With the jurors' decision expected shortly in Ariel Sharon's $50 million libel suit against Time magazine, editor-in-chief Henry Grunwald wasn't as upbeat as he could have been at Time's party last night.

"No," he said, when asked if he was optimistic about the verdict. "No, I'm not [optimistic] in the short term. I think we'll win on appeal."

That was about the only serious note at an otherwise rollicking party where a thousand or more crammed under a tent at the Decatur House for Time Inc.'s traditional inaugural party. Among them were Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), Virginia Gov. Charles Robb, outgoing Environmental Protection Agency chief William Ruckelshaus, actor E.G. Marshall, astronaut Sally Ride, cartoonist Garry Trudeau and "Today's" Jane Pauley.

Last year's Democratic hopefuls weren't looking the least bit regretful. "Oh, I just feel terrible about it," said Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) sardonically. "Can't you tell I've been crying all day?"

"Nope," said Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.). "I always knew it was a long shot."

You could tell the Democrats. They wore the pin stripes instead of the tuxedos.

By the time the last morsel of Russian caviar was gone, it was ball time.