NEW YORK -- It's the skyscraping nightclub where Manhattan reality inspired Hollywood fantasy, where the high life flourished in the midst of the nation's deepest depression.

The Rainbow Room is reopening after two years -- just as the economy is threatening to take another dive.

" 'Here we go again?' Don't you dare say that!" said Hugh Hardy, architect of the restoration and renovation of the room atop the 65-story RCA Building in Rockefeller Center.

The room, he said, "succeeded in 1934 because it had a very simple optimism. The world was flat on its back, and here was this glamorous place opening. That's a good tradition to continue."

It continues tonight, when David Rockefeller is host for a reopening celebration, and Dec. 29, when the room opens to the public. During the day it will be a private club.

After Prohibition, which drove night life underground into shadowy speakeasies, the room -- a high-rise marriage of streamlined modernism and classical grandeur -- was an instant success, attracting a clientele that included Noel Coward, Joan Crawford and assorted Vanderbilts, Paynes and Whitneys.

But by the mid-1980s, "it was shabby," Hardy said. "It was dowdy and worn."

Silk wall sheathing was dirty and frayed, bronze railings were tarnished, mirrors were cracked or desilvering. The revolving dance floor had not turned for years.

The lighting was not up to 1980s standards. When the ceiling lights turned blue, the room turned dark. "It was romantic, but you couldn't read the menu," Hardy said.

The down-at-the-heels dowager remained popular with tourists and loyalists, but cafe' society and the jet set that succeeded it stayed away. So, for the most part, did younger people.

"You don't want to be frozen in the past. We want to bring this into the life of the city again," said Joseph Baum, the restaurant impresario whose company will operate the room. "It has to begin with the New Yorker. This is what New York needs."

Aside from air conditioning, lights and wiring, the new Rainbow Room is essentially the old one: a great space two stories high, with mirrored columns, a circular dance floor and three tiers of tables that step back to wall-length windows looking out on the Manhattan skyline.

The dance floor and its revolving machinery have been replaced, the crystal chandeliers polished, the walls covered with purplish-brown Italian silk. The entrance has been moved to stun visitors with a view of the Empire State Building as they step off the elevator.

The "light organ" that gave the room its name is gone, but the 300 colored lights in the dome on the ceiling have been synchronized with the sound system to create the "rainbow" effect.

There will be a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow: The cost of dinner will average $50 a person, drinks not included. New Year's Eve at the room, $15 in 1937, will cost $250 this year.

The Rainbow Room was as close as reality ever came to Hollywood's vision of sophisticated urban luxury in the years between the wars. It was the model for the Club Raymond, where Fred and Ginger shared a final dance in the 1936 movie "Swing Time."

Back in the real thing, Barbra Streisand celebrated the opening of "Funny Girl"; Zero Mostel danced the hora at the "Fiddler on the Roof" cast party; and David Rockefeller won a polka contest. He gave the prize -- a turkey -- to the band leader.