IF YOU'RE looking for a special place to celebrate a big occasion, Joplin's, tucked away on the second floor of the Howard Inn, may be just what you're looking for.

The charm begins at the entrance with a beautifully etched glass wall and a display of original photographs and sheet music of Scott Joplin, the father of ragtime and, of course, the restaurant's namesake.

Joplin's is a place where you go to feel pampered -- soft chandelier lighting, muted splashes of color reminiscent of a subdued impressionist painting and romantic burgundy and rose table cloths accented with pink carnations.

One couple, drawn by the music, is dancing to a soft samba played by Frank Hinton's Trio. Hinton, a native Washingtonian, has been a regular for the past 21/2 years, creating the magical feeling that permeates the room with popular melodies that range from "The Girl from Ipanema" to Joplin's "The Entertainer."

There are other special touches here, such as the black- vested and bow-tied waiters introducing themselves before asking you for your fare, or having the waiters or Trio gather to sing "Happy Birthday." It's these extras that help make the atmosphere friendly and cozy.

The dress is casual (no jeans or sneakers), and the menu is a mixture of American Continental and French-style fare. Dinner begins daily at 6 with seafood dishes that range from $9.50 for catfish to $16.95 for steak & turf. Desserts range from $1.50 to $6.50 (for two). Drinks and domestic beer range from $2 to $2.75 and imported beer from $2.50 to 2.75. Domestic and imported wines are sold by the bottle, $7.25 to $52, or by the glass.

The music starts at 8 Tuesday through Thursday; at 9 Friday through Saturday. If you'd like just cocktails or dessert, the dinner traffic is usually finished around 10. Reservations are suggested on weekends.

JOPLIN'S RESTAURANT -- Second floor, Howard Inn, 2225 Georgia Avenue NW. 462-5400. Tuesday-Thursday, 6 to 12:30. Friday to Saturday, 6 to 1:30. Sunday champagne brunch, 11 to 3. Parking is available directly across from the inn, and there's free parking for restaurant customers after 6.