The champagne massacre came sometime after the acrobats contorted themselves atop wobbly, swaying 60-foot poles and sometime before the two well-oiled musclemen paraded through the crystal-surfeited dining room, bearing a mini-volcano, followed by assorted dancing women, magicians and a samba band outfitted with portable amplifier.

The man from Moe t & Chandon said it best.

Having just taken sword in hand and sliced off the heads of six regular-size champagne bottles and four bottles each holding a case's worth of the stuff, Robert Gourdin stepped over the champagne puddles and explained the point of this ritual:

"It's extravagant!"

And thus Potomac, Washington's newest restaurant and the creation of gastronomic showman Warner LeRoy, was born.

"There's nothing like this in Washington," said ABC's David Brinkley as he walked up the five -- count them, five -- terraces leading to the restaurant. "Or anyplace, I think. Out-of-towners will be knocked dead."

And some in-towners. While few who dine at the restaurant after it opens to the public today will experience the full Cecil B. De Mille Comes to Washington effect created for last night's fundraiser for Children's Hospital, this is clearly not going to be your basic expense-account hideaway. Many of the 600 guests who paid $175 each for the seven-course meal were patrons of LeRoy's New York restaurants, Maxwell's Plum and Tavern on the Green -- people like writer Kurt Vonnegut, ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, film director Alan Pakula -- and so perhaps they were prepared for the glitz.

"It's sort of New York comes to Washington, and as a New Yorker I like that," said Vernon Jordan, former head of the Urban League and one of LeRoy's lawyers.

Don Hewitt, producer of CBS' "60 Minutes," appeared calm as he spooned up his "Surprise Meltdown," a desert event in which chocolate molds of the Capitol dome were inundated with steaming hot vanilla sauce. About five seconds after the sauce was applied, the little domes let out a sort of last gasp and collapsed -- melted down, if you will -- revealing a pool of espresso ice cream. Nothing, it seemed, out of the ordinary for Don Hewitt.

"He's my best friend," Hewitt said of LeRoy.

The restaurant sits on the banks of the river, and a small cluster of boats pulled up to watch and marvel. Beers in hand, the observers didn't seem to know quite what to make of the high-camp performance unfolding before them. Even the guests sometimes seemed stunned, but perhaps they just couldn't get into the spirit of it. One excessively pragmatic woman lamented the champagne lost on the ground during the ritual bottle slicing.

Some spent the night attempting to describe the spirit of the event.

"Fellini," offered one anonymous observer, as ice sculptures drizzled, a good 5 million waiters milled about and a seemingly endless series of horn fanfares began.

"This really is what America's like," said another. "We just don't know it yet."

What America is like is: boneless quail, stuffed with foie gras and braised inside an apple; women bearing banners announcing each course ("TURBOT WITH SORREL BEURRE BLANC"); someone referred to as a "cat acrobat" slithering about the floor; a good deal of talk about the various Hamptons; a plate of salmon and bass that was deposited down the back of the eponymous restaurateur Jean-Louis; and, of course, what the press release described as a "tallow sculpture of a fisherman holding a net filled with turbot."

All very decorative, so decorative it was sometimes hard to remember the stuff was edible.

Asked before dinner about the role the actual food plays in a LeRoy extravaganza, New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne, another close-close LeRoy friend, responded, "He thinks nothing of traveling to Vienna to buy a new chandelier."

But beyond the lighting, he said, "I think what's important to remember is what the restaurant purports to be. If it intends to be of a theatrical nature -- then I think it's terrific."

The crowd sitting below all those chandeliers basically fell into two camps: members of the press and friends of Warner LeRoy. LeRoy said he spent about $100,000 for the party (probably a bargain when you count the 100-person marching band and the fireworks by the Zambellis, who also did Liberty Weekend). He expected Children's Hospital to get about $100,000.

"The math doesn't work," he said with a smile. His white satin, gold-beaded jacket twinkled.

But making money for the restaurant wasn't the point of the evening. It was more like a cross between a debutante ball and a Las Vegas dance number, all of which clearly brought LeRoy the kind of publicity he seems to delight in.

One particular friend, his sister Linda Janklow, said, "He was always into this kind of thing. As a kid, he was a magician. He threw knives at my head."

Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) commented that "someone has finally recognized the beauty of the Potomac as a site for a restaurant."

To those who wonder if Washington isn't just a little too conservative for a restaurant like Potomac, Warner described the Washington he knows.

"Conservative by day," he said.

"But not by night.