THE BODY IS seven-tenths water, about the same as the earth itself; and maybe that's why the proximity of open water makes for such evening tranquility. Nothing soothes a dry I better than a liquid view, especially at the end of the long asphalt bungle. It's the real antidote to mind-fogging civilization. Un-rheum, riv vu. Flee to be you and me.
Gaithersburg's newest Club Fled is Fegan's Restaurant, an endangered-psyche sanctuary along the I-270 corridor, not only because it adds a watering hole to the relatively arid northwest passage but because it looks out over a real watering hole -- the man-made (but who's discounting?) lake in front of the Washingtonian development's Rio Center.
Even more invitingly, Fegan's island faces west. So if you haven't the energy to fight the crowds to Ocean City, or if you're feeling spiritually shipwrecked midweek, you can watch the sun set into its reflection and feel at least mentally removed from the commuter crush up on the ridge. Even at lunch, you can watch the whale-spume fountain sweep in slow circles, making temporary rainbows in the air.
This is an all-purpose seafood spot: part raw bar, part surf-and-turf grill and part Old Bay hardshell heaven. They also stock the Rockville regulars such as fried mozzarella and nachos, and some salads and sandwiches, but nothing more nouveau than eau. The nautical decor is a little pat -- varnished plank tables and lots of brass hardware, plus the inevitable "pirates" and "mermaids" restrooms -- but it's fairly restrained. The sidewalk tables are thankfully simple, standard-issue umbrella fare.
The indoor bar is small, about a dozen stools and six or eight tables, and doesn't pretend to the single-malt specialty stock of more upscale eateries; it stocks only a dozen fairly standard beers, and none from Maryland or Virginia, although it does have one local wine, Catoctin's Eye of the Oriole blush. "Happy hour" is pretty much limited to cheap draft beer, with free nibblies, cocktail meatballs one day, maybe cheese and fresh veggies and dip another.
But the atmosphere is easy and open, and the staff is exceptionally friendly and attractive. So far the happy-hour clientele leans heavily to the pin-stripers and pumps from local office buildings, though with the whole complex still under construction, and a bit off the beaten track, there's rarely a crowd of any sort. (At the moment, in fact, that's one of the main attractions of the eight-screen Cineplex Odeon next door: You can get into just about any movie -- and park -- without waiting.)
Friday and Saturday nights, however, Fegan's goes live with local entertainment, also selected from the old-Rockville-friends category (Holly & Lou, Harbison, Bond & Ray) with an eye toward participatory rowdiness. Come high hot summer, no matter what they promise about the Bay Bridge, the Fegan's deck is going to be the breezeway of choice -- especially now that the frozen-drink machine is working. Watch that space.
Incidentally, there are ways to earn your time at Fegan's bar: Rio also houses a health club, and there's a walking/jogging path around the far side of the lake, although the ongoing construction is only baldly disguised by a fence.
Fegan's (948-0900) is on Washingtonian Boulevard parallel to 270; take the Shady Grove exit west to the second light at Research Boulevard and turn right, then right onto Omega Drive and right again onto Washingtonian. (If you forget, grab an ad for the Cineplex Rio.)
And, for those for whom Shady Grove area traffic is the reason for going to Fegan's, the Rio complex is on Route 54 of the Ride-On bus system running between the Rockville Metro and Lakeforest Mall; weekday service lasts through happy hour. Call 217-7433 for exact times.
JAZZ FUTURES: After a two-year legal battle that drove them to file for protection and reorganization under Chapter 11, the owners of Cates Jazz Club have finally come to terms with the Alcoholic Beverage Control board and their Tenleytown neighbors, and have been granted a license to serve liquor at the restaurant.
Alcohol will be available at the Sunday all-you-can-eat brunch beginning this weekend (the Lisa Rich quartet is booked through June, followed by the Louis Scherr/Tommy Cecil trio in July; 363-2600); and owners Ben Hiatt and Elliot Epstein expect to be in full nightclub operation by September. Watch that space, too.
BREWS NEWS: Local beer-guide author Jack Erickson is hosting another of his beer-and-bites classes Tuesday at Clyde's of Tysons Corner. This time he's focusing on some especially timely beers, not just seasonal wheat beers but a post-summit special -- Russkoye, the first beer imported from the USSR (Kiev, specificially). He's also bringing Grant's Scottish Ale, the first beer brewed in an American brewpub (in Yakima, Wash.); and Sierra Nevada's first lager, a pale bock. Admission is $15, reservations required; call 734-1907.
And just because they're a "recreational" beverage doesn't mean beer isn't serious business. The makers of Dock Street beer of Philadelphia (well, it's actually brewed in New York, just as Olde Heurich is brewed in Pittsburgh; but their brewpub is under construction in Philly) have begun a protest against the high import taxes foreign countries levy on U.S. beers, symbolized by their pasting the labels on their bottles upside down and organizing a letter-writing campaign calling on Congress to up the domestic ante in return. According to their figures, the European Economic Community nations add a 24 percent import duty on American beers, Mexico 20 percent and China, that old Most Favored Nation itself, enforces a 120 percent import duty on U.S. suds -- not that Spuds is a household name in Beijing yet anyway.
The Dock Street folks also hope the publicity campaign will lure away habitual drinkers of imported beer -- those liberal of display but conservative of political temperament -- toward American microbrews. And after all, what could be more patriotic than a beer (a very good one, in fact) whose slogan is "In the Pursuit of Hoppiness?"
JOE KING CORRECTO: We notice that some of the ads for Joe "King" Carrasco suggest that he either has a split personality or travels very fast; he's listed Saturday at the 9:30 and at the 8 X 10 in Baltimore. In the interests of public safety -- I-95 is tricky at night -- we assure you that Carrasco and the Crowns play 9:30 on Saturday and 8 X 10 on Sunday.