"All these people you only see once a year," sighed gallery owner Harry Lunn as he watched people shoehorn into his gallery, the largest and coolest in the 406 Galleries building on the Seventh Street "art corridor."

It was a party celebrating the opening of the gallery's third season, and while the other galleries poured jug wine, Lunn, who owns a third of the 406 building, served top-shelf liquor at his third-floor space, making it the place to start and the place to finish on the gallery tour.

"At one point this year, I had considered not buying the hard liquor," Lunn said. "But everyone would have said, 'Oh, the recession has hit Harry, too.' "

Lunn, who owns galleries in Paris and New York, said he is "very optimistic" about the Washington art scene, but admits "it is not where I sell my art. No more than 10 percent of my turnover is done here."

"People just need to see good paintings and they'll want to buy good paintings," said gallery owner Ramon Osuna, who has moved his Fine Arts collection of pre-1900 works into the space vacated by Teddy Westreich. "I can't complain about business," said Osuna, gesturing grandly, while two violinists in black tie played chamber music.

In the back room at his second-floor gallery, Osuna introduced his attorney, Mark Sandground, to young New York sculptor John Sanders, whose bronze pieces will open there in January. "I hope you signed the contracts, because I want to keep them someday as an autograph," joked Sandground.

Art fans and friends passed in kinetic columns up and down the steep, narrow stairs at 406. As always, dress was mixed-media, as patrons, gallery-goers and artists mingled in business dress and high '80s style. One woman with an owl, star and ladybug tattooed on her cheek wore a quilted skirt and jacket encrusted with ceramic pins; a man in a white racquet club jacket with an exotic, angular haircut sported a jagged silver clamp on his ear.

"I like several pieces tonight," said former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, standing arm in arm with his wife, sculptor Muska Benes, as they admired at Osuna Gallery John Stewart's startlingly realistic painting of a voluptous form sheathed in violet satin. "What I like about illusionism," Brzezinski said, "is, it's really unreal, but it's reality--in that sense it's like policy making."

On the corner of Seventh and D streets, at the Washington Project for the Arts, people were magnetically drawn to the indoor and outdoor phone booths to hear the tape-recorded "confessions" solicited by a New York conceptual artist known only as "Mr. Apology."

"It's better than obscene phone calls," said Harvey Block, one ear glued to the phone. "He's transfixed--let's see if we can pry him loose," said a friend, tugging him out of the booth.