Smack in the center of downtown's disco corridor, within shouting distance of Rumors, is Whispers, the new wave's secret.

By day a mild-mannered restaurant done in curving blond wood by the same firm that designed the American Cafe, the club is reborn as a Clash act nightly at 9:30. Behind the glass-and-steel facade of 19th Street, the tables and chairs are cleared, the volume trebles and the patrons' average age drops to 22 as Neo-punks collide with Preps to the recorded sounds of The Human League and Grace Jones.

There's no cover at the door, no hustle at the long sleek bar, no wolves along the walls, not a single pair of Topsiders on the closet-size dance floor.

Segueing from Madness to Men At Work, disc jockey Rocky LaLibert,e of Falls Church favors "new wave with a small sample of rockabilly, ska and electropop." Below his loft, free-form dancers exhibit athletics and grace; a smattering of slam dancing is free for the bruising.

Debbie Bennett, touring from Portsmouth, England, wore a battery-operated visor with red and green flashing lights set in chic plastic.

Janice Vanderslice of Falls Church, in an antique beaded blouse over a Slickee Boys T-shirt, complained, "There were a lot of Preps in here at Christmas."

And Maureen Tobin of Brookville, Maryland, who works at the Madeira School stables, noted it's easier to shock people at Whispers than at the harder-core 9:30 Club. Her modified Mohawk haircut steals attention from her drab fatigues, held together with safety pins. Offering her sheared head for a feel, she says, "My friend does the sides with electric horseclippers once a week." Last Saturday Tobin wore two safety pins through her left ear above one dangling earring. Sometimes she pins another through her cheek: "It only hurts when I try to eat." WHISPERS -- Open until 3 a.m. weekends, weeknights until 2, at 1120 19th Street NW. 463-0442.