'll raffle it off and give the kids the money," said Beowulf's John Petrone. Added Holdforth, "I'll give it back to them."

Neither, however, had that opportunity. The winner, announced last night at the International Inn at a party hosted by Anheuser-Busch, Inc., was Kevin Spillan, the "ugliest bartender" at Winstons, on M Street, NW. He collected 29,655 votes during the Oct. 29-Nov. 26 voting period, thereby raising about $7,000 for MS.

What probably won it for Spillan was a Winstons gimmick called an "MS boat race," in which four-person teams chug-a-lugged in relays for prizes. For helping out in the victory, Spillan's bar manager and his campaign manager won a paid weekend at the new Playboy Hotel in Atlantic City.

Owners of the Market Inn helped win second place for their so-called ugliest, Cindy Davis, by throwing an "Ugly Talent Night" and ringing up 28,378 votes.

The big money night for Joe Clements, bartender at Rumors, was "Boxer Shorts Night"; drinks were half-price, and for men to get in they had to wear boxer shorts (over or under). Clements also wore his while gathering 26,924 votes, good for third place.

Al Demao, former Redskin star and the program's honorary chairman, said: "The support from sponsors, bars and patrons has been overwhelming. Together they have given the word 'ugly' a whole new definition in this city -- beautiful."

The organizers said with some pride that D.C.'s $48,500 may be the jackpot for all the cities that have held ugliest bartender contests. In a defensive effort, they said, Pittsburgh, which raised $60,000, went outside its district to raise money.

Richard Queen, former hostage in Iran and himself an MS victim, was present at the International Inn. He has moved into an apartment in Washington and mentioned that he likes to stop in at the Deja Vu, but they weren't entered last night.

The award for Mr. Congeniality was given to "Baseball Bill" Holdforth, who said in a congenial way, "I don't care what the vote is, but I know I'm Washington's ugliest bartender."

He then awarded Nancy Brannigan her own personal barstool for having hung around all the bars in Washington, working to make this evening a success.

The evening's bartenders were reluctant to give last call with a crowd like this, because the room was too full of happy people, as "Baseball Bill" once again sang "New York, New York," and everyone began to dance. Richard Queen walked among the crowd, shaking hands and, of course, holding a beer.