Oh, hi. Visiting Washington, are you? Aha. Yes, you're right, that would explain why you're sitting here in the Atrium Court Garden Palm Greenery View Lounge at the Marriott instead of -- pardon me? Oh. Here at the Sheraton, then. Really? This must be one of the Hiltons, no doubt. Wait, don't tell me. I know I'd recognize this potted ficus and this lush neutral-tone carpeting anywhere, if you'd just give me a minute.

Well, look, it doesn't really matter. Forget this place. There's another place not far from here where you'll get a much better idea of what our nation's capital is really like -- in terms of the people who live here, say, or how they act and what they talk about after work. The place I'm thinking of gets a real Washington cross-section -- upscale, for sure, but kind of weird and noisy, too: jocks, gays, rednecks, Europeans, Africans, hippies, musicians, actors, TV crews and producers. It's called the Childe Harold. It's just off Dupont Circle, which is sort of the upscale-weird neighborhood in town. The bar is nothing special, really, but that's kind of the point.

Yes, the Childe Harold -- like in the poem by Lord Byron, something about a pilgrimage. The bartender told me that, after I asked whose picture it was on the menu and on the awning outside. "That's Lord Byron," he said. The guy next to me looked up from his copy of a local city magazine, smiled at the bartender, and went back to reading something called "People to Watch." I went back to my $1.50 draft and kept my mouth shut.

Yeah, I go to the Childe Harold fairly often -- sometimes for the people I can watch, such as Redskin semi-regulars George Starke and John Riggins, or David Stockman, who doesn't come in as much since he moved to the suburbs. But mostly I go because it's a warm, frequently humming little joint in which to either have a good talk with a friend or to hide out alone and watch a night game on the TV. Plus I can get a pizzaburger and fries for $4.95.

I missed out on the early '70s at Childe Harold, when the owners had live music upstairs -- Bruce Springsteen played there, Emmylou Harris, Al Jarreau, people like that. Then they started having mostly live jazz, but the room was too small and the acts were getting expensive, so they eventually redecorated and made it into a semi-elegant little restaurant upstairs. I don't usually go upstairs nowadays. The menu's the same as downstairs -- burgers, sandwiches, some pretty good entrees and salads -- but downstairs is where the action is. Such as it is.

Yes, but it's hard to explain. There really isn't any action, per se -- no live music, no decor to speak of, except basement-brick walls and archways and about 70 of the most hard-to-trust chairs you ever put your weight on.

There's a good jukebox, though. All the song cards are handwritten -- stuff by the King, meaning Elvis, as well as the Prince, meaning Prince, plus Sinatra, Wilson Pickett, the Police -- and all of them are hand-picked by Fitz. He's one of the night managers, Edward Fitzgerald; everybody calls him Fitz. (And I mean everybody. The other night the place was full, and I asked Fitz to estimate how many of the customers he knew personally. About half, he said.)

Fitz has a lot of friends in the TV news business: editors, producers, camera people, crews, mostly the kind of behind-the-scenes help you never actually see but without which you wouldn't see anybody -- which may explain why some of them spend so much time at the Childe Harold. Also the kitchen, which stays open till midnight, or 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, is always putting together food packages for field crews from ABC, CBS and NBC.

But the biggest reason television types come in, Fitz said the other night, "is that we don't turn the TV on except for sports events." Even then they keep the sound down low.

Anyway, you might like it. Sure. It's just a half block from the Dupont Circle stop on the Red Line. Me? No . . . no, really, I can't go. I have to stay here in this hotel lounge tonight -- I'm writing a story about it. Well, I don't know if I can use a quote like that. Yeah. Hey, have a good time. My regards to Fitz. THE CHILDE HAROLD -- 1610 20th St. NW. Open 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Thursday; till 3 a.m. Friday to Saturday; 10:30 a.m. to 2 Sunday. 483-6700.