On a clear night you can see Nicky's from most any highrise near the Duke Street interchange at I-395. It's over there -- to the right of the tractor trailers parked out front of AAA Auto Body, between the Arthur Murray dance studio and the Rug Man factory outlet.

Don't get the wrong idea. Those who look to Nicky's for fast greaseburgers or industrial-strength coffee will be disappointed: The grimy hue of this South Pickett Street neighborhood, so deep into Alexandria as to be neo-Springfield, stops at the door. Nicky Zarpas runs a pretty -- and pretty popular -- place. It's next to a Rug Man mostly because Zarpas' father owns the building.

"Makes dealing with the landlord easy, anyway," says Zarpas, who's owned Nicky's for seven of its six years of operation (he and some construction buddies spent the first year building it).

Dealing with Nicky's itself is also easy. It's the kind of place that works with (as opposed to copes with) Virginia's you-also-gotta-have-food liquor laws; there's something here for drinkers, dancers and diners.

Drinks: The rectangular bar is to the left, under a mock skylight. The walls are uncluttered (in other words, no mirrored beer ads, antique street signs from Liverpool or rustic farm tools), lined primarily with bar-level tables and stools and two TVs. Draft Michelob is $1.25, bottled beer $1.50 and rail drinks $1.75. (Happy hour is 5 to 7, and all-night Monday in the bar.) After 9, when Nicky's mostly top-40 dance bands start playing in the main room, drink prices go up by about 50 cents.

After 9 is also when the bar gets pretty crowded, and very crowded Fridays and Saturdays, filled largely with couples who like to dance and singles who'd like to be couples, many of them from those multi- story, minutes-to-downtown towers nearby.

Dancing: The dance floor is to the right, also under a mock skylight. The bands are decent, if not terribly original, and their volume goes up as the volume of diners goes down -- generally after 10. They play every night but Sunday.

Dinner: Nicky's fair-to-excellent kitchen is open until 11 for dinner, 'til 1 for sandwiches. If dinnertime eats into music time, your smalltalk will be eased considerably if you ask for a table behind the wood-and-glass divider separating the main floor from a quieter, raised dining area. Entrees start at about $6 for chicken and head toward $14 for lobster tail. There are also monthly specials (this month's is prime rib). After 7, reservations are a good idea.

NICKY'S RESTAURANT AND LOUNGE, 642 South Pickett Street, Alexandria. Open 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, 5 to 1:30 Saturday, closed Sunday. 751-8900.