You might have thought he was still secretary of state.

Last night, Henry Kissinger was once again the at center of attention in Washington as the recipient of the 5th Annual Francis Boyer Award. And 1,600 people filed into the Washington Hilton Ballroom, as guests of the American Enterprise Institute, to honor him. Even the first Boyer Award recipient, Kissinger's old boss Gerald Ford, showed up.

Did it strike the former secretary of state as odd that the conservative think tank singled him out for its prestigious public policy award?

"Why?" asked Kissinger with typical stone-faced humor. "Because they're to the left of me? I wondered why they waited five years."

But AEI president William J. Baroody said the selection of Henry Kissinger didn't mean the institute was changing its stripes.

"AEI doesn't change," said Baroody. "AEI is passionately dedicated to the competition of ideas, and we look for the most articulate, intelligent spokesman for major points of view."

Former Ford Cabinet members, congressmen, ambassadors, many conservatives and hundreds of ghosts of Washington past listened to the lecture, traded political morsels and ate filet mignon.

As recipient of the award, Kissinger last night delivered the Francis Boyer Lecture on Public Policy, which carries with it a stipend of $10,000. AEI also picked up the tab for nearly all the guests. The private sector paid for the rest.

"I want to express my gratitude quickly," Kissinger told his audience. "I have difficulty looking humble for extended periods of time."

In his speech, Kissinger urged cooperation among the Atlantic alliance and called for peace. "The reliance on American superiority to offset Russian conventional superiority . . . cannot be the strategy of the '80s."

Among the black-tie crowd were economist Alan Greenspan, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Carla Hills, former Office of Management and Budget director and HUD secretary James Lynn, Chief of Protocol Leonore Annenberg, Ford presidential counsel Philip Buchen and the ambassadors of France, Spain, Algeria, Israel and Mexico.

The silk was ample, the perfume heavy and the shirts starched. They talked about the old days, the budget, the Libyan hit squad and Henry Kissinger's weight.

"You're looking younger all the time, and he's looking older," joked Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser, to his old boss Ford about Kissinger. "We're trying to figure out why Henry's getting so fat."

Kissinger stood there without acknowledging he was being discussed.

"He's eating too much, that's why he's getting fat," said Ford knowingly.

"It's that he's doing so much speaking around the country, and he's eating out all the time," chimed in Kissinger's wife, Nancy.

"Well what should we do about this, Nancy?" said Ford.

Kissinger still watched from the sidelines.

"He promised to lose weight. The doctor wants him to," said Nancy Kissinger. "When he first got to Washington he weighed 155 pounds, and he weighed 214 when he left. That's the truth."

Kissinger disputed nothing.

While his weight seemed a concern to some, the memories mostly flowed funny and fond.

"The funniest thing I remember about Henry is when he came to Washington and held his first press conference," recalled Martin Anderson, Reagan's domestic adviser. "All the reporters were fumbling, and finally someone asked whether he wanted to be addressed as professor or doctor. Henry said, 'I have always preferred His Excellency.' "

"I think he's a man who has genius, charm and great wit, but now and then is capable of being a bit devious," said U.S. Ambassador to West Germany Arthur Burns, recipient of last year's Boyer Award. Long pause. "Maybe you better leave out devious."

National security adviser Richard V. Allen, on administrative leave from the same job Kissinger first had when he joined the Nixon administration, said, "When I think of Henry, I think of a man of great brilliance and force of intellect.

"And I also think of a man who speaks German almost as well as I do," said Allen, grinning. "I've known him for 20 years. We hammered out the Vietnam plank at the 1968 Miami convention and almost got caught behind a palm tree by Daniel Schorr. I passed myself off as Henry's student."

Allen, who may be embattled politically, seemed to be lionized socially last night.

"The mayor of Canton is coming to my house for dinner," said Madison Hotel owner Marshall Coyne. "I'd really like you to come."

"I'll let you know," said Allen, "but can I first wipe this lipstick off your cheek?"

"No, no, please don't," pleaded Coyne. "It makes me look popular."

By far the most popular person was Kissinger. Former White House social secretary Maria Downs called him a social secretary's "dream." "He was just so much fun," Downs remembered. "Even after he was married, we always had to seat him next to a pretty girl or we'd hear about it later."

The band played, the fine wine flowed and the former secretary of state dominated the show once again.